The difference principle is not action-guiding

Read, Rupert (2011) The difference principle is not action-guiding. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 14 (4). pp. 487-503. ISSN 1743-8772

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Abstract

Utilitarianism would allow any degree of inequality whatsoever productive of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But it does not guide political action, because determining what level of inequality would produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number is opaque due to well-known psychological coordination problems. Does Rawlsian liberalism, as is generally assumed, have some superiority to Utilitarianism in this regard? This paper argues not; for Rawls’s ‘difference principle’ would allow any degree of inequality whatsoever that best raises up the worst off, and similar psychological coordination problems apply. It concludes that Rawlsian liberalism, designed to solve the problem that Utilitarianism will not give us stable rules and will counsel their violation, and giving us in the process a contract and rights within a semi-consequentialist framework, repeats (in the difference principle) that very problem of Utilitarianism. It fails substantively to guide the level of inequalities permitted in such a framework.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: envy,inequality,john rawls,relative poverty,thomas pogge
Faculty \ School: University of East Anglia > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Philosophy
Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
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Depositing User: Davide Rizza
Date Deposited: 21 Feb 2012 15:02
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2020 16:37
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/37155
DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2010.544873

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