Utilitarianism and Luck
journal contributionposted on 09.01.2014, 00:00 by Joseph Persky
The study of luck in moral and political philosophy has generated two camps: the "luck egalitarians," who see justice as demanding aggressive efforts to reduce inequalities produced by luck broadly conceived and the advocates of "democratic equality" who emphasize traditional liberal political values. Most of this literature has been ahistorical and hostile to utilitarianism. This essay aims at repositioning the luck debates in the context of John Stuart Mill’s oft maligned essay, Utilitarianism. There, Mill posits that the historical progress of justice works against all types of social expediency, thus reducing the role of luck in human affairs. Over time, justice requires a move from "democratic equality" to the achievement of "luck egalitarianism." Rather than viewing these as competing approaches to justice, this reading of Mill views them as succeeding stages in the conquest of poverty and the historical achievement of justice. These themes in Utilitarianism also go far toward reconciling that essay with Mill’s utilitarian roots.