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There are few concepts in the contemporary philosophical debate that gather such an agreement as the Principle of Equality. From utilitarians to Kantians, moral philosophers claim that each ones interest should be equally considered.
Thomas Christiano has in various articles and in his brilliant book “The Rule of The Many” (Westview Press 1996) proposed that an intrinsic defense for democracy from the acceptance of the Principle of Equality. If his claim is correct, he might succeed in defending democracy where others have failed.
The aim of this paper is to critically analyze Christiano’s argument. In a rough sketch it consists in the following claims.
Justice requires that individuals be treated equally with regard to their interests. There is a special category of interests that are deeply interdependent, so that what affects one, affects all; these are interest in the collective properties of society. These interests can generally only be served through a collectively binding procedure. The principle of equal consideration of interests requires equality of means for participating in deciding on the collective properties of society. These means are votes, campaign finances and access to information. (59)
Therefore: each one ought to have equal amount of these means, and this is what democracy essentially consists in.
I would like to have a closer examination particularly on one
claim made by Christiano:
“Egalitarian institutions cannot depend on the notion of equal well-being to serve as a principle for solving political disputes”(66); rather these institutions should interpret the Principle of Equality as equal distribution of resources or means to achieve well-being. The arguments presented by Christiano are the following:
(I) The incompleteness of knowledge means that there is an epistemic
problem with the interests of persons. It is difficult and sometimes impossible
to evaluate the things we believe are important in our lives.
(II) The changeability of preferences undermines the possibility for us
to direct our attention to the satisfaction of preferences instead of interests.
(III) The contestability of comparisons argument proceeds, according to Christiano, from the notion that there is considerable disagreement about what interests are the most important and how one is to value the satisfaction of those interests. (64-66)
These arguments will be discussed in the light of the
contemporary debate “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice” and the reader
will take part in arguments presented by Ronald Dworkin, Amartya Sen, L.W.
Sumner, T. M. Scanlon, Derek Parfit and, of course, G. A. Cohen.
I believe that if we apply an objectivist approach to what we mean by interests (I here follow T.M Scanlon, ”What we owe to each other”), we might be able to deny Christiano’s three arguments.
I believe that this move can be made and that it leaves us in the position in having no good intrinsic arguments for democracy. Perhaps we should then move on to consider an alternative.
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