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Philosophical Topics

Volume 48, Issue 2, Fall 2020

The Political Philosophy of Socialism

Christine Sypnowich
Pages 223-244

What’s Wrong with Equality of Opportunity

How do we know if people are equal? Contemporary philosophers consider a number of issues when determining if the goals of egalitarian distributive justice have been achieved: defining the metric of equality; determining whether the goal is equality, or simply priority or sufficiency; establishing whether there should be conditions, e.g. bad brute luck, for the amelioration of inequality. In all this, most egalitarians contend that what is to be equalized is not people’s actual shares of the good in question, but rather, the opportunities to have such shares. I counter this view with an ‘egalitarian flourishing’ approach that, in seeking to make people equal in actual well-being, takes exception to the role of opportunity in contemporary argument. The flourishing view means a focus on outcomes, on how people live, in order to enable people to live equally flourishing lives. I argue that if we consider the complex dynamics of choice and circumstance, the role of nonmaterial considerations and the ideal of an egalitarian community, equality of opportunity proves to be an inadequate approach to the realization of the egalitarian ideal.