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September 06, 2008


Andrew F

Great post.

The difficulty, of course, is that once you start deconstructing your own moral values to make more reasoned arguments, you end up with nothing to tie your logic to. I take equality to be a value in itself, just as I take something more inane like... our obligation to minimise suffering.

Once I define the foremost in economic terms, what's to stop someone asking for a costs-benefits analysis of, say, torturing babies?

More to the point, they can take apart the first of your arguments by saying something, "Well, who cares about justice?". The second dissipates with a swift, "Freedom? Crime? I feel very free and very safe in my 16 bedroom mansion, with its 24 hour surveillance security, thank you very much."

At some point, you have to put an absolute into play. Otherwise, nobody wins.

Bendy Girl

Hi Chris, I just wanted to thank you for the link, interesting post as usual! BG

Joe Otten

Should we trust animal rights advocates who argue that animal experiments are scientifically useless? (No.)

So should we trust the arguments of equality advocates who find other reasons for equality-minded interventions?

Of course my animal rights example is an easy one because we can tell that the suggestion is bunk. By contrast you are probably right to some extent about growth and crime and merit.

But it might be hard to find the best policies for growth, crime and merit, if the debate is polarised according to belief in equality.


This and your other posts on morality, or moral reasoning seem to me to fail for one basic reason. They ignore that the fact the case for equality or any other state of affair cannot be made on anything other than moral grounds. Whatever the economic grounds are for equality, they would also have to be grounds that are desirable (prudent) as well as meet our approval (moral). Why would we even seek to make the case for equality, if not for some moral reason/s?

"1. You could argue the facts - the rich are not admirable and deserving, and the poor are not scroungers."

Firstly, how are we to understand words like 'admirable' without a world of value. The word is itself a moral judgement. Secondly, such a statement is not a fact, but depending on the moral world employed, it may be a moral fact.

"2. You could make other arguments for equality - that it might increase economic growth or reduce (pdf) crime (pdf). I’d add that too that it can promote freedom even in the libertarian sense,..."

And each of these arguments would nevertheless depend upon a moral view that valued economic growth, or less crime, or more freedom.

"Of course, Norm’s right in the sense that my arguments for effects which are “beneficial even in terms of some non-egalitarian outlook” is also a form of moral justification. But this defines “moral argument” so widely as to include pretty much anything."

Well, not quite. Its not that moral reasoning is here drawn too widely, its simply the fact that all practical judgements are themselves moral judgements because the imply a world of value.

The problem with your series of arguments is that you, as has been pointed out, have conflated moralism with moral reasoning and in the process neutered your own evaluative (moral) judgements into the bargain.

Still, as a first-time visitor I like your blog and will return.


Could the rule of diminishing returns be used to argue for increased equality?

The overall welfare of a society with one member having an income of £1 million and 100 members with £10,000 is probably lower than an equally productive society with one member having an income of £500,000 and 100 with incomes of £15,000. This stands to reason to me as one member has his wealth halved (though he remains 'rich') but 100 members have their wealth increased by 50%. Then again I'm not a student of economics so I could have made some logical error there.

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