Justice and the Prejudices of Culture On Choice, Social Background and Unequal Opportunities in the Liberal Society
Abstract: Egalitarian liberal theories of justice – so this dissertation argues – fail to take into accountthe full implications of the way citizens’ socio-cultural backgrounds work to undermine theequal opportunities these same theories demand. While egalitarians support extensiveredistribution of income and wealth from the privileged to the less privileged, and advocateequal opportunities for all, they do not properly attend either to how our shared societalcultures structure social esteem and related advantages, or to how our individual socioculturalenvironments structure the very act of choice. They thus fail to acknowledge ourunequal opportunities to make choices which bring us esteem and related advantages,particularly the advantages that flow from our having established for ourselves lives thatothers consider good.Alternative approaches to the interplay between justice, culture, and choice are rejected forillegitimately restricting the right to go our own way (communitarianism), or for regulatingpolitically that which cannot legitimately be regulated politically (recognition theory).Against the former position it is argued that we should draw on our culturalunderstandings, not to restrict free choice, but to identify opportunities to be safeguarded.Against the latter it is argued that we should not renegotiate prevailing cultural structurespolitically, but rather acknowledge these same structures and ensure that no one falls too farbehind in the competition for the advantages they generate.Suggesting that one of the more thoroughgoing hierarchies of esteem and disesteem is thatattached to our occupational positions, broadly construed, the dissertation concretizes theclaims defended in relation to this hierarchy in particular. It is argued that the just societyowes it to its citizens to protect them from involuntary occupation of positions that comewith potentially harmful disesteem attached. It is not for society to overrule theindependent choices of citizens, however, but rather to provide enduring opportunities totraining and education for more highly regarded positions, thus both equalizingopportunities to esteem and related advantages, and ensuring that those who continue tooccupy positions at the lower end of the hierarchy in question do so through their owngenuinely free choice.
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