Luck egalitarianism and educational equality.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis investigates whether luck egalitarianism can provide a cogent and coherent interpretation of educational equality. Historically, the belief that each child should receive an equally good education has exerted a strong influence on policy makers and thus on educational practice, and this despite the vagueness of the egalitarian formula. More recently however, the ideal has been undermined in practice by the rise of neoliberalism and in theory by a number of thinkers advocating other principles of educational justice. But it is vital to be clear about what each child is owed because of the profound effects of education on a person’s life prospects. The motivation for this work is therefore to determine whether educational equality can be rescued as a desirable and animating ideal of educational justice. In order to achieve this, I examine luck egalitarianism, a theory of distributive justice that has its origins in the work of John Rawls, but is now the major rival to his account of egalitarian justice. I probe at the fundamental moral intuitions underpinning luck egalitarianism and how it brings together the morally potent ideas of equality, luck and choice. I argue that these are of relevance for the education each child is owed and I propose a luck egalitarian conception of educational equality, argue that it is a cogent interpretation of egalitarian justice, and conclude that a luck egalitarian conception shows educational equality to be an ideal that is relevant, coherent and what morally matters most for justice in education. I describe luck egalitarianism as resting on three basic moral beliefs: that distributive equality is a fundamental demand of justice; that luck undermines fair equality; and that a person’s genuine choices can sometimes, under certain background conditions, render some otherwise objectionable inequalities not unjust. I then examine whether these three beliefs are compatible with each other and what, if anything, links them. Next, I consider luck egalitarianism’s status as a theory of distributive justice and argue that far from this being a weakness, as Elizabeth Anderson (1999) has notably argued, it is a strength of the position. But to appreciate this it needs to be seen that luck egalitarianism makes no claim to being all of justice and that the equalisandum of equality is complex and egalitarianism is intrinsically pluralist in nature (with a particular understanding of what is meant by pluralist). I consider too whether it is a mistake to say that inequalities that are largely due to luck can really be thought of as unjust. Thomas Nagel (1997) has argued that it is merely misfortune, unless the result of deliberate actions or social structures for which someone is responsible. I reject that position and argue that no one has to be responsible for an inequality for it to be unjust. Having interrogated luck egalitarianism and found it to be a sound account of egalitarian distributive justice, I turn to looking at whether it can illuminate our understanding of educational equality. Educational equality is often interpreted in terms of equality of educational opportunity. I look particularly at a conception of equality of educational opportunity, strongly influenced by Rawls, that has been thoughtfully and carefully articulated by Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift (2008). I find their conception powerful, but flawed, and argue that a luck egalitarian conception can account for the appeal of their conception, but is an advance on it. I end by looking at a specific question of educational justice to test the luck egalitarian conception – is there anything inegalitarian about ability grouping? I conclude that, while still needing to have its implications worked out in full, particularly as regards choice, a luck egalitarian conception provides a compelling account of educational equality and reasserts that equality matters for justice in education.