Egalitarians hold that equality is good in and off itself. I used to think that egalitarianism wasn’t just wrong, but outright crazy and morally unintuitive to almost everyone. Why? Consider the following world:
- 10 billionairs
- 100 millionairs
- 1’000 normal people with $10’000
- 1 homeless person
If you could press a button to reduce the income/wealth of everyone in that society to the level of the homeless person, would you do it? The answer seems clearly to be no. Yet the "everyone is homeless" world would be more equal. Hence egalitarianism is wrong, right?
Here’s the problem, the same kinds of objections apply to all popular moral systems:
- Deontology: the "would you punch 1 innocent person in the face to stop 100’000’000’000’000’000’000’000 people from being horrifically tortured to death."
- Utilitarianism: "A child is dying of terminal cancer alone in the woods. Before it dies we use a star-trek teleporter to beam it from the woods to a pedophiles group cell in prison. They spend an hour gangraping the child before it dies. Assuming their pleasure > the childs pain and there are no other societal effects, is this okay?)"
Looking at egalitarianism with fresher eyes, I think that the real problem with egalitarianism as talked about in philosophy is the same problem deontology faces and utilitarianism does too. The core issue is that humans value a variety of moral goods: equality, fairness, dessert, procedural constraints, outcomes etc…. Any singular theory of the good which is baed on a singular part of the moral puzzle will always have many, many cases where it will give deeply morally counterintuitive results.
I’ve written about the problems with singular conceptions of the good before, but the more I consider it the more I’m coming to see it as being the core issue behind the serious issues most modern ethical theories have.