Paula Casal

Rawls, Cohen, Mill and The Egalitarian Trilemma

Torsdag 24. januar, 14.15 - 16.00,
Sted: Grupperom 4, Georg Sverdrups hus (UB)

(12.02.08) "Like J. S. Mill, G. A. Cohen has criticised the justice of incentive payments. Cohen’s critique, which focuses on the work of John Rawls, has encountered two core Rawlsian objections. The Liberty Objection holds that if we allow occupational freedom – which we must do – unequal incentive payments are the best, perhaps the only, way of attracting individuals to deploy their scarce talents in a socially efficient manner. Thus, freedom, efficiency and equality cannot be jointly preserved. Faced with this trilemma, Rawlsians sacrifice equality. Their Basic Structure Objection restricts the possibility of rescuing equality further still. It claims that whilst it is mandatory to employ a wide range of public institutions to eliminate various social and economic inequalities detrimental to the least advantaged, it is impermissible to regulate all aspects of our personal lives to eliminate such inequalities.


Cohen, by contrast, not only thinks that equality can and should be rescued. He believes the trilemma can be solved, and has offered a very plausible reply to both Rawlsian objections. Unfortunately, each reply denies what the other one affirms, leaving Cohen trapped into a strategic contradiction. Rawlsians, however, do not fare any better. Their two pronged self-defence also traps them –or so I argue– into a strategic contradiction of their own. Thus, Cohen's efforts to solve the trilemma, and the Rawlsian attempts to stop him, leave both parties caught into their respective dilemmas. Fortunately, there is one possible way out of this impasse, and it is one they can both take. It involves following Mill towards a new position, which can be supported both on Cohenian and on Rawlsians grounds.

Dr Paula Casal arbeider ved The Graduate Institute of Political and International Studies ved The University of Reading. Hun har skrevet en rekke artikler - blant annet "Why Sufficiency Is Not Enough" (Ethics, 2007) og "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Animals?" (Journal of Political Philosophy, 2003) - om rettferdig fordeling, multikulturalisme, dyreetikk og mange andre temaer