Social & Political Philosophy

Relational Egalitarianism

I'm currently working on several paper projects based on my dissertation, Relational Equality: A Conceptual and Normative Analysis, which investigates relational egalitarianism--the view that relationships among members of society are an important object of egalitarian concern. Relational egalitarianism is motivated by the idea that oppressive social hierarchies and the unequal interpersonal relationships they engender are unjust.

Although some find it attractive, relational egalitarianism remains undertheorized. Proponents have focused on defending the claim that ‘equality’ should be interpreted in terms of social relationships rather than distribution, leaving open questions about the nature and value of those relationships. Indeed, the literature contains many disparate ideas about ‘relational equality’ that lack systematic analysis. My dissertation addresses these lacunae by performing three tasks: (1) it analyzes relational equality’s core concepts and builds an abstract framework to organize them; (2) begins developing an account of relational equality using that framework; (3) it outlines demands of justice pertaining to relational equality that can be reconciled with common liberal ideas about social justice.

My conceptual analysis focuses on the core notion of relating as equals. According to my conceptualization: we relate as equals when we have the status of equals, regard one another as equals, and treat one another as equals because we regard one another as equals. These components can be specified in negative and/or positive terms: persons can lack or possess statuses; regard can require lacking or possessing beliefs and attitudes; treatment can involve performing or avoiding behaviors.

Using this conceptual framework, I begin developing a substantive account of equal relationships focusing on positive requirements that reflect persons’ nature as responsible agents in addition to their equal moral value. I argue that mutual accountability is a necessary feature of equal relationships among agents. In an equal relationship, participants are accountable to one another for abiding by whatever (properly constrained) norms apply within the relationship; engaging in accountability practices is a way in which they relate as equals. These unappreciated aspects of equal relationships speak to their value. I argue that deliberative, responsible agents have strong interests in relationships that are egalitarian in the mutual accountability sense.

Relational egalitarians treat relational equality as a political value that generates demands of justice. After considering potential conflicts between relational egalitarian and liberal commitments, I argue that liberals can ground some demands for relational equality by connecting it to the basic liberties, social bases of self-respect, and fair equality of opportunity. Although this strategy is amenable to a broad range of liberal views, I propose an alternative that appeals to a minimal perfectionist liberalism. It grounds a more robust set of demands because relational equality provides necessary conditions for realizing deliberative agency while situated in society.

Related Works in Progress

"Restricting the Site of Relational Egalitarian Justice" (under review)

Abstract: Egalitarians who recognize demands for impartiality or distributive equality often balance individuals’ duties of justice with adequate space for personal pursuits by restricting the site of justice to state institutions, meaning justice places demands on institutions but only requires compliance from individuals. This balancing strategy seems potentially incompatible with relational egalitarianism, which calls for equality in social relationships among individuals that aren’t mediated by state institutions. I argue that some relational egalitarian theories can restrict the site of justice in a way that protects space for personal pursuits without neglecting concerns about social (in)equality.

"Characterizing Relationships Among Equals"

Abstract: I argue that egalitarian relations among persons involve standing and relating as mutually accountable participants in a relationship or members of a community. More technically: standing as equals within structural accountability relations means standing in relations of mutual accountability and relating as equals within accountability practices means regarding and treating one another as mutually accountable for norms that apply within the relevant community or relationship. Which norms apply—egalitarian or otherwise—depend on the relationship or community in question, though some broad moral, legal, and social norms are widely applicable. While I do not argue that mutual accountability is sufficient for egalitarian relationships, it is a necessary feature that (1) has not yet been recognized by relational egalitarians, and (2) is relevant to relational egalitarian justice.

Other Works in Progress

"Balancing (Relational) Equality and Personal Responsibility"

Abstract: Many egalitarians claim that the distribution of individuals' egalitarian entitlements should reflect their responsible choices or desert, i.e. individuals are entitled to equal shares but inequalities that arise from their responsible choices or desert can be justified. This responsibility-sensitive egalitarian position balances the value of equality with the value of personal responsbility. Proponents defend it by showing that it captures common judgments about fairness, desert, and the value of personal choice. Many of them argue that Elizabeth Anderson's relational eglaitarian view, democratic equality, is implausible because it fails to balance equality with responsibility and thus conflicts with these common judgments. Although it denies that responsible choice can justify departures from the sort of equality that justice requires, I argue that democratic equality, as I interpret it, does balance the values of equality and responsibility and it does so in a way that aligns with the common judgments that motivate responsibility-sensitive egalitairanism.