Cohen’s Inegalitarian Ethos: Equal Respect, Self-Respect and Carers
In Cohen’s vision of the just society there would be no need for unequalising incentives to benefit the least well-off; instead, people would be motivated by an egalitarian ethos to work hard, and in the most socially productive jobs they can perform. As such, Cohen seems to offer a way to avoid the trade-off of equality for efficiency that characterises much of theorising about distributive justice. In this paper, however, I present an egalitarian challenge to Cohen’s vision of the just society. First, I argue that egalitarians should value equal respect and a form of equality of self-respect. Second, I argue that Cohen’s society is vulnerable to a particular form of status hierarchy that threatens to undermine both of these values. Third, I argue that this troubling kind of status hierarchy would emerge in Cohen’s society, in the case of carers. As a result, Cohen’s society would be one lacking equal respect between carers and others, where carers lack the grounds for self-respect. Thus, I conclude that Cohen’s society fails to unite equality and efficiency; instead, it would be characterised by a lack of equality, disadvantaging an already disadvantaged group.