Theory of Simple Equality and Complex Equality

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Theory of Simple Equality and Complex Equality essay
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Michael Walzer believes ‘equality is a complex relation of persons, mediated by the goods we make, share and divide among ourselves […] it requires a diversity of distributive criteria that mirrors the diversity of social goods’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 18). In this essay I will explain Walzer’s theory of complex equality. I will do this by looking at his theory of distributable goods as well as contrasting simple equality to complex equality and why simple equality might be better. I will also give criticisms as to why I disagree with complex equality and agree that it would be hard to implement and it is hard to see how ‘no one good could dominate over another’ (Hailwood, 2019). I will also discuss criticisms with his theory by looking at concepts from John Rawls and Richard Arneson. I will agree with Arneson that there is still a degree of inequality in complex equality.

Walzer claims that ‘all the goods with which distributive justice is concerned are social goods’ (Hailwood, 2019) . What he means by ‘social goods’ is that they do not just appear, rather they are created and sustained by humans through a social cooperation (Hailwood, 2019). They cannot be idiosyncratically valued meaning that distributive goods are valued by communities, not individuals and that goods have a shared meaning and understanding. Walzer claims that ‘goods have different meanings in different societies’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 7) and that ‘the same thing is valued for different reasons or it is valued here and disvalued there’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 7). The meaning or the significance of the good can be understood only in the terms of how the society that regards them as goods interprets them (Hailwood, 2019). Certain goods play roles for communities or they may do different things with it.

For example, one might think that bread has a solely nutritional purpose however across cultures the interpretation of bread differs. He claims that there ‘is no single set of primary or basic goods conceivable across all moral and material worlds’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 8). To some it may mean the ‘Body of Christ’ or a ‘means of hospitality’ (Hailwood, 2019) and so it is wrong to say that the nutritional meaning is the ‘only true meaning’ (Hailwood, 2019). The significance might be overridden by the religious significance depending on the culture. An important factor to Walzer’s argument is that ‘part of the culturally dependent meaning of a good is how it should be distributed’ (Hailwood, 2019). An example is healthcare. We might claim that part of the good in this culture is the treatment of illness. We could say that the meaning of this good is the treatment of illness and so should be distributed in accordance to illness, being given to those who are ill. He develops his point to say that anyone who knows what healthcare is, or knows its social meaning, will understand that its basic purpose is to treat those who are ill, it shouldn’t be because they have more money than someone else.

Walzer argues that ‘I don’t want to claim that complex equality would necessarily be more stable than simple equality but I am inclined to think it would open the way for more diffused and particularised forms of social conflict’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 18). Simple equality is a society where everything is up for sale and ‘every citizen has as much money as everyone else’ (Hailwood, 2019). As walzer points out, ‘simple equality is a simple distribution condition’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 7). This means that unlike complex equality, there is a dominant good, like money, but it is distributed equally. However, problems with simple equality mean that you would need a very powerful state in order to be able to sustain simple equality over a period of time. But political power would then become a dominant good and therefore wouldn’t be distributed equally as it would be ‘monopolized by a political elite in control of the state’ (Hailwood, 2019). I think simple equality would be easier to implement and seems more realistic compared to complex equality. Although, it is hard to visualise in a world today everyone having the same amount.

On the other hand, complex equality is the idea that ‘no one good dominates over the other’ which I think is an attractive theory. Walzer states ‘Citizen X may be chosen over Citizen Y for political office, and then the two of them will be unequal in the sphere of politics. But they won’t be unequal generally so long as X’s office gives him no advantages over Y in any other sphere’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 19). Y may be unequal in the world of politics but as long as X has no more advantages over Y in medical care or education. His position can be summarised by saying ‘no social good x should be distributed to men and women who possess some other good, y, merely because they possess y, and without regard to the meaning of x’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 20). So, no social good like healthcare should be allocated to a man or woman because they have another good, such as money and because they have money, they should be allocated healthcare. However, Walzer’s theory of complex equality shows signs of inequality as in some spheres you could be unequal whereas with simple equality, we would all have the same amount.

One of the main concepts of complex equality is that ‘when meanings are distinct, distributions of goods should also be distinct or ‘autonomous’’ (Hailwood, 2019). This means that they are ‘subject to their own principle of distribution’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 10). Walzer believes that our concern on equality should be on ‘preventing exchanges of goods between the different spheres compared to trying to prevent inequality within a certain sphere’ (Hailwood, 2019). Each set of goods creates its own distributive spheres. Walzer gives the example of money saying that ‘money is an inappropriate distributive criterion in the sphere of ecclesiastic office. And piety should make for no advantage in the marketplace (Hailwood, 2019). In this case, if one good like the ecclesiastic office is exchanged for a good in another sphere, ‘then the cultural meaning of the good is threatened’ (Hailwood, 2019). What is wrong is that money is a dominant good and therefore tyrannises over others.

We can object to Walzer’s view by pointing out that his theory is ‘unrealistic’ (Hailwood, 2019) and would be hard to implement. It is unclear how well we would be able to ‘police the boundaries’ between spheres to keep them entirely separate. We can also question if the state would have a role. It is also hard to grasp the idea of there being no one good dominating over the other as something like money is arguably always going to dominant. Walzer does claim that the spheres cannot be isolated completely and that money is always an underlying issue. Perhaps his theory would be better with simple equality compared to complex equality. However, Walzer is aware that the meanings or interpretations of social goods are not shared by every community in the world (Hailwood, 2019).

If one ‘good is exchanged from another sphere then culture is undermined’ (Hailwood, 2019). Imagine you find out that some people in your class were getting higher marks because they were paying the lecturer. It seems ‘plausible to say that part of the meaning of a university degree is that it should be distributed in accordance with academic achievement’ (Hailwood, 2019). There should be processes in place to prevent the ‘distributable good being ‘dominated’ by for example wealth’ (Hailwood, 2019), like anonymous marking. If it is dominated, like the ‘highest degrees going to the highest bidders’ then the ‘higher education sphere’ is undermined and having a degree is no longer the same (Hailwood, 2019).

Rawls theory of Justice as Fairness is attractive. He believed that everyone was entitled to basic liberties such as wealth or freedom which are the conditions to living a good life. Rawls claims that ‘all social primary goods […] are to be distributed equally unless unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favoured’ (Hailwood, 2019). The basic idea is that we are to be considered ‘equally ignorant and equally rational […] and choose the principles determining the basic structure’ (Hailwood, 2019). The principles that govern our society should be principles we can agree on rather than being imposed on us.

The original position is surrounded by the veil of innocence, eliminating all biases. The original position is the idea that people tend to disagree about justices because they are biased by something like wealth or perhaps their status. If I was rich, I may be against taxation whereas if I was poor, I would most likely be in favour. Rawls basic idea is to reduce people from the things that could bias them. If a society came together and they didn’t know what race, sex, gender they were, what principles of justice would they choose, behind the veil of ignorance (Hailwood, 2019). Rawls’ theory describes how the veil of ignorance would ensure fairness. However, we could criticise Rawls theory and say that we want to ‘gamble’ for something like wealth great wealth.

I agree with Arneson that ‘complex equality cannot be recommended as a genuine egalitarian ideal […] old‐fashioned ideal of equality that has not yet been specified’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 233). It is hard to imagine a world in where no one good will dominate over the other. Arneson develops an interesting point stating that ‘promotion of complex equality in some circumstances can obstruct the pursuit of desirable literal equality’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 234). Arneson points out that most of Walzer’s theory is spent answering the question ‘could we imagine a society in which the social meanings of goods are such that autonomous distribution would lead to egalitarian outcomes’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 234).

Walzer imagines that answering the question ‘affirmatively shows a deep affinity between complex equality and an unspecified literal equality […] so promoting complex equality in contemporary societies is promoting equality in some genuine, substantive sense’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 234). Arneson believes that ‘Walzer’s concerns about statist and individual freedom […] do not support the complex equality ideal as he supposes’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 238). He explains how Walzer’s idea is that ‘literal equality requires the creation of a strong state that would then be captured by a new élite, creating new dominant inequalities, complex equality is much closer to self‐enforcing’ (Arneson, 1995, p. 238). If ever under the rule of complex equality he writes, ‘the resistance to convertibility would be maintained, in large degree, by ordinary men and women within their own spheres of competence and control, without large‐scale state action’ (Walzer, 1983, p. 17). But Arneson points out that he does nothing to further this point.

On the other hand, David Miller suggests that complex equality could be achieved ‘in a society marked by separate spheres of distribution, if the ideal of autonomous distribution is achieved, so that the goods within each sphere of distribution are distributed according to their social meanings […] then it is empirically likely that complex equality will obtain among the members of society (Arneson, 1995, p. 241). Complex equality is a result of autonomous distribution within a society of separate spheres.

Theory of Simple Equality and Complex Equality essay

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What is Michael Walzer theory of justice?
According to Walzer, 'justice,' on the one hand, represents the opposition of 'domination'. On the other hand, it is relative to social meanings of goods. The doctrine of 'complex equality' is stipulated by Walzer to demonstrate that justice as well as equality is in opposition to domination .
What is simple equality?
By stipulation simple equality is the condition in which everyone in society has the same amount of money, the same income and wealth .
What is the meaning of complex equality?
Walzer's definition of complex equality is: "In formal terms, complex equality means that no citizen's standing in one sphere or with regard to one social good can be undercut by his standing in some other sphere, with regard to some other good ." In this state of affairs, there are variety of goods and these are
Why is the idea of equality complex?
The equality in such a state of affairs is complex because each individual good may be distributed unequally , but it is the resulting multiple inequalities that do not favor any group consistently that act as the equalizer.
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