In this series of blog posts, Rob makes three arguments related to sufficientarianism, which is a theory of distributive justice – an area of moral philosophy concerned with the question of how resources should be distributed in a society.

Introduction

Sufficientarianism roughly holds that a just distribution is one in which all members of society have at least enough to live a dignified life (however that might be defined). Beyond this point, how resources are distributed becomes much less important from the standpoint of justice. This means, from the perspective of justice, it would be okay for there to be billionaires driving round in Ferraris or sailing round in luxury yachts (or whatever they like to spend their money on), provided everyone else has enough for a quality-of-life above a given level. 

I’m not going to rehash arguments for and against sufficientarianism in this series (there’s a good review article on this here). Instead, I’m going to present three distinct but related arguments about sufficientarianism. 

I’ll explain how the arguments made by the philosopher John Rawls for a different principle of distributive justice, the difference principle, also support sufficientarianism. While this doesn’t show sufficientarianism is the correct theory of distributive justice, it does – if you buy Rawls’ reasoning – make it a plausible contender.

  • The right currency of sufficientarianism is self-respect

I’ll propose a novel ‘currency’ of sufficientarianism. Currency here means the metric that can be used to quantify how much everyone needs to live a dignified life. Inspired by Rawls, I propose this should be enough to secure self-respect for each individual. Everyone should have enough to feel confident in their abilities to carry out their life’s plans.

  • Sufficientarianism is a kind of limitarianism

I’ll defend sufficientarianism from a powerful objection. This claims that sufficientarianism is indirectly self-defeating, since it would allow individuals to amass such large amounts of wealth and influence that they could distort society and prevent a sufficientarian distribution from being realised in the first place. I point out that, with more sophisticated currencies than money or welfare, this is not necessarily true: sufficientarianism imposes an implicit limit on the amount of wealth and influence individuals can amass. 

I’ll conclude that these three arguments motivate a distinctive, Rawlsian-inspired interpretation of sufficientarianism. In other words, they show why Rawlsians could be sufficientarians.

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