In defense of priority (and equality)

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In a recent article, Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve argue that prioritarianism fails to account for the shift in moral significance in gains to individuals in interpersonal as compared to intrapersonal cases. In this article, I show that the priority view escapes this objection but in a way that deprives it of (some of) its anti-egalitarian stance. Despite Otsuka and Voorhoeve, prioritarianism, rightly understood, provides consistent and attractive recommendations in both single- and multi-person cases. Yet prioritarians, the article goes on to show, cannot do so while availing themselves of the leveling down objection (LDO) to egalitarianism. They may not do so because similarly to egalitarianism, prioritarianism also must reject the principle of personal good. That is, egalitarians and prioritarians may sometime recommend certain actions and outcomes even when these are better for no one. Prioritarians may survive the Otsuka–Voorhoeve critique, but to do so they must abandon their anti-egalitarian stance (or at the very least, the LDO).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)343-364
Number of pages22
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Derek Parfit
  • equality
  • leveling down
  • principle of personal good
  • priority

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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