Münchner Kompetenzzentrum Ethik

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Seminar: "Equality and Justice"

November 7–11, 2016 | Venice International University

Equality is a central but also contested concept in contemporary moral and political philosophy. In this seminar, we will analyse this complex notion in its different dimensions based on recent contributions to the contemporary debate. In discussing equal access to health care we will attempt to employ the ideal of equality in a practical context.

If you are interested in attending the seminar, please send a short letter of motivation to heilinger@lmu.de by July 20.

We assume that all travel and accomodation costs for LMU students will be covered by LMU Munich (final decision still pending).

Students: The class will be open for students from all disciplines, but it will be particularly relevant for those in philosophy, political science, medicine and bioethics. Students will earn 9 ECTS.

Instructors: Dr. Christine Bratu (LMU), Dr. Jan-Christoph Heilinger (LMU).

Equality is a notorious ideal: Hardly anyone today would deny that all human beings have equal moral worth. Nevertheless, it is also clear that our world is not just, insofar as many people live under conditions of relative disadvantage or even of absolute deprivation while others fare well, even very well. This seems to conflict with the idea of equal moral worth of all. The awareness of persisting and increasing inequalities continues to stir egalitarian concern and inspire egalitarian movements.

In the proposed seminar, we will focus on the philosophical debates about how to understand equality. Important questions in this context are: What is the appropriate currency or metric of justice? Should we think about distributive justice in terms of resources, welfare, or capabilities? Is equality indeed the appropriate pattern of a just distribution? Or should we give priority to those who are worse off, or aim for everyone to have enough (sufficiency)? Or is the entire focus on distribution misguided and we should direct our moral concern primarily to the quality of the relations that shape interpersonal interaction? In that case, would the ideal of distributive equality be replaced by an ideal of recognition or relational equality?


The aim of the seminar is to familiarise students with the ongoing philosophical debate about equality and justice and to make them reflect on the role of philosophical arguments in practical contexts.

The texts to be read in class will be “modern classics” from the philosophical debate about equality, dating from the last few decades on the one hand, and very recent contributions to different aspects of equality on the other. Authors discussed will include: Elizabeth Anderson, Nancy Frazer, Axel Honneth, Derek Parfit, Richard Arneson, Thomas Nagel and Larry Temkin.

Students are invited to prepare the readings in advance and to prepare one brief presentation of one of the texts (approx. 5 minutes). In order to get the full 9 ECTS points, students have to write a term paper (approx. 7.500 words). To familiarise with the topic, we recommend the article on “Egalitarianism” in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.


  • Anderson, Elizabeth (1999), 'What Is the Point of Equality?', Ethics, 109 (2), 287–337.
  • Arneson, Richard J. (1989), 'Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare', Philosophical Studies, 56 (1), 77–93.
  • --- (2013), 'Egalitarianism', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2013.
  • Frankfurt, Harry (1987), 'Equality as a Moral Ideal', Ethics, 98 (1), 21–43.
  • Fraser, Nancy and Honneth, Axel (2003), Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange (London/New York: Verso).
  • Nagel, Thomas (2005), 'The Problem of Global Justice', Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33 (2), 113–47.
  • Nath, Rekha (2011), 'Equal Standing in the Global Community', The Monist, 94 (4), 593–614.
  • Parfit, Derek (1997), 'Equality and Priority', Ratio, 10 (3), 202–21.
  • Scheffler, Samuel (2014), 'The Practice of Equality', in Carina Fourie, Fabian Schuppert, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (eds.), Social Equality: Essays on What it Means to be Equals (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 21–44.
  • Temkin, Larry (1993), Inequality (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Walzer, Michael (1983), Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books).