Many philosophers try to explain their own distributive views in terms of where they disagree with utilitarianism. In itself, this approach is fairly uncontroversial. For example, John Rawls used it in his book A Theory of Justice as he thought that utilitarianism was the best developed view. But for this approach to work well, it must use the best conception of utilitarianism available. Moral philosophy is often guilty of using a straw man version.

My favoured account of utilitarianism extends Harsanyi’s work. I therefore use it to provide a contrastive account of the alternatives to utilitarianism. This project is neutral in the sense that its goal is simply to display what the choices between different theories really amount to. That said, however, I think that when its competitors are properly understood, utilitarianism ends up looking very convincing.

My published work in this direction discusses egalitarianism and the priority view. It includes what I think are major difficulties with these views. Ongoing work extends the treatment of egalitarianism. For example, a project with Teru Thomas relates egalitarianism more closely to our recent work on utilitarianism. A separate project with Lara Buchak discusses an intriguing connection between egalitarianism and nonexpected utility theory.

Other work in progress discusses contractualism and impersonal value. For example, I ask whether contractualism provides a genuinely distinctive way of thinking about distribution. I also ask what happens if we deny that all value is in some sense impersonal.

Related papers

McCarthy, D., The priority view. Economics and Philosophy 33(2) (2017): 215–257.

PDF | Abstract

McCarthy, D., Distributive equality. Mind 124(496) (2015): 1045–1109.

PDF | Abstract
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