Equality of Opportunity (EOP from now on) is one type of equality concept where, and here I try to phrase it as generally as I can, individuals are pursuing any kind of life opportunities (mostly by choice) and the problem is to establish how equality can be guaranteed in terms of pursuing these opportunities within society. These opportunities usually reflect particular social positions as well. As examples, let’s mention job openings, applying in educational institutions, eligibility for health care procedures and so on.
In the related EOP SEP entry, Richard Arneson highlights competition as a key component as ‘Different conceptions of equality of opportunity construe this idea of competing on equal terms variously.’
EOP became heavily analysed within analytical political philosophy in the last decades, after an initial scrutiny on part of left(egalitarian)-liberal thinkers like John Rawls, characterising EOP as actually going against an egalitarian ideal.
On the other hand, the concept of opportunity shares several aspects with the concept of freedom (pursuing opportunities in life) and I’d say that EOP has been a particularly fruitful investigative ground for liberals in general, including centrists and libertarians as well.
EOP comes in different flavours (see next section) and the differences between these concepts can be analysed via the different type of inequality the particular egalitarian line of thinking is trying to remove or neutralise. These obstacles can be formal, legal, social, natural. Another important aspect is to consider chances and choices as different sources of opportunities. Both chances and choices can be equalised. Chances and choices are intimately linked with circumstances and contingencies, one difference in the usage of latter two can be that circumstances are social, contingencies are of the natural type.
My main inspirational source is Shlomi Segall’s Equality and Opportunity book, that I started to read first half of 2019. On the other hand lately I’ve been reading quite a lot of GA Cohen, see Self-Ownership and Open Lifespan: the libertarian problem of benefiting from maximum healthy longevity technology, part 1, and turns out Cohen was also a founding figure of luck egalitarianism, a position which Segall’s book is advancing and extending intensively. So I thought here’s an opportunity to go back to my OL related thoughts triggered by Segall’s book as luck egalitarianism I’f found attractive and relevant to build my Open Lifespan arguments on top.
The most important conception is formulated by Segall as ‘Radical luck egalitarianism is about neutralising bad brute luck.’
In the current, first part of the post I introduce existing EOP concepts and then radically extend the already radical EOP concept by considering 3 different types of (dis)advantages and corresponding EOPs due to different ways of ‘being simply alive’, when and for how long.
This extension will make the way for 2 new parallel arguments in part 2 showing how Open Lifespan can be used to implement Lifelong Radical Equality of Opportunity.
Existing EOP concepts: formal, substantive, radical, total
Segall distinguishes 4 different concepts, in what follows I quickly introduce these concepts using his work.
Formal EOP: no legal/institutional barriers for individuals to purse opportunities.
Substantive (or real) EOP: trying to remove social-economic barriers of opportunities besides ensuring formal EOP.
Radical EOP: trying to minimalise different opportunities due to natural chances, contingencies, bad brute luck. Also includes formal and substantive EOP requirements.
Total EOP: EOP by lottery, trying to minimalize both inequalities due chance and choice.
From our point-of-view the starting point is Radical EOP and the ethical/political philosophy called Radical luck egalitarianism which is about neutralising bad brute luck and advancing radical EOP.
But before we can use it to build up our arguments we must take a big conceptual breath and swim out to the ocean of life to get the proper focus. This needs a bit of further thinking on what being alive, when and for how long means in terms of (dis)advantages.
3 types of DOB related conceivable (dis)advantages
(in)Equality interpreted amongst people or individuals is at least a binary (more generally an n-adic, n-ary, many place) relation that includes a comparison between individuals participating in/sharing that equality.
In case of inequality some individuals have (dis)advantages over others in certain respects.
From the POV of being alive and particularly from the POV of being alive, when and for how long, we can discern 3 types of (dis)advantages.
Please note that the first one is a very theoretical one (‘metaphysical’ (dis)advantage) but I think we need this for a more rigorous treatment of our topic.
- (Being alive, being born at all) Any living individual have an advantage over any non-born individuals.
- (Being alive earlier) People born earlier have biological disadvantages over people born later but within a temporal distance guaranteeing some significant overlapping.
- (Being alive earlier) People born earlier have social disadvantages over people born later but within a temporal distance guaranteeing some significant overlapping.
An important note here that with this mix of ‘metaphysical’, social and natural (dis)advantages of ‘being alive’ we left the terrain of purely social or natural bad brute luck. For chronological/biological aging showcases both the natural and social aspects and hence cannot be described via these categories only. Life and a default health being necessary conditions for all the natural and social (dis)advantages to present themselves at all.
3 types of possible EOPs concerning being and staying alive
Based on the 3 conceivable (dis)advantages related to being alive, when and for how long, we are now in a position to map these options to 3 types of possible radical EOP positions. It’s important to note that these are all possible positions of radical EOP trying to neutralise bad brute luck, relativised to a point in time, or a period in time.
- (Being born EOP) To live at all, the chance to be an agent.
- (Being/staying alive age-neutrally healthy EOP) To live long enough without experiencing functional health decline.
- (Being/staying alive age-neutrally competent/functional EOP) To live long enough without experiencing institutional ageism.
So far I’ve been uncompromising in my extension of the radical EOP concept but someone at this point might object on more traditional EOP lines saying ‘Hey, this is all cool and imaginative but where is the ‘competing on equal terms’ essential EOP component in all of this?
Let’s try to re-phrase and explain then the 3 new EOPs with competing terms.
- (Being born EOP) To live at all, the chance to be an agent. This is a competition in the metaphysical sense, the right to be born and be and agent, to realise a possibility, to compete for a modality. To compete under equal terms here means to compete in the pool of all genetic combinations once conceived/realised to be actually realised during birth. This is a necessary entry point for all other EOPs in life, a condition of possibility expressed itself as an EOP. Why? Because being/nonbeing an agent is itself a competitive option, to qualify for having a quantity of agency assigned at all, in a limiting case. Just like in a scientific measurement, being detected qualitatively in the binary sense of being there/not being there is the starting quantitative statement, even if that quantity cannot be quantified further with the measurement tool. This being born EOP concept have other issues as well (think about abortion and the ethical principles around it) but I need it to have a logically bigger and more exact space around us. I’m actually not going to use it for the 2 crucial arguments am making for Open Lifespan and Lifelong Radical Equality of Opportunity later.
- (Being/staying alive age-neutrally healthy EOP) To live long enough without experiencing functional declines. In terms of neutralising natural bad brute luck, competing under equal terms for health that is absolute and not age-adjusted, but age-neutralising is a sort of ultimate possible neutralisation, that is the main point in developing a maximum healthy longevity technology. 70 year old W can compete with 45 year old X, who can compete 30 year old Y, who can compete with 20 year old Z for the same biological health status, that is the entry point for being able to occupy most social positions. Just like metaphysical EOP is the entry ticket for age-neutral healthy EOP, this latter is the entry ticket for the socially defined, ‘classic’ EOP category in the next point.
- (Being/staying alive age-neutrally competent/functional EOP) To live long enough without experiencing institutional ageism. Removing deep-rooted social barriers, obstacles that come with institutional ageism, backed and made worse by biological ageing is the kind of EOP that we need not argue extensively as it is already being recognised by many. Please also see my Fighting aging and fighting ageism: two sides of the same coin? for a more elaborate conceptual connection between the two types of biological and social neutralising of the aging process. This social EOP can obviously apply for the ‘classic’ competing under equal terms for opportunities like jobs, education, political positions.
Now we are in a position to advance to our 2 parallel arguments in the follow-up post.