Master of Arts
Date of Defense
In his book, Rescuing Justice and Equality, G.A. Cohen defends the claim that in a just society it is possible to have Pareto efficiency, equality and freedom of occupational choice. Cohen does this in an attempt to refute the arguments of philosophers that have seen these concepts as at odds with each other. Cohen initially formulates the relationship between these three concepts as a trilemma. If we accept any two, then we must reject the third. Cohen’s conclusion is that no such trilemma exists, since in a just society equality, Pareto efficiency and freedom of occupational choice harmonize. To motivate this claim, Cohen argues that people in a just society are under the influence of an egalitarian ethos, which informs their decisions about what is just. I offer a challenge, which results in the rejection of two aspects of Cohen’s argument. My challenge consists in the formulation of two competing theses motivated by the rejection of (i) Cohen’s claim that rejection of freedom of occupational choice requires the implementation of coercive and extremely invasive state policies that will place people into socially useful occupations and (ii) his claim that informational deficits prevent the implementation of any such policy. I reject the first claim by arguing that we can have more nuanced views in which freedom of occupational choice is limited rather than completely done away with. I reject the second claim by arguing that we needn’t obtain the amount of information Cohen demands. The two competing views I formulate are (a) that the state can and should use people’s cognitive biases to pursue Pareto efficiency and equality and (b) that people in the just society can individually correct for the biases that lead to inegalitarain distributions. I close by arguing that the latter view may constitute a rejection of freedom of occupational choice.
Lauer, Richard Lee, "Unfree and Equal: Challenging G.A. Cohen on the Compatibility between Freedom of Occupational Choice and Equality" (2011). Theses. 268.