Autonomy and Egalitarianism Academic Article uri icon


  • In this article I consider the alleged incompatibility between individual autonomy and the achievement and subsequent maintenance of an egalitarian society. I argue that not only is there no incompatibility, but that it is only where an egalitarian society is in place that a like autonomy can be exercised by each citizen. To make out my case I discuss the three main grounds that have been advanced to show there is such an incompatibility. Opponents of egalitarianism contend that egalitarian goals can only be achieved with losses in autonomy; in particular, losses through infringements on the civil liberties of individual citizens, losses in the scope individuals have to exercise and exploit their own talents and losses in control over the income and wealth to which individuals are entitled as a result of the exercise of their talents. The first of these contentions is dealt with quite briefly but the second and third go to the heart of the matter and accordingly are given fuller discussion. None of the three can be convincingly made out because it is precisely where there are significant inequalities in income and wealth that significant differences exist in the scope individuals have to fulfil their life-plans and thus to exercise their individual autonomy.

publication date

  • December 1988