Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 809–823 | Cite as

Luck vs. Capability? Testing Egalitarian Theories

  • Akira InoueEmail author
  • Kazumi Shimizu
  • Daisuke Udagawa
  • Yoshiki Wakamatsu


The issue of distributive justice receives substantial amount of attention in our society. On the one hand, we are sensitive to whether and the extent to which people are responsible for being worse off. On the other hand, we are mindful of society’s worst-off members. There has been a debate over luck egalitarianism, which relates to the former concern, and relational egalitarianism, which echoes the latter. By investigating the psychological processes of these two concerns, this paper examines the reliability of the argument that Elizabeth Anderson, a renowned relational egalitarian, presents against luck egalitarianism and for relational egalitarianism. It also considers whether it is possible to support luck egalitarianism and relational egalitarianism simultaneously, using an online experiment. The results of the experiment show that, first, for ordinary people, the luck consideration is as important as the basic capabilities consideration. Second, while real people consider the degree of compensation through the factors of causality (the degree of chosen results) and responsibility (the degree of responsibility for the consequences), the lack of basic capabilities directs them to determine how much victims of bad luck should be compensated. This suggests that pluralist egalitarianism is on the right track.


Elizabeth Anderson Luck egalitarianism Online experiment Relational egalitarianism The harshness objection 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the workshop “The Possibility of Survey Experiments in Normative Theory,” Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto, Japan), December 17, 2016. We are grateful to the audiences for their invaluable questions. This work was partly supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 18H00602 and the Kikawada Foundation. We would like to thank Editage ( for English language editing.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, Graduate School of Arts and SciencesUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.School of Political Science and EconomicsWaseda UniversityTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Faculty of EconomicsHannan UniversityOsakaJapan
  4. 4.Gakushuin University Law SchoolTokyoJapan

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