Book chapter

Relational Egalitarianism (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

For relational egalitarians, equality is about how individuals relate to one another: equality requires that individuals regard and treat each other as equals. Different relational egalitarians have fleshed out this idea in different ways and use of the umbrella term "relational equality" should not detract from the differences between relational egalitarian views on offer.One question about relational equality is whether its requirements apply to individuals, institutions, or both. Some relational egalitarians focus primarily on what it means for individuals, or co-citizens, to relate to one another as equals, highlighting, for example, the problematic nature of status hierarchies and stigmatization of certain groups, or the need to give equal consideration to everyone's interests. Such accounts sometimes also emphasize the importance of certain self-regarding attitudes, especially self-respect, as a component or requirement of relational equality. For other relational egalitarians, relational equality applies—primarily or additionally—to how institutions, especially states, relate to individuals. Institutional requirements can arise instrumentally (which institutions are best suited to produce egalitarian relations among individuals?) or because the demands of relational equality apply to institutions directly.A second crucial distinction, cutting across the first, is whether relational equality is taken to issue requirements about our treatment of others, our attitudes toward them, the attitudes expressed toward them, or a combination of these. Specifying where relational equality applies is important, not least because egalitarian treatment, egalitarian attitudes, and expression of egalitarian attitudes need not run together.Relational egalitarians have offered different views as to why relational equality matters in the first place. Relational equality may be valuable instrumentally (i.e., it promotes values such as self-respect); or because it has non-instrumental, impersonal value (i.e., the world is better if relationships are egalitarian); or because it expresses a deontic requirement about how individuals must treat each other.Relational egalitarians initially developed their views in response to distributive accounts of equality (such as luck egalitarianism), which assume that equality requires the equal distribution of a metric such as welfare. While relational egalitarians reject that assumption, they emphasize that distributions matter for equality for several reasons, for example when they interfere with egalitarian relationships, or when they are caused by relational inequality.Relational egalitarians have explored the real-world implications of their views, often opposing markets in favor of state provision of social services such as education or healthcare.Questions about the scope of relational equality are particularly crucial when it comes to determining its requirements: while relational egalitarians typically focus on requirements arising within political communities, it is not clear that relational equality can or should be limited by state boundaries; some relational egalitarians have begun to explore the possibility of a global relational egalitarianism. Similarly, tying requirements of relational equality to reciprocity may limit the theory to individuals with specific cognitive capacities.One striking aspect of the literature is the pluralism to which relational egalitarians are committed, for example when it comes to the reasons why relational equality is valuable, or the criteria used to identify when relational equality obtains. This does not make relational equality incoherent, but it creates the possibility of conflicting requirements.