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Sinking Cohen's Flagship — or Why People with Expensive Tastes Should not be Compensated

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G. A. Cohen argues that egalitarians should compensate for expensive tastes or for the fact that they are expensive. Ronald Dworkin, by contrast, regards most expensive tastes as unworthy of compensation — only if a person disidentifies with his own such tastes (i.e. wishes he did not have them) is compensation appropriate. Dworkinians appeal, inter alia, to the so‐called ‘first‐person’ or ‘continuity’ test. According to the continuity test, an appropriate standard of interpersonal comparison reflects people's own assessment of their relative standing: Person A can only legitimately demand compensation from person B if he regards himself as worse off, all things considered, than B. The typical bearer of expensive tastes does not regard herself as being worse off than others with less expensive tastes. Hence, in the typical case, pace Cohen, compensation for expensive tastes is inappropriate. The article scrutinizes this rationale for not compensating for expensive tastes. Especially, we try to bolster the continuity test by relating it to Dworkin's distinction between integrated and detached values, pointing out that an argument for the continuity test can be built on the assumption that equality has integrated value. In brief, the point is that a metric of equality should be assessed, partly, in virtue of its consequences for related ideals. One of these is the kind of justificatory community promoted by the continuity test. We defend this view against an objection to the effect that equality is a detached value. We conclude that the continuity test constitutes a strong foothold for the resourcist egalitarian reluctance to compensate people for their expensive tastes.
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Document Type: Research Article

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Publication date: 01 November 2011

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