Luck and the domain of distributive justice

Daniel Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The natural lottery is a metaphor about the way luck affects the allocation of personal attributes, talents, skills, and defects. Susan Hurley has argued that it is incoherent to regard individual essential properties (IEPs) as a matter of lottery luck. The reason is that a lottery of identity-affecting properties generates the 'non-identity problem'. For this reason among others she suggests substituting lottery luck with 'thin luck', i.e. luck as non-responsibility, which would allow us to coherently regard IEPs as a matter of luck. I argue that we are not not-responsible for our IEPs. Therefore, the coherent range of 'thin luck' is not broader than that of lottery luck. Moreover, justice theorists need to be worried about the non-identity problem only to the extent that IEPs affect life prospects and it is far from evident that they do. After addressing some connected aspects of Hurley's analysis, I discuss the type of reasons that justify seeking to expand domain of justice and the ways of doing this, for instance by abandoning lottery luck. I close by suggesting, however, that if Parfit's view of 'what matters about identity' is correct, its application to the case of identity-affecting lotteries may prove the expansion of the domain of justice superfluous, as IEPs belong to it as it is.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)244-261
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010


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