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Equality of opportunity

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-S116-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

Equality of opportunity is a political ideal according to which participants in some cooperative systems should possess equal access to some advantages at some point in time. According to this ideal, distributive outcomes (e.g., of income, welfare, functionings) should not be fixed in advance, but should result from processes that treat all people equally. Equality of opportunity is an egalitarian ideal, but it focuses on the means by which people acquire advantages, rather than on outcomes. Diverse conceptions of equality of opportunity are distinguished by their different accounts of what it means to possess an equal opportunity, which sorts of advantages people ought to have an equal opportunity to acquire, and which kinds of cooperative activities ought to be regulated by this ideal. In particular, advocates of equality of opportunity disagree about whether equality of opportunity requires only a prohibition on discrimination (e.g., in employment), or whether it also requires efforts to mitigate the influences of some background conditions (e.g., family social status) on distributive outcomes. They also disagree about whether people ought to have an equal opportunity to acquire welfare, resources, functionings, or some combination of these kinds of goods. Finally, advocates of equality of opportunity disagree about whether this ideal should regulate individual choices or only institutional arrangements, and whether it applies only among members of the same society. The concept of equality of opportunity has widespread support across the political spectrum, and therefore most of the critical literature offers objections to particular conceptions of this ideal, rather than to the broader concept of equality of opportunity.

Citing this article:
Navin, Mark. Equality of opportunity, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-S116-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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