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Education, Sufficiency, and the Relational Egalitarian Ideal

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


In recent decades political philosophers have increasingly been engaged with the issue of educational equality. However, egalitarians typically focus on achieving equality in the distribution of education, and ignore the relevance of an alternative, relational conception of equality. An exception to this is Elizabeth Anderson, who applies relational egalitarian principles to education in her 2007 article ‘Fair Opportunity in Education: A Democratic Equality Perspective’. Although Anderson remains one of the few relational egalitarians to consider what this ideal requires in education, her arguments have received less attention than they deserve. In this article I examine Anderson's theory of fair educational opportunities for a democratic society of equals and develop an internal critique of her approach. I suggest that the sufficientarian standard Anderson proposes for education has the propensity to undermine the process of integration and the relations of equality she aspires to. Even if all children receive a sufficient education, inequality above the threshold could result in social divisions and status differentials that encourage informal segregation because people typically prefer to associate with other people who are similar to themselves. The article will finish by considering what implications this has for Anderson's relational egalitarian approach to education.