For Mother’s Day: Dependency and Rawls

For Mother’s Day: Dependency and Rawls May 13, 2012

Author’s Note: My readings for the following essay started me thinking for the first time theoretically about mothering and care-giving. It also made me reflect a lot on the sacrifices made and love shown by my wife and my mother. I share this for Mother’s Day.

In Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency, Eva Feder Kittay develops a theory of dependency which addresses the needs of dependents and those involved in dependency work. Central to this book is the contention that dependency is a universal fact of human existence. We are born into a state of dependency; we spend much of our lives providing for dependents; and we may again return to a state of dependency as we age and/or if we become seriously ill or disabled. Of course, for many, particularly the disabled, dependency is a constant state of being.

In her argument about dependency, Kittay “articulates some very persuasive and powerful criticisms of contractarian models of justice.” Specifically, Kittay develops a “dependency critique” of John Rawls’ liberal theory of justice. Kittay argues that a theory of justice which does not address the care needed by dependents and the injustices faced by dependency workers is inadequate as a theory of justice. In her critique, Kittay says that Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness fails to address dependency, and falls short in addressing the injustices faced by dependency workers, because his theory idealizes the full-functioning autonomous citizen.

Martha Nussbaum states that the criticisms raised by Kittay “are questions with which all theorists of justice will need henceforth to grapple.” In this paper I will grapple with Kittay’s dependency critique of Rawls’ theory of social justice. I will start by looking at Kittay’s critique of Rawls. In doing so, we will see that dependency is an important issue for social justice.
However, I will argue in this paper that Kittay’s critique mischaracterizes Rawls’s theory. Kittay misunderstands the reason for why Rawls excludes extreme cases of illness and disability when developing his two principles of justice. Kittay also fails to recognize the extent to which care and benevolence are present in Rawls’ theory. I will draw on Susan Moller Okin to show how we can view Rawls as relying heavily on sentiments of care and benevolence in his theory. We can particularly find these elements in the construct of the original position and in Rawls’ discussion of moral development, in which he places a high premium on a caring and loving relationship between parents and children.

After looking at the elements of benevolence and care found in justice as fairness, I will then look at the modifications to Rawls’ theory which Kittay proposes. These modifications include the addition of care as sixth basic social good and the addition of a third principle of justice. I will argue that if we understand the extent to which Rawls already includes care and benevolence in his theory, these modifications are not necessary.

The Dependency Critique

Central to Eva Feder Kittay’s critique of Rawls’ “justice as fairness” is a concern about dependency. Dependency is the state of existence, which is characterized by a reliance on others for functionality and survival. There are three primary categories of dependency: children, the disabled, and the elderly. These groupings show that issues related to dependency cover individuals in differing stages of life and that all of us were dependent at sometime and we all could potentially be dependent again, either in the case that we become disabled (if we are not already) or when we age to the point that we are no longer able to function at a level that does not require regular assistance from others.

Kittay argues that in order to adequately discuss the place of dependents within a society, the social conditions facing “dependency workers” must also be addressed. These are individuals who dedicate substantial time and effort to meeting the needs of those in a state of dependency. The dependency worker who plays a direct role for everyone is typically a mother. In some cases this could also be the mother-figure whether it is a grandmother, aunt, older sister, or foster-mother. All people are born into a state of dependency. Particularly in the earliest stages of childhood, we are all dependent on others to function and survive. The mother in this instance takes the role of a full-time dependency worker. While fathers can play a support role in the dependency work (and this is not to say that there are not cases where fathers are the primary dependency worker), mothers are the primary, or lead, dependency workers in most cases.
Even in situations when paid dependency workers (nannies, day care workers, etc.) share the burden with mothers of dependency work, it is still the mother who assumes primary stewardship for finding and securing such care.

A second type of dependency worker is the paid dependency worker. In many instances it would be accurate to refer to these individuals as lowly-paid dependency workers. Paid dependency workers in many ways have a tag-team relationship with unpaid dependency workers because it is the paid dependency worker who fills in the blocks of time when the primary dependency worker is at their place of employment, running errands, or taking needed time away (though such time may be a rarity given other pressing commitments). Such paid dependency workers include workers at day care facilities, including adult day care facilities. Some categories of paid dependency workers work collectively to carry almost the entire dependency load. These workers include employees of nursing homes and residential youth facilities. While in this instance a family member may be providing financial support for the dependent, though it may also be coming from the state, the burden of daily dependency work is shared by the staff at a given facility.
In her “dependency critique,” Kittay takes on the idealizing assumption made by Rawls, namely that citizens are to be regarded as free, equal, and fully cooperating individuals. Her critique seeks to show that, “as long as the bounds of justice are drawn within reciprocal relations among free and equal persons, dependents will continue to remain disenfranchised, and dependency workers who are otherwise fully capable and cooperating members of society will continue to share varying degrees of the dependent’s disenfranchisement.”

According to Kittay, Rawls’ idealizing assumption does not well serve dependency workers because the obligation connected to such work situates them unequally compared to those not charged with the care of a dependent. Yet while we are not all faced with the present obligation of dependency, we all at some point in our lives are impacted by dependency. All individuals are completely dependent at birth and continue to be so to varying degrees throughout childhood, even into the late teen years. Especially with ever-growing life expectancies most of us can also expect to again be somewhat dependent as we age. This dimension of a growing and aging elderly population has a growing impact on dependency work. Now many adults transition almost immediately from caring for their dependent children to caring for their dependent parents, lengthening considerably the amount of one’s lifespan involved heavily in dependency work. The “inevitable dependencies” are a universal aspect of human existence. The question that remains is, to what extent should the fact of dependency be considered in the development of a liberal theory of social justice?

Kittay argues that Rawls intentionally excludes dependents and dependency from his conception of justice. She says that since women shoulder the vast majority of dependency work, a theory that fails to adequately address issues of dependency “effectively disadvantages women.”
I do not contend that Rawls appears to put aside a certain aspect of dependency in his theory. When discussing the principles of justice, Rawls says that he is assuming that “everyone has physical needs and psychological capacities within the normal range, so that questions of health care and mental capacity do not arise.” He goes on to say that focusing on cases outside the normal range of health and mental capacity will “distract our moral perception by leading us to think of persons distant from us whose fate arouses pity and anxiety.”

For Kittay, just as Rawls’ theory of justice seeks to develop principles that “guarantee that the well-being of future generations is not jeopardized, we need a similar principle to ensure the well-being of dependents and their caregivers.” For Kittay, in order to develop such a principle, we first must take a second look at Rawls’ idealization that “all are capable of honoring the principles of justice and of being full participants throughout their lives.” Such an idealization is particularly exclusionary of those with disabilities or special health care needs.

Kittay argues that this idealization of the autonomous individual and its justification involves two mistakes. First, it creates the impression that the social justice concerns of those with disabilities and special needs are drastically different from those of the “normal functioning individual.” Second, the ideal that anyone is fully functioning throughout a lifetime is inaccurate, for not “a single citizen approaches the ideal of full functioning throughout a lifetime.” The second mistake which Rawls makes, according to Kittay, is that his theory fails to take into account the fact that we are all born into a state of dependency or, in other words, that dependency, and therefore dependency work is an inevitable aspect of the normal lifespan.

Kittay in her critique of this aspect of justice as fairness seems to miss a central motivation of Rawls’ theory. By definition, a theory of justice deals with the questions: How should I act or treat other people? What do I owe them because of the fact that they are human? For Rawls, a major concern is what do we owe those who normally do not arouse a sense of pity and charity. This makes particular sense since A Theory of Justice was developed during the 1950s and 1960s. That was a time when America was struggling with the question of what they owed blacks, women, and the poor. That we have an obligation to help children and the disabled seems to be, at least on a certain level, a shared view. Granted we may disagree on the content of that obligation, especially when it comes to the issue of distributive justice, but it seems that many believe we have an obligation to children and the disabled because they are those who cannot help themselves. Yet, as a matter of justice, we need to decide what we owe the poor and disadvantaged who might be labeled as “able-bodied” and are therefore in situations that do not arouse a sense of pity or charity. While Rawls does not make specific references to the actual plight of the rural and urban poor along with the uphill struggle of blacks in America in his book, given the era in which it was written and the theory that he presents it would be difficult to deny that such situations influenced his philosophical work.

In her criticism of Rawls’ idealization of the individual fully functioning over a normal lifespan, Kittay overstates the extent to which this idealization excludes those in many states of dependency. For when he says that he is assuming that “everyone has physical needs and psychological capacities within the normal range,” it would be hard to assume that he is not aware of the fact that such a “normal range” includes the type of dependency which comes along with infancy and childhood as well as the dependency that may come with the onset of old age and/or disease. Clearly such things are within the normal range of a fully functioning life. That Rawls does not specifically mention them as part of the normal range of a fully functioning life does not mean that he does not include them since he does not give a detailed description of what such a range might look like.

Kittay says that Rawls does make two other “allusions” to dependency in A Theory of Justice. The first of these allusions is found in the “circumstances of justice,” where Rawls says that all are vulnerable to attack. This “equal vulnerability,” as Kittay puts it, is still inadequate because vulnerability “originating in dependency is not a condition in which all are equally vulnerable, but one in which some are especially vulnerable.” We all are clearly vulnerable to attack and according to Hobbes this is why we seek the protection of a state. However, Kittay feels that this mischaracterizes the vulnerability of dependents since those in a state or period of dependency are more vulnerable, partially because they do not have an equal ability to defend themselves or retaliate against attacks. Dependency workers are not equally vulnerable to attack, Kitty adds, in that they need to protect not only themselves, but also the dependent they are obligated to protect. In a way their obligation to these other persons may place them at an even greater vulnerability to attack. This is so because dependency workers often find themselves putting themselves in harm’s way to protect a dependent. Such actions are at times part of the moral or professional obligation the dependency worker has towards a particular dependent. The birthing-process, which marks the commencement of the biological mother-child dependency relationship, is an example of the great physical harm which a mother risks just to begin the primary dependency relationship. This does not speak to what might be perceived as the potential public or economic harm which comes from entering this form of unpaid dependency work. For both paid and unpaid dependency workers, their work is one not rewarded in the market and by choosing (and there may be differing levels of choice) to perform such work, their future potential in such a market is also harmed.

Here Kittay is correct to say that dependents and dependency caretakers are more vulnerable to attack or malevolence, than other categories of people. Yet this is not necessarily a damning criticism of Rawls’ theory in that I think she somewhat misunderstands or mischaracterizes the meaning, and maybe the significance, of what Rawls calls the circumstances of justice. He describes the circumstances of justice as “the normal conditions under which human cooperation is both possible and necessary.” Rawls says that this description of the circumstances of justice recognizes that while society is a “cooperative venture for mutual advantage,” society is also marked by conflict and competition between interests. The first circumstance of justice is that a number of individuals must “coexist” within a defined geographical area. The second circumstance is that individuals are “roughly similar in physical and mental powers” to the extent that “their capacities are comparable in that no one among them can dominate the rest.” This may appear to exclude dependents, particularly the physically and mentally disabled. Yet, the point here is not that everyone has a minimum of physical and mental ability but rather that no individual or small group of individuals has some form of extreme strength that would prevent them from having reason to enter into arrangements of social cooperation.

The third circumstance is that all are vulnerable to attack and that all potentially could have their pursuit of their own good blocked by the “united force of others.” This brings us back to Kittay’s criticism of the circumstances of justices and the idea of equal vulnerability. While Kittay is correct in saying that dependents, and as a result dependency workers, are more vulnerable than most, her criticism is based on a mistake since Rawls does not say that all are “equally vulnerable,” as Kittay contends, but instead says that all are vulnerable. This is an important distinction because in the contractarian tradition, a principal reason for seeking social cooperation is that all are vulnerable. Even if we are relatively stronger or smarter, we are still vulnerable to the attack of those who are weaker individually but who have ganged or grouped together. The point here is that we are all vulnerable, no matter how weak or strong, and it is therefore in our best interest, whether weak or strong, to enter into arrangements of social cooperation. So when Kittay criticizes Rawls for saying that we are all equally vulnerable, she is misunderstanding the reason Rawls introduces the circumstances of justice. She also, inaccurately, inserts the idea of “equal” vulnerability, when Rawls himself only says that all are vulnerable.

Kittay finds Rawls’ second allusion to concerns about dependency also in his discussion about the circumstances of justice. He says that it is “essential that each person in the original position should care about the well-being of some of those in the next generation, it being presumed that their concern is for different individuals in each case. Moreover for anyone in the next generation, there is someone who cares about them in the next generation.” Kittay notes that the concern for the next generation in this instance is out of a worry that if the generations are “mutually disinterested” there will be “no impetus to prevent the depletion of resources for future generations.” This is one of the reasons why Rawls proposes that participants in the original position be heads of households, and assumes “that a generation cares for its immediate descendants, as fathers care for theirs sons.” For Kittay, by referring only to fathers without any reference to mothers and their relationships with their son and daughters, Rawls is showing that his concern about justice between generations does not consider dependency relationships since such relationships are mostly between mothers and their daughters and sons. Here though, Kittay claims, the concern is not about dependency but rather the “scarcity of resources across generations.” In making her claim about this aspect of Rawls’ theory, Kittay seems to think that Rawls is more concerned about the scarcity of resources than about an element of care, which exists between parents and children. The fourth circumstance of justice is the presence of a moderate scarcity of resources since gross abundance would make distributive justice unnecessary and extreme scarcity would make it impossible. In discussing the circumstances of justice, the matter of resources is central to what makes justice possible and necessary. Yet it still seems possible that a reciprocal caring relationship between parents and children would be important to a theory of justice other than just for the purpose of maintaining adequate resources across generations.

The proposal that the participants in the original position be conceptualized as heads of households has raised red-flags for feminists like Susan Moller Okin, who recommends that the participants should instead be viewed as individuals rather than a heads of household. While Okin is concerned about the traditional interpretation of heads of households as strictly male heads of households, Kittay wonders whether viewing parties within the original position as individuals rather than as heads of households will better serve the interests of dependents and caregivers. She says that if “human dependency counts among the general facts to which representatives in the OP have epistemic access, then they know that when the veil is lifted they may find themselves dependent or having to care for dependents.” If we are then to view the participants in the original position as individuals, they must have to then consider the possibility that they will be either dependents or caregivers.

However, Kittay says that while participants within the original position are free to view themselves as dependents or dependency workers, the Rawlsian construct does not “necessitate that a representative will do so when choosing the principles for a well-ordered society” and in the process “makes the representation of these dependents a contingent matter and not one integral to the procedure of determining the principles of justice.” However, this is not necessarily true since we should assume that the participants are aware of dependency. Kittay claims that the participants would not consider a certain aspect of human existence, that of dependency, because Rawls does not require them to specifically do so. Yet they have unlimited knowledge about the human condition, except their own status within it, and we should instead assume that the participants are aware of dependency and that they would consider the likely possibility that they may be dependency workers (paid or unpaid) or otherwise impacted by the fact of dependency. The veil of ignorance does not leave the parties in complete ignorance. While they are ignorant of their own particular circumstances, they have knowledge about “general facts about human society.” This knowledge includes an understanding of “political affairs and the principles of economic theory; they know the basis of social organization and the laws of human psychology.” Rawls says that the parties are presumed to know the facts needed to choose principles of justice and given this there is no limit to the general facts of which they are aware. This particular aspect of the veil leads me to think that the participants in the original position are considerably knowledgeable about the details which are faced by those undergoing the human experience.

Many of the things of which the participants are supposedly aware and knowledgeable are not specifically outlined in A Theory of Justice. I believe that this leads Kittay to mischaracterize the original position. Kittay assumes that the participants in the original position do not know about the conditions of dependency. Yet if these conditions are as widespread as Kittay contends then it could be easily assumed that the participants would be aware of this aspect of the human condition.

It does not seem to matter, as far a dependency issues are concerned, whether the participants are viewed as heads of household or, as Okin would have it, as individuals. This would particularly be the case since even if they view themselves as individuals the participants would be aware of the family structure and the resulting connection with dependency issues.

Care and Benevolence in Rawls

Many of Kittay’s concerns about Rawls are tempered, if not resolved, if one looks at his theory through the lens which Susan Moller Okin provides. While she does take Rawls to task for not fully addressing women’s concern within his theory, she does see great “potential” for doing so. She sees particular potential is his use of the original position, oft the focus of feminist criticism, and his discussion on moral development. In these two things we find strong elements of care, empathy, and benevolence, elements that might be missed if we focus on Rawls’ rational choice language.

Okin argues that while Rawls’ theory is “sometimes viewed as excessively rationalistic, individualistic, and abstracted from real human beings,” it should instead be viewed as a “voice of responsibility, care, and concern for others.” We can find this to be the case in the original position. Since the parties are referred to as mutually disinterested it may seem that the construct is overly rationalistic and individualistic. However, Okin argues that this would be a misreading or misunderstanding of the original position because “Rawls does have to rely on empathy, benevolence, and equal concern for others as for self, in order to have the parties come up with the principles they choose, especially the difference principle.” Rawls addresses this when he says that the “combination of mutual disinterest and the veil of ignorance achieves the same purpose as benevolence. For this combination of conditions forces each person in the original position to take the good of others into account.” Now Rawls emphasizes that the veil of ignorance does not impose benevolence because such a “strong condition” is not needed. Instead, what the veil of ignorance does is require the participants to consider others in their deliberation about the principles of justice. While rational self-interest plays a part in such deliberations, we are not aware of which “self” we are because of the conditions of the veil or ignorance. Okin goes as far as to say that the veil “is such a demanding stipulation that it converts what would, without it, be self-interest into benevolence or the equal concern for others” While Rawls shies away from the term benevolence, Okin argues that the veil of ignorance at least delivers a concern for others with the power of benevolence. I fully agree with Okin’s interpretation of the original position. While the original position may incorporate certain elements of rational self-interest, the primary purpose of the original position construct is to arrive at principles of justice which go beyond the mere pursuit of self interest. Since the parties are unaware of their own particular situations, the only way in which one can look after one’s own self-interest is to look after the interests of all equally.

For Kittay, a primary deficiency in Rawls’ theory of justice is the extent to which he neglects the idea of care. I will discuss shortly the ways in which Kittay thinks that care might be infused into Rawls’ theory. However, Okin sees care present in Rawls’ theory in a way that some others do not. In one sense, the veil of ignorance and the original position are friendly to the idea of care in that the “original position requires that, as moral subjects, we consider the identities, aims, and attachments of every other person, however different they may be from ourselves, as of equal concern with our own.” This “equal concern” parallels elements of care. Clearly, Kittay shows a special respect, if not reverence, for dependency workers who care for others despite what might be in their own self-interest. The original position likewise asks us to consider the needs, rights, and interests of others. However, it could still be said that the equal concern required by the veil of ignorance falls short of the care which parents, particularly mothers, show and give to their children. While the original position requires the participants to be “other” minded, does it require them to care? Not necessarily. Nonetheless, the idea of care plays a role elsewhere in Rawls’ theory and it is there that we see the significance of care for Rawls.

Okin’s primary criticism of Rawls’ is that he places the family within the basic structure of society but fails to further address the idea when applying the principles of justice. Okin finds this particularly ironic since Rawls recognizes the family as vital to moral development, particularly the development of a sense of justice. However, in his discussion of moral development Rawls fully recognizes the importance of care.

In his discussion of the sense of justice, Rawls outlines three stages of moral development. The first of these stages is the “morality of authority.” In this stage Rawls assumes that “the sense of justice is acquired gradually by the younger members of society as they grow up.” Central to the acquisition of a sense of justice by young children is the influence of parents. Rawls refers to this stage as the “morality of authority” because children have not yet started to challenge the authority of their parents. During this stage children develop a sense of morality based on the nurturing relationship which they have with their parents. Parents “we may suppose, love the child and in time the child comes to love and trust his parents.” This love for parent comes about because, as “the parents’ love of child is recognized by him on the basis of their evident intentions, the child is assured of his worth as a person.” It is through this process that children not only develop love for parents and family but also start to develop a sense of justice toward others. Here Rawls alludes to a connection between the care which should be found in familial relationships and the basic social good of self respect.

For Rawls, the parents’ love is “expressed in their evident intention to care for him, to do for him as his rational self-love would incline, and in the fulfillment of these intentions. Their love is displayed by their taking pleasure in his presence and supporting his sense of competence and self-esteem.” That healthy moral development depends “upon love, trust, affection, example and guidance,” for Okin sets Rawls apart from Kant “for whom any feelings that did not follow from independently established moral principles were morally suspect.” For Okin, Rawls’ “conviction that the development of a sense of justice depends on attachments to and feelings for other persons” is in tension with the “rational choice” language which is associated with his theory of justice.

By looking at Okin’s interpretation of the original position and by looking at the role which Rawls attaches to the parent-child relationship in moral development, we can see that there is an element of care for others in the Rawlsian theory of justice. Given the “rational choice” language and strong Kantian influence, it could be easy to assume that care and relationships are not present or important in Rawls’ theory, but this is not the case and those who claim otherwise misunderstand important elements of his theory, including the original position.

Additions to Justice as Fairness?

I would now like to turn to two ways in which Eva Kittay tries to infuse care into the Rawlsian theory of justice. In doing so I will look at why these steps are not necessary. Kittay first says that after considering dependency we must look at how dependency impacts the list of primary social goods that stand as the basis of Rawls’ distributive justice as well as its impact on the two principles of justice.

The broad categories of social goods, which must be justly distributed by the basic institutions of society are “rights and liberties, opportunities and powers, income and wealth,” and “a sense of one’s own worth.” The basic liberties include rights to freedom of thought, expression, and religion. Opportunity is defined as the “freedom of movement and free choice of occupation against a background of diverse opportunities” that provide for the “pursuit of ends.” Powers are the “powers and prerogatives of offices of responsibility. Income and wealth are just that. The sense of one’s own worth are the things needed “if individuals are to have a lively sense of their own worth as moral persons.”

Kittay notes that the above list presumes that citizens are motivated by two moral powers: the possession of a sense of justice and “the capacity to form and revise a rational life plan.” Kitty asks if these moral powers are adequate for “a society that takes dependency needs seriously?” She does not think so. She recommends that a third moral power should be considered. This moral power might take the form of “a capacity to respond to vulnerability with care.” The moral power to “respond to vulnerability with care” also results in the potential development of another primary good. If the goods that Rawls outlines fail to serve those in dependency relationships, as Kittay contends, then what might such a good look like? She proposes that such a good would be the “good both to be cared for in a responsive dependency relationships if and when one is unable to care for oneself, and to meet the dependency needs of others without incurring undue sacrifices oneself.”

Does there need to be third moral power, namely “a capacity to respond to vulnerability with care”? First we must decide whether this proposed moral power adds to the two established powers. Kittay’s proposed moral power is not necessary if citizens have a “sense of justice.” Rawls defines a “strong” sense of justice as “an effective desire to comply with the existing rules and to give one another that to which they are entitled.” Those who are most vulnerable are entitled to protections that the less vulnerable may not stand in need of. It is from this sense of justice that we feel compelled or obligated to respond to the vulnerable. Whether we respond with “care” or justice does not seem to matter as long as the vulnerable are protected. In this instance the added moral power of a capacity to respond to vulnerability with care is redundant.

While Kittay says that her third moral power would lead to a sixth social good, that good is not necessary, whether or not we add the moral power to care for the vulnerable. It is important, Kittay says “both to be cared for in a responsive dependency relationship if and when one is unable to care for oneself, and to meet the dependency needs of others without incurring undue sacrifices oneself.”

The first part of this proposed good seeks to make a basic social good the care needed by those who can no longer or cannot yet care for themselves. While it is important to care for those who cannot care for themselves, I would say that the last basic good which Rawls provides encompasses this idea. The social good to which I refer is “a sense of one’s own worth.” This social good places a premium on something which goes deeper than political rights and wealth. The good of self-worth requires us to ensure not only that people are protected politically and economically but also that we make sure that we treat people with dignity. This can only take place when all have a sense of their own worth. If those in a state of dependency were not adequately cared for they would likely have a diminished sense of worth. This existing basic social good would cover the dependent’s need for as well as other instances where self-worth might otherwise be diminished.

The second part of Kittay’s proposed social good, that dependency workers be able to “meet the dependency needs of others without incurring undue sacrifices,” I think is best addressed by the two principles of justice rather than in a discussion about basic social goods. Rawls’ theory is very concerned about “undue sacrifices.” In particular, dependency workers could not be asked to give up basic rights and liberties as a result of their work. A Theory of Justice is first of all a critique of utilitarianism for allowing such sacrifices under certain circumstances. The question then becomes whether the difference principle meets the concerns of dependency workers.

This brings us to the question of whether the claims and needs of dependents and their care givers can be taken care of by the second principle of justice, and by the difference principle in particular. In his later work, Rawls defines this principle a follows: “Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.” It has been my assumption that dependents and caregivers who are disadvantaged by the dependency relationship would be covered by the second part of this principle dealing with the least advantaged members of society.

However, this may not be the case. According to Kittay, while the difference principle might address some (though not all) of the inequalities faced by paid dependency work, it does not apply to unpaid dependency work. This is due, according to Kittay, to the nature of unpaid dependency work, which is not an economic relationship but rather a relationship of care. While it is true that dependency relationships are relationships of care, this does not means that they are not also economic relationships. If because of the demands of unpaid dependency work, both in terms of resources and of time, a household is left economically disadvantaged they are then the least well-off of those whom the difference principle serves. If a mother’s or father’s conception of the good leads them to devote time to the care of a dependent, then a liberal conception of distributive justice would seek to protect them from the economic obstacles to achieving their conception of the good, particularly when the care of children is so important to the moral development of citizens.

It is easier to apply the difference principle to paid dependency workers, though it is important to show how. Clearly the difference principle would address the low wages of paid dependency workers, since this places many dependency workers within the realm of the economically least well-off. Also, the working conditions and poor benefits would be addressed by both the first principle of justice and the distribution of self-respect. That many paid dependency workers are denied adequate benefits, if not denied benefits completely, while doing grueling and dirty work is demeaning of their dignity. It might also say something about the worth we place on dependents.

The first part of the second principle, which ensures that offices are open to all, also seems relevant to the situation of paid dependency work. The concern is not whether dependency work is open to all but whether obstacles to other forms of work are forcing certain groups of people, including minorities, immigrants, and women, into dependency-oriented positions. These obstacles can range from discrimination to poor and inadequate education.

Does Rawls’ second principle meet the needs of those in dependency relationships? While Kittay does not think that it does, I have shown a number of ways in which it does. She is too quick to say that it does not because it is relationship of care, but she is clearly aware of the economic ramifications of both unpaid and paid dependency work.

For all of the reasons I have discussed above, Kittay does not think that the Rawls’ theory including the difference principle meets the needs of those in dependency relationships. If this is the case, might there be need for a third principle of justice? For Kittay, his theory provides no foundation for such a principle. But given the dependency-conscious adjustments to his theory discussed above would such a principle be needed? Kittay says it is needed. She argues that such a principle would be based in the moral power of care, our “unequal vulnerability in dependency” and “the primacy of human relations to happiness and well-being” rather than on equal vulnerability, rationality, and a vision of our own good.”

A third principle, according to Kittay, might look like this: “To each according to his or her need for care, from each according to his or her capacity for care, and such support from social institutions as to make available resources and opportunities to those providing care, so that all will be adequately attended in relations that are sustaining.”

There is not a need for this principle. The concerns which lead Kittay to propose a third principle are addressed elsewhere in Rawls’s existing theory. Rawls’ second principle of justice addresses many of her concerns about the conditions faced by dependency workers. Additionally, I have shown that Kittay’s proposed basic social good of care, the basis for a her third principle of justice, is unnecessary because the social good of self-respect already addresses concerns about care. Many of Kittay’s arguments that lead to her proposal of a third principle are based on a misunderstanding of Rawls’ theory. In seeing this, one can see that the foundation for Kittay’s third principle of justice fails to support it.


In looking Eva Kittay’s dependency critique of John Rawls’ theory of justice, I have shown that her criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of his project. Her concern about the normal functioning individual unnecessarily jumps to the conclusion that a normal functioning individual is not faced with the fact of dependency. Rawls’ theory has a strong sense of benevolence and care particularly in the way that he uses the original position with the veil of ignorance. His theory of moral development shows that he is aware and appreciates the role of relationships and care in his theory of justice.

Eva Kittay’s “dependency critique” gives us a greater appreciation for the demands that dependency places on a theory of justice. Yet I have offered a view of John Rawls’ theory of justice which gives a greater appreciation for the extent to which a liberal theory of justice can address those demands.

While Kittay does not see in Rawls’ theory what she would like to see, it may be that she is not looking closely enough, because many of her concerns about dependency and care are addressed within Rawls’ general theory. Kittay states that her “aim is neither to reform Rawls’ political theory, nor to say that it cannot be reformed.” She leaves the lasting impact of her critique on Rawls’ theory of justice for Rawlsians to decide. As someone who claims the title of Rawlsian, I have shown why Eva Kittay’s proposed modifications of his theory are not necessary


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