Fair equality of opportunity (FEO) is a principle that regulates competition for unequally desirable social positions; it requires that individuals with the same level of ambition and native talent have the same opportunities - or, in different words, a level playing field. In distributionally just societies, the magnitude of inequalities is itself regulated by a different principle - for instance, by luck egalitarianism, or some kind of prioritarianism, or, at the very least, sufficientarianism. By contrast, in certain kinds of unjust circumstances, two joint features render the competition for social positions morally objectionable: (a) the competition is in an important sense non-voluntary and (b) the pay-offs are unjustly unequal. In such circumstances, I argue, there is little if any value to leveling the playing field. I examine several grounds for valuing FEO and find little that recommends it as an important principle in unjust societies. To the extent to which existing societies are unjust, current preoccupation with lack of social mobility is misguided: it makes no moral difference whether one is a victim of injustice due to lack of native talent or due to unlucky familial circumstances.
Anca Gheaus was previously a researcher in philosophy for the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Umea University and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. From the 1st of March 2016 she is a Ramón y Cajal researcher at the Law Department at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF). Her research interests lie in the areas of moral and political philosophy, with particular focus on issues of distributive justice. She has published work on the nature of justice, family ethics, gender justice, animal ethics and justice in the workplace in journals such as the Philosophical Quarterly, the Journal of Political Philosophy, the Journal of Social Philosophy, the Journal of Applied Philosophy and the Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy.