Fortune's Favor: Implications of Behavioral Genetic Research for Distributive and Retributive Justice

The U.S. has largely embraced the concept of a meritocracy: Advantages that people enjoy are thought to derive from voluntary choices (e.g., hard work), and any resulting inequities in goods, such as wealth, are thought to be just and fair. According to this view, individuals who achieve more in school (in terms of better grades and more advanced degrees) are thought to deserve a greater allotment of goods. Yet behavioral genetic research suggests that intelligence and school achievement are, like many other outcomes, heritable.

What (if any) implications does this line of behavioral genetic research have for understanding how to conceptualize and achieve a just distribution of goods in the U.S.? To address this question, we ground our project in the philosophical literature on luck. What is luck? Can genetic variants be conceptualized as lucky or unlucky? What about the phenotypes that are linked to genetic variation? Finally, the philosophy of luck and the relevance of behavioral genetic data for considering a phenotype a matter of luck will be used to bridge the scholarly literatures on distributive justice and retributive justice.

Recent Project Activities

  • May 12, 2017

    We have been in Charlottesville for the past two days for the first Genetics and Human Agency meeting. The quality of the talks has been excellent, and we are headed back with extensive notes about philosophical and psychological work relevant to our project. Here are the slides we presented.

Recent Blog Posts

  • Last March, I developed a terrible sore throat – eating felt like swallowing crushed glass, and my lymph nodes were tender to the touch. For various reasons (laziness, moving for sabbatical and then moving back, relying only on my OB-GYN during the many years I was either pregnant or nursing), I don’t have a primary…

  • The Science and Ethics of Group Differences in Intelligence: Part One Winegard, Winegard, Boutwell, and Shackelford (henceforth referred to as WWBS) have written a rejoinder to the Vox article that I co-authored with Eric Turkheimer and Richard Nisbett. They begin by describing a few lines of research that they allege we “cherry picked.” Next, they…

  • The anonymous @SilverVVulpes replied to my previous blog post on Twitter with this thought: "I'd be interested in any philosopher of science that argues genes=inherent merit instead of luck. Position confuses the hell out of me." @SilverVVulpes describes himself as “hereditarian left” in his Twitter bio, which would confuse the hell out of a lot…