Again, all human beings are needy and vulnerable, but not all persons are dependent in the same ways and to the same degree. We do not aim to offer a full account of the basic needs and interests of persons that are a matter of justice. Nor do we aim to offer a full account of the ways in which persons depend on others for interests that are relevant to justice. Here we simply discuss some basic needs and interests relevant to justice, including, for example, recognition respect, and we consider some types of dependency as we consider how dependency relates to justice.
All human beings depend on others to meet their basic needs as children; some, later in life, depend on others, again, for help with their basic needs; some human beings are always dependent on others for help with basic needs. The fact that persons must rely upon others for having some of their basic needs met is an important source of dependency relations among persons.10 When persons think of basic needs, they tend to think of needs having to do with nutrition, health care, mobility, bathing and grooming, and shelter. Sometimes, those who are completely dependent on others for meeting these particular needs are viewed as “dependent” and contrasted with others who are viewed as “independent.” As we note in the introduction, this way of thinking is problematic. It is false, and it leads us to mischaracterize our condition. Furthermore, the contrast for the sake of emphasizing the needs of the most vulnerable has not been effective or helpful for securing justice for them.
Beyond the most basic of needs, persons have interests in social and moral goods. Children need a great deal of social and emotional care as they develop into adults, and they are dependent on others for this. Adults, too, depend on others for emotional care, and certain types of social relationships are central to many views of a good human life.11 We depend on others in social relationships in which these interests are met. Again, for children moral education and support for the development of their moral capacities are essential; they are dependent on others for this. Also, as we noted in the introduction, recognition respect among persons requires mutual acknowledgment of persons’ equal standing and authority. In a social relationship of equality, persons depend on each other for recognition, and, together, persons create and maintain the social conditions of recognition respect. Further, insofar as self-esteem and self-respect depend to some extent on social relationships with others, persons are partially dependent on others for these as well and for the social conditions on which they depend.
Crucially, the way in which the social world is constructed matters for how (and sometimes if) specific dependency relations arise and whether the conditions in which they take place are just. The aspects of dependency relations that have fostered the most reflection from liberal political philosophers concern the fact that human beings must cooperate to satisfy their needs. Social cooperation requires assistance from and reliance upon others in the context of mutual exchange. Thus, cooperation creates forms of interdependence among persons. For example, in modern democratic states, individuals are dependent on others’ labor for the production of goods and services necessary for their survival, such as food and shelter, and, too, for the goods and services necessary for functioning as free and equal citizens, which take us much beyond basic needs. In modern democracies, arguably the interests of persons as citizens include, inter alia, education, certain types of opportunities, and access to civil society. Complex and extensive cooperative systems are necessary for the satisfaction of such interests. The choice or development of some particular institution (or set of institutions), rather than others, creates and shapes the kinds and degrees of dependencies present in society. For example, the accessibility of labor market firms with respect to infrastructure, technology, and business practices determines who can participate in the interdependent relations of the labor market and who cannot, which creates certain types of asymmetric dependencies. Or, consider that the frameworks, or lack thereof, for providing childcare assistance to those responsible for the care of children determine the kind and degree of dependency of caretakers on others.
Whether persons are asymmetrically or mutually dependent on others, they are vulnerable to them. Relying on another for the satisfaction of one’s needs and interests leaves one in a position in which one is at risk of harm. While some types of dependency are inevitable (e.g., an infant’s dependency on a caretaker), other types are not (e.g., a blind person’s dependence on others in a social world designed only for the sighted). But, all dependency relationships are social relationships. All social relationships occur in a context of norms, roles, practices, and institutions that bear on these social relations. For example, an infant is utterly and inevitably dependent on a caretaker for having physical, social, and emotional needs met. However, norms, roles, practices, and institutions bear on how the infant’s needs and interests are understood and how they are addressed. Social norms, roles, practices, and institutions also bear on how a caretaker’s work is understood, valued, and supported.
The kind of equality central to relational egalitarianism is incompatible with certain types of dependency relationships and with some ways of structuring dependency relationships. Relational egalitarianism requires the protection of persons in their status as equal moral persons and equal citizens in the context of dependency relations that are either inevitable or permissible. Specifying the form and shape these social arrangements ought to take to secure the conditions for persons to be equals is critical for justice. Rousseau’s work is instructive for determining the kinds of dependency relationships incompatible with a relational egalitarian view of social equality. We turn to his critique of inequality shortly.
First, though, we note that any theory of justice requires an account of the needs and interests that are the appropriate bases for making claims of justice upon others. iWetrics of justice are the currency of the needs and interests that are relevant to justice, where a metric allows evaluation and comparison of how well individuals in society are doing. Both relational egalitarian views and distributional views of justice employ some metric of justice. However, on a distributional view, justice is simply a matter of a certain distribution of “goods” obtaining; on a relational egalitarian view, a certain distribution of “goods” is not sufficient for justice even if necessary (Anderson 1999, 313-314). One metric is John Rawls’s social primary goods; Martha Nussbaum and others endorse (some set of) capabilities.12 There are other metrics, too. We do not endorse a particular metric here. However, how one thinks of the problem of justice will affect whose needs and interests matter, the type of metric one endorses, and the needs and interests that count given the metric.
For example, Rawls limits his theory to what he calls the fundamental question of justice, which he understands as “what is the most appropriate conception of justice for specifying the terms of social cooperation between citizens regarded as free and equal, and as normal and fully cooperating members of society over a complete life?” (2005, 20). So, he does not address what is owed to some persons with temporary or permanent impairments or illnesses. His list of social primary goods is limited to rights and liberties, opportunities, income and wealth, and the social bases of self-respect.
Rawls’s neglect of the particular needs and interests of some persons with impairments and illnesses, of the needs and interests of caretakers, and of the needs of all persons for care has been the subject of sustained critique. In the spirit of friendly intervention, Eva Kittay, Asha Bhandary, and Elizabeth Brake, respectively, argue that frameworks for care should be part of the list of social primary goods. Kittay focuses on care in asymmetrical relationships, such as a relationship between a parent and minor child or a relationship between a caregiver and a profoundly cognitively impaired adult or aging parent (1999). Material care is needed, and, although attitudinal care is not the sort of good that can be distributed, it can be socially supported through certain institutions. Brake focuses on adult caring relationships and the importance of such relationships for the development and exercise of the two moral powers and as part of persons’ view of the good (2012, 156-188). She argues that the social bases of adult caring relationships are a social primary good. Both Kittay and Brake urge that Rawls’s list of social primary goods should be revised to be sensitive to care. Bhandary argues that, in a Rawlsian theory, care in times of dependency should be considered as part of the social bases of self-respect and that dependency work can be properly supported given free choice of occupation and a principle of fair distribution for income and wealth (2010).
While we agree that care in times of dependency and support for caretakers must be part of any acceptable theory of justice, we are concerned with the connection between relationships of dependency and unjust forms of domination. We use the phrase “unjust forms of domination” to leave open the possibility that some forms of domination are not unjust, though we do not argue for, or take a position on, that here. Moreover, we rely on a broader conception of domination than the republican conception, where domination concerns the capacity agents have for imposing their will on others in an arbitrary or unchecked manner. Our broader conception of domination concerns hierarchical relationships in which those in the dominant position have greater power and authority than those in the subordinate position along some dimension(s) and in some context(s). This power may include, for example, the ability to impose their will on others or the ability to define and sustain norms (or rules), practices, and institutions that work to their advantage. On our view, sometimes those who occupy the dominant position exert their power over others directly in order to subordinate or sustain subordination (e.g., in an act of violence). However, the power of those in the dominant position is also expressed when persons follow norms or participate in practices or institutions that create or maintain status hierarchies (e.g., some have argued that pornography is a practice that subordinates women).13
To start to make our case that dependency relations are a central concern for justice, we turn to Rousseau. His discussion of dependency and domination provides important insights for thinking about equality as a social relation and the centrality of equal standing to securing the moral status of persons as a fundamental imperative of justice. We acknowledged previously that Rousseau’s sexism will surely make some suspicious about why we would draw from his work, and here we note an additional ground for pause. Rousseau is one of the great social contract theorists, and social contract theories, in particular, have been criticized for failing to address the moral status, needs, and interests of individuals with impairments and illnesses and for failing to address the interests of those who care for dependents.14 Again, though, we attend to Rousseau’s extraordinarily rich and original account of the ways in which dependency relations can give rise to systemic inequalities. His account also highlights the fact that such inequalities are produced by the social contexts and institutional arrangements that organize human relations. Furthermore, he understands inequality in terms of hierarchy - unjust relationships of domination and subordination - and he argues that the demand for equal standing, including what we will call recognition respect, is central to addressing the problems of inequality that sustain patterns of unjust domination and subordination. Finally, though we do not develop his views on this point here, his own solution to the critique of inequality lies in defining a social contract in which the freedom and equality of citizens is guaranteed, and relationships of domination and subordination are incompatible with that guarantee.