Public Reason: Vol. 5, No. 1, June 2013
Social Insurance and the Argument from Autonomy
Mikael Dubois

In recent decades politicians and policy-makers have emphasised the need to shift from
a “passive” to an “active” welfare state. This has resulted in policies that reduce compensation
rates in social insurance or make compensation conditional on different requirements such as
participation in rehabilitation or vocational training. This article argues that such policies are
justified if they tend to ensure an adequate level of personal autonomy. To that effect, a ‘thick’
conception of personal autonomy is spelled out based on Norman Daniels’ extension of the
principle of fair equality of opportunity. Some objections to policies limiting entitlement to
social insurance are discussed. It is argued that although the objections fail to show that limited
entitlement to social insurance is always unjustified, they identify considerations that must be
taken into account for an overall assessment of such policies.

Key words: social insurance, active welfare state, justification, autonomy.


Dubois, Mikael. 2013. Social Insurance and the Argument from Autonomy. Public Reason 5 (1): 1-18.