Fair Equality of Opportunity (FEO) requires that social positions, such as jobs, be formally open and meritocratically allocated, but, in addition, each individual is to have a fair chance to attain these positions. John Rawls developed the most well-known conception of FEO. For Rawls, an individual has a fair chance when her prospects for success in the pursuit of social positions are a function of her level of native talent and willingness to use them, and are not a function of her social class or background. To put the principle in terms of Westen’s formula, it holds that all citizens of some society count as the relevant agents, the desired goal is offices and positions, and the obstacles people shouldn’t face include social class and family background. The obstacles people may face include having fewer native abilities or less willingness to cultivate them than others. This principle may support educational measures that close the attainment gap between the naturally talented rich and the naturally talented poor.
Debates about FEO have focused on the relative importance of the goods it regulates (opportunities for offices and positions) and its failure to treat all luck equally. On the first debate, some have argued that the opportunities that FEO regulates are not more important than other goods, such as income or welfare, and that we should prefer a principle (known in Rawls' work as the difference principle) that ensures that the least advantaged are as well-off as possible in terms of income and wealth rather than a principle that ensures fair competition for positions. On the second debate, some argue that inequalities in social luck, being born into a poor family, which FEO does attempt to correct for, and inequalities in natural luck, being born with fewer natural talents, which FEO does not attempt to correct for, should be treated the same. It is easy to think that both types of luck are equally arbitrary from the moral point of view and that this arbitrariness is a source of injustice. Why would being born poor not require the same response as being born disabled? As we shall see Equality of Opportunity for Welfare treats both types of luck as equally suspect sources of injustice.