must be some attempt to deal with inequalities in thenconditions under which talents and other qualificationsndevelop. The argument can be dramatized with an examplenwhich I will borrow from the English philosopher BernardnWilliams. In order to acquire some perspective on theneducational and job qualifications built into our daily lives,nlet us imagine a different kind of society—one dominatednby a warrior class. The top positions are all occupied bynskillfiil warriors who have perpetuated their positions fromnone generation to the next. Suppose, however, that advocatesnof equal opportunity achieve a reform. They decidenthat admission to the warrior class should, from that pointnon, be determined by a suitable competition. We mightnimagine a kind of fighting Olympics designed to select thenbest warriors.nAs it happens, however, the present warriors’ childrennoverwhelmingly dominate the competition, so that thenreform makes no difference to the outcome. To simplifynmatters, children from the present warrior class all turn outnto be extremely well nourished, while their competitors arenso undernourished that they fail in the competition for lacknof strength. The competition yields the spectacle of 300-lb.nsumo-style wrestlers vanquishing 90-lb. weaklings. Only ancynic could contend that real “equal opportunity” had beennachieved. While meritocratic assignment may have beennachieved in the sense that the sumo wrestlers actually arenbetter warriors, they have been permitted to develop intonbetter warriors under such unequal conditions that thenresult cannot be presented as fulfilling equal opportunity.nA second principle of equal opportunity is needed tonsupplement the first. If we can reliably predict that thenchildren of the present warrior class will become thendominant class, that is objectionable, even if they do so bynwinning a meritocrahc competition. Equality of life chancesnrequires that the prospects of children for eventual positionsnin the society should not vary systematically with theirnarbitrary native characteristics (their family background,nrace, class, sex, ethnic group, etc.). To the extent that wencan predict where they will end up merely by knowing suchnfacts about them (such as that they are children of thenpresent warriors) an identifiable kind of injustice is beingnperpetuated.nThe two principles just mentioned are principles ofnequality intended to ration fairly the chance to be unequal.nBut these two principles conflict with a third, one whichnexpresses a kind of liberty central to the liberal traditionn(and with broader appeal as well). It is, roughly, thenfreedom of families, acting consensually, to benefit theirnchildren, or what might be called family autonomy. Familynautonomy does not apply to cases where the consensusnwithin the family has broken down (such as issues of childnplacement) or to the freedom of families to impose disadvantagesnor harms on children. Rather, it is the freedom tonbenefit one’s children without coercive interference fromnthe outside (and where, we might hypothesize, there is nonreal dispute about the benefits inside or outside the family).nBy family autonomy, then, we mean the least controversialncore of family relations. The trilemma shows how thisnelement of liberty (a part of liberty which affects most of ournlives more directly than do our other liberties) conflicts withneven modest constructions of equality (constructions con­ncerned only with opportunities and not with results), evennunder ideal conditions. The resulting pattern lends plausibilitynto the notion that liberalism is a kind of continuingndialogue about the conflicts between liberty and equality.nIt would not be surprising if our central principles clashednunder difficult circumstances—a history of injustice, noncompliancenwith some of the principles being prescribed, ornextreme scarcity where no plausible version of justice wasnpossible. However, the trilemma argument does not requirenany of these pessimistic assumptions. Let us assume nonlegacy of injustice from the past; let us assume completencompliance with the principles being proposed; and let usnassume only moderate scarcity as in a prosperous industrialnsociety such as our own (rather than the extreme scarcity of,nsay, the Third World). To be realistic, however, we neednone more assumption, namely, that there are inequalities,nboth social and economic in the adult generation. Thenpoint of equal opportunity is to ration chances to benunequal. If there were strict equality of outcomes, thennthere would be no point in worrying about equal opportunity.nLet us assume that there are inequalities of result in thenadult generation (background inequalities) of the kindnwhich apply to every modern developed society, capitalistnor socialist.nGiven background conditions of inequality, implementingnany two of these principles—merit, equal life chances,nfamily autonomy—can be expected to preclude the third. Itnis as if we had a three-cornered stool but only two legsnavailable to hold it up. It doesn’t matter which two we pick,nbut lack of the third is enough to undermine the wholenstructure (provided that we expect or require a stablenstructure to begin with). For example, implementing thenfirst and third principles undermines the second. Thenautonomy of the family protects the process wherebynadvantaged families differentially contribute to the developmentnof their children. Given background conditions ofninequality, children from the higher strata will have beennsystematically subjected to developmental opportunitiesnthat can reliably be expected to advantage them in thenprocess of meritocratic competition. Under these conditions,nthe principle of merit—applied to talents as theynhave developed under such unequal conditions—becomesna mechanism for generating unequal life chances.nSuppose one were to keep the autonomy of the family innplace but attempt to equaHze life chances? Fulfilling thensecond and third principles would require sacrifice of thenfirst. Given background conditions of inequality, the differentialndevelopmental influences just mentioned will producendisproportionate talents and other qualificationsnamong children in the higher strata. If they must benassigned to positions so as to equalize life chances, thennthey must be assigned regardless of these differential claims.nSome process of “reverse discrimination” in favor of thosenfrom disadvantaged backgrounds would have to be appliednsystematically throughout the society if life chances were tonbe equalized (while also maintaining family autonomy).nSuppose one were to attempt to equalize life chancesnwhile maintaining the system of meritocratic assignment?nGiven background conditions of inequality, it is the autonomynof families that protects the process by which advantagednfamilies differentially influence the development ofnnnMAY 1986/11n