I want to build on my earlier post about equality and priority. I suggested there that the "Levelling-Down Objection" is a decisive refutation of telic egalitarianism. There is nothing good about bringing the welfare of the best-off down to the same low level as the worst-off. But some egalitarians bite the bullet here. They say that there is something intrinsically better about the more equal situation (even if this is far outweighed by the massive harm done in terms of utility). So I now want to explore a second argument against such egalitarians, based on the importance of one's absolute level of welfare, and the irrelevance of relative/comparative welfare.
Note that both theories claim that it is more important to help the worst off. But they hold this for different reasons. The egalitarian is concerned with people's relative welfare: it is important to help Ben because of his comparative disadvantage to Alan. If Alan did not exist, we would no longer have this reason to help Ben. This view is not plausible. As the prioritist argues, what really matters is Ben's absolute level of welfare: we should help him because he is in need. His level of need is unaffected by Alan, the importance of helping him is unaffected by whether or not Alan exists.
Here's a thought-experiment to make the difference clear. Suppose that a charity works (successfully) to help the homeless and disadvantaged people within a society. We would think this was a valuable endeavour: it made the world a better place. Now suppose that another continent has just been discovered, and it contains many suffering people who are even worse-off than the homeless in our society. Here's the question: does the existence of these people make the charitable work done any less valuable? Would it have been more valuable had those others never existed after all?
Surely the answer is "no". The value of helping those in need is not affected by how they compare to others. Perhaps helping the others would be even more valuable, and hence more important, but that does not diminish the value of the former help. There is a difference between outweighing another value and diminishing it. Egalitarianism, by claiming that relative welfare is what matters, entails that the value of charity can be diminished (and not merely outweighed) by the existence of even worse-off people. This is absurd. What matters is our non-relative level of welfare. Whether others are better off or worse makes no difference to how well-off I am, nor to how valuable a benefit to my wellbeing would be. We should reject telic egalitarianism.