SH4 Distributive Justice

The foundational problem of distributive justice is, essentially, that of deciding who gets what, and why. This problem generates questions which continue to have pressing political relevance as well as philosophical interest: should we aim for strict equality, or is some measure of inequality permissible (or, indeed, desirable) within society? Come to that, what are the distribuenda of justice, and what is its scope – what, if anything, should we seek to distribute, and to whom? And who is to take responsibility for past injustice and the prevention of future harms?

This course addresses some of the key problems in the topic of distributive justice – the topic of what a just distribution of goods, or of benefits and burdens, looks like (and, indeed, what we mean by “just”). By the end of the course, you should be able to explain and criticise influential theories of distributive patterns, including what as well as how we are to distribute; to explain what the scope of distribution should be; and to give an account of whether we should really be concerned with distribution – either primarily, or at all.

Course lecturer: Dr James Humphries

Semester:  2

Lecture hour & venue: See Honours timetable

Teaching resources for this course will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.

A plan for the course

The course is divided into 6 sections. Each will involve between one and three lectures, and conclude with a seminar in which we discuss a key reading and any other issues that have arisen from the preceding classes.Below is a list of the sections and the types of question that we will consider.

1. Equality, Priority or Sufficiency? (Classes 2 - 4)

  • Is distributive equality valuable?
  • Should we favour other principles such as priority or sufficiency instead of, or in addition to, equality?

2. Rawls and his Critics: (Classes 5 - 8)

  • What is the Original Position and what is its purpose?
  • Can the Difference Principle be justified?

3. Luck Egalitarianism and Relational Egalitarianism? (Classes 9 - 12)

  • What metric should we use to assess distributions between individuals? Resources, Welfare or Capabilities?
  • Is justice relational or distributive?

4. Nozick, Property and the Limits of the Market (Classes 13 - 16)

  • Is taxation equivalent to forced labour?
  • Is there anything that ought not to be for sale?

5. Justice and Disability (Classes 17 - 18)

  • Are all humans equal?
  • What is owed to the disabled?

6. Global Justice (Classes 19-22)

  • What do we owe to members of other political communities?
  • Is there a global basic structure? Why does it matter?