Distributive Justice and Responsibility

Distributive Justice and Responsibility

Investigators: Carl Knight (PI) and Zofia Stemplowska
Funded by: British Academy
Date: July 2007-June 2008 (recently completed)

The main aim of this project is to advance the understanding of the relationship between responsibility and distributive justice. There is also a second, more measurable aim, which is to produce a significant edited collection on the topic with a major academic publisher. Both aims will be supported by a workshop bringing together an international group of experts on the politics and philosophy of responsibility.

The question of whether justice requires that those who are responsible for bringing about their disadvantage be treated differently from those whose disadvantage is a matter of bad luck continues to attract much attention from politicians and policy makers. Discussions about personal responsibility have now moved beyond the context of unemployment assistance to those of, for example, medical provision for smokers and fertility services for the obese. Such discussions must be able to draw on nuanced and politically-independent work within academia.

We believe that the debate about the relationship between responsibility and distributive justice is at a stage where a new understanding of the relationship is beginning to emerge, as it is increasingly becoming clear that, while theories of distributive justice can draw upon analyses of responsibility from moral and legal theory, they need their own ways of approaching, understanding and applying responsibility considerations. We envisage this project as a decisive building block in this process by focusing on

  1. the conceptual understandings of responsibility that pertain to distributive justice;
  2. the categorization of the various ways in which different distributive theories can accommodate concern with responsibility;
  3. the analysis of the normative reasons in favour of making responsibility central to distributive justice;
  4. and an empirically-informed understanding of the practical implications of making responsibility the concern of distributive justice.

The main outcomes of the project will soon be published in an edited book called Distributive Justice and Responsibility (Oxford University Press). The collection will be a major addition to the topical and important debate about the relationship between distributive justice and responsibility, bringing together an international group of writers uniquely qualified to offer original contributions to this central issue within political theory.