Distributive Justice

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Distributive Justice (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Page 1 of 26

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Distributive Justice
First published Sun Sep 22, 1996; substantive revision Mon Mar 5, 2007 Principles of distributive justice are normative principles designed to guide the allocation of the benefits and burdens of economic activity. After outlining the scope of this entry and the role of distributive principles, the first relatively simple principle of distributive justice examined is strict egalitarianism, which advocates the allocation of equal material goods to all members of society. John Rawls' alternative distributive principle, which he calls the Difference Principle, is then examined. The Difference Principle allows allocation that does not conform to strict equality so long as the inequality has the effect that the least advantaged in society are materially better off than they would be under strict equality. However, some have thought that Rawls' Difference Principle is not sensitive to the responsibility people have for their economic choices. Resource-based distributive principles, and principles based on what people deserve because of their work, endeavor to incorporate this idea of economic responsibility. Advocates of Welfare-based principles do not believe the primary distributive concern should be material goods and services. They argue that material goods and services have no intrinsic value and are valuable only in so far as they increase welfare. Hence, they argue, the distributive principles should be designed and assessed according to how they affect welfare. Advocates of Libertarian principles, on the other hand, generally criticize any patterned distributive ideal, whether it is welfare or material goods that are the subjects of the pattern. They generally argue that such distributive principles conflict with more important moral demands such as those of liberty or respecting selfownership. Finally, feminist critiques of existing distributive principles note that they tend to ignore the particular circumstances of women, especially the fact that women often have primary responsibility for child-rearing. Some feminists therefore are developing and/or modifying distributive principles to make them sensitive to the circumstances of women and to the fact that, on average, women spend less of their lifetimes in the market economy than men. 1. Scope and Role of Distributive Principles 2. Strict Egalitarianism 3. The Difference Principle



Distributive Justice (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Page 2 of 26

4. Resource-Based Principles 5. Welfare-Based Principles 6. Desert-Based Principles 7. Libertarian Principles 8. Feminist Principles 9. Methodology and Empirical Beliefs about Distributive Justice Bibliography Strict Egalitarianism The Difference Principle Resource-Based Principles Welfare-Based Principles Desert-Based Principles Libertarian Principles Feminist Principles Methodology and Empirical Beliefs about Distributive Justice Further Theories and General Reference Extended Bibliography [Supplementary Document] Other Internet Resources Related Entries

1. Scope and Role of Distributive Principles
Distributive principles may vary in numerous dimensions. They can vary in what is subject to distribution (income, wealth, opportunities, jobs, welfare, utility, etc.); in the nature of the subjects of the distribution (natural persons, groups of persons, reference classes, etc.); and on what basis distribution should be made (equality, maximization, according to individual characteristics, according to free transactions, etc.). This entry will focus on principles of distributive justice designed to cover the distribution of the benefits and burdens of economic activity among individuals in a society. Although...
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