Distributive justice today

Basic Information

Course 2015/2016
Paula Casal
Departament of Humanities - Area of Moral and Political Philosophy
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy


Tue. 15-18
Jaume I, Room 20.237, TBA, UPF


This module examines some of the central debates about distributive justice that have taken place in Anglo-American political philosophy since the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971. Rawls’s work has stimulated responses from the right, most notably from Robert Nozick, a libertarian, as well as from the left, including authors like G. A. Cohen, feminists like Susan Okin and other liberal egalitarians like Ronald Dworkin and Amartya Sen.

These responses can be organized via three main debates. The first concerns the search for the correct principles of distributive justice. For example, is it important to distribute benefits equally or is all that matters that people have enough? The second, known as the debate on “the currency of justice”, concerns what should be distributed equally (or according to whatever turns out to be the right principle or combination of principles) in a just society.  Is it primary goods, as Rawls argues, or resources, as Dworkin advocates? Is it welfare, as Cohen believes, or is it what Sen describes as capabilities and functionings?

The third and more extensive debate in distributive justice concerns the scope of application of whatever combination of principles and currencies turns out to be correct. Many employ the term “distributive justice” as if it was coextensive with social justice. However, those terms aren’t equivalent. One important reason is that discussing the ethics of distribution is relevant at both micro- and macro-levels. For example, Cohen has argued that those principles should apply all the way down to individuals and even specific actions, including those concerning occupational choice. He appeals to the feminist slogan “the personal is political” which those concerned with gender equality have also employed to argue in favor of including the family as a legitimate site for distributive justice. Distributive justice, thus, has sub-social applications. It also has supra-social applications, as it can also apply across countries, generations, and even species.


Participants are expected to read at least one paper a week, write a 2,000 word essay, attend the sessions (a medical certificate is needed to miss more than two) and offer a 5-10 minute presentation.  When devising a title please ensure that it addresses a subject related to the course. Do not attempt to recycle material you have used in other courses, here or elsewhere. All essay titles must either come from a list of Sample Titles or receive the written agreement by the 9th session. A one point penalty will be deducted from the grade of any submitted essay failing to satisfy this condition.


Completed essays should be submitted to paula.casal@upf.edu ten weeks after the course begins and include a Word Count. Students should not count on excess words being read. Essays that are late, exceed or lack a Word Count will receive a grade but no comments, and may be subject to further penalty of .5 points for every 24 hours delay, so that a 7 will become a 6 after two days. Class participation (attendance, presentations and discussions) may raise the course mark 1 point, so that a 6 may become a 7.  




     I. Introduction.


     II. Equality or Priority?


Derek Parfit, “Equality or Priority?”, The Ideal of Equality ed.  Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Palgrave MacMillan 2002) 


Larry Temkin, Inequality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), Ch. 9.


Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve, Why it Matters if Some are Worse Off than Others” Philosophy and Public Affairs (2009) 


         III. Equality or Sufficiency?


Paula Casal, “Why Sufficiency of Not Enough”, Ethics (2007)


Harry Frankfurt, “Equality as a Moral Ideal”, Ethics (1987)


          IV.Equality of what?


 Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Harvard University

 Press, 2000), Chs. 1 and 2.


 Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

 1984)  Appendix I “What Makes Someone’s Life Go Best”


Amartya Sen “Equality of What?” in http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/

and Equal Freedom ed. Steve Darwall (University of Michigan, 1995)


 G. A. Cohen “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice”, Ethics (1989) 


  V. The rejection of distributive justice


           Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, (Basic Books, 1974) Ch. 7


         VI. The egalitarian ethos


G. A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality

and http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/


Rescuing Justice and Equality, (Harvard UP, 2008)


         VII. Justice within the family


Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family (Basic Books, 1989)

Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Harvard UP, 1991)

Jennifer Saul, Feminism (OUP, 2003)

Alison Jaggar (ed.) Living with Contradictions (Westview 1994)


           VIII. International and global justice


Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity, 2008) 


Hillel Steiner, “Just Taxation and International Redistribution” NOMOS XXXVII (1999)


Paula Casal “Global Taxes on Natural Resources” with replies from Pogge and Steiner”, Journal of Moral Philosophy (2011)


         IX. Inter-generational distributive justice


Axel Gosseries and Lucas Meyer, Intergenerational Justice (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Joseph Mazor, “Liberal Justice, Future People and Natural Resource Conservation” , Philosophy and Public Affairs  (2010).


          X.  Justice across species


Peter Vallentyne, “Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals”, Egalitarianism ed. Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert Rasmussen (Oxford University Press, 2007).



Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis. A Political Theory of Animal Rights (OUP, 2011).