Imperfection and Impartiality: A Liberal Theory of Social Justice

By Marcel Wissenburg | Go to book overview
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Principles of minimal justice

Principles for options and envy

Up to this point, I have discussed separate issues in the theory of social justice and not principles of justice as such. I have asked to whom justice should be done: who is to be a recipient and why? I have examined what it is that a distributor should distribute, in which connection we distinguished several categories of rights and described a proper subject for the principles of minimal social justice. Lastly, I discussed equalisanda, the bases of comparison for the distribution of rights.

Between the lines, I touched on two other problems: that of the identity of the distributor and that of the grounds of desert (the reasons for getting more or less of the equalisandum). With regard to the first issue, we found little more than that (1) the existence of a diversity of distributors in the real world may complicate the allocation of responsibility for distributive justice and that (2) we were as yet unable to decide whether state and state-like institutions or the free market would be best fit to facilitate distributive social justice. However, I hope to show in this chapter that this is enough information to allow more precise answers.

My conclusions regarding the second issue were more specific but equally unordered. I argued that to count as a recipient of social justice and hence to be deserving, one should necessarily exist, live and be the subject of a distributor's responsibility. Three other qualities make a difference for the degree of recipiency and, consequently, for the degree of deservingness: consciousness, the possibility of autonomy and agency and membership of society. The recipient's responsibility and irresponsibility, I posed, should also be taken into account, as should, finally, the availability of the options and envy-containment equalisanda. What I did not discuss was the effect that these nine elements will have on recipients' shares.

In this chapter I shall link these separate propositions together and construct a complete measure of minimal justice, step by step, working more or less backwards


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