We Are What We Were
Are you worthy? Is everyone worthy? Why do I ask?
Present public assistance programs in the United States primarily take a "categorical" approach to deciding eligibility. To qualify, one must be deemed worthy or deserving of the benefits. For example, a poor single mother with an infant child generally qualifies, but a single person who is just "down on his (or her) luck" is not eligible. 1I have previously presented an argument that a just system does not allow us to make such distinctions. Later in the book I argue for a guaranteed income which does not make such distinctions. To draw a conclusion on whether some people are more worthy or deserving than others, the question to consider is whether some people are better than others.
Many of us want to believe that poor people deserve to be in their condition. This allows us to believe that those of us who are not poor deserve to be doing well. Partly for this reason, we are circumspect in our public assistance programs, taking pains to extend benefits to only those whose status appears to be no fault of their own. Is a system such as this "just"? In Chapter 1 of this book, I answered no to that question. My answer was founded, in part, on a determinist viewpoint. In this chapter, I explain that view.
Until one takes a stand on whether there are good or bad people, one has a difficult time formulating a concept of justice. This is because one of the points at issue is whether any people deserve (deserve more than others, or deserve punishment, or deserve adulation). If one adopts the view (as I do) that we cannot separate people into "good" and "bad," then one dramatically limits the extent to which one can base justice on deserving. It is important to note at the outset this does not mean we cannot label actions as good or bad.