Justice: multidimensional distribution (first draft)

There are a lot of proposed definitions of justice. A common branch dwells on the basic notion of good distribution. This will be the wide scope of this essay. As ‘good’ is a value-word which should be avoided in definitions the next step is an attempt to determine it. The most popular alternatives may be divided according to the distribution or what is distributed. Of course, these are more complementary than opposed.

Regarding the distribution the most popular kinds are equal and proportional. Since equality is an absolute notion justice as equal distribution requires no further determination. To be just here is to give the same amount of X to every human being (To keep the discussion short I will not question the commonsensical idea that only human beings are related to justice).

Proportional distribution, on the other hand, requires a criterion for the proportion. Popular alternatives are meritocracy and necessity. Proportional distribution according to meritocracy gives each human being the amount of X proportional to what they did to get it. A person who does a lot must get a lot. If the criterion is necessity, each human being will get the amount of X they need (independent of what they did). If you need some X this is what you will get.

Then we have to determine the object of the distribution. Popular contenders are liberty, opportunities and goods. A just society may distribute liberty, opportunities or goods equally or proportionally according to necessity or merit. The theoretical tendency is to inquire which one of these combinations of objects and methods would create the better society. This would give us the justice we should strive for. Most of them have already had very strong defenses and critics as well. (1)

Nonetheless I will envisage a plural approach to justice. Maybe different combinations of these elements are necessary in different domains. If so, to make a just society we must find which combination makes sense in which domain.

Radical egalitarians define justice as equal distribution. The simple solution makes sense since we endorse equal consideration of every human being. On the other hand, it is really hard to envisage a society in which every thing is distributed equally. My proposal is that justice as equal distribution should work only at the level of basic needs. Whatever we regard as a basic human right should be equally distributed. This goes for liberties (safety), opportunities (education) and goods (food, water and housing). In a money-centered society maybe the universal basic income is the best alternative to do so.

Necessity proportional egalitarians reckon that people have different specific needs. To be just a society must account for these. Basic needs are common, so this case will be restricted to special needs. They are numerous. For instance, children, elders and disabled people have special needs that must be met. Probably discriminated minorities will also have special needs until there is no more discrimination. At some extent, for some special needs to be met they will have to enter in the content of the basic needs. It may be the case that everyone should learn sign-language.

Meritocratic proportional egalitarians add to justice the dimension of acquired entitlement. It makes sense that at some level people get what they made a disproportionate effort to achieve. The problem is to neglect that due to inequality on the basic and special needs there is not even an approximate measure to judge merits. It is only after assuring radical equality at the basic level that we may regard this dimension of justice. Furthermore, the meritocratical aspect should be applied on the domain of opportunities after the choice is made. It will be measured on what an agent does after choosing an opportunity. A proportional access to goods will probably follow of this distribution. This will not be unfair.

Choice is an important dimension for those who value opportunities and liberties as the object of distribution. A society which distributes everything perfectly equally but do not give people liberty, opportunity and choices fails to be just. A just society must give the right to choose, including choosing not to want post-basic liberties, opportunities and goods.

Things get even more interesting when we realize the interaction between these domains. A basic education, after all, seems to be a requirement for a conscious choice of what opportunity to pursue. To be fair a society must make also clear the consequences of such a choice. For instance, some choices imply some privation of liberty as public figures and their relation with privacy.

This is very sketchy, but it is enough to think some consequences of this multidimensional approach to justice as distribution. First of all, to strive for a just society it is our duty to actively work for the equal distribution of basic needs. If people do not have access to the basic it is unfair to get what we see as our merited share. This is the condition of the societies most of us live today.

At the individual level we should consciously reflect on the opportunities we choose, their consequences and what we will do after the choice. Having always clear in mind that some choices will interfere in the share we get of liberty, opportunities and goods. It is not unfair that a librarian spend his days in the library and a surfer in the ocean. In relation to those to whom we have a close relation our responsibility will only an extended version of that concerning ourselves. To be just we should help them to make conscious choices and take the most for them.

(1) The references are really vague: Aristotle and even Marx may be regarded as different sorts of meritocratic egalitarians. Maybe Mill gets closer to defend pure egalitarianism. For Hume justice concerns mainly goods (property), for Kant and Mill the central point is liberty, Rawls adds the importance of opportunities. Nagel, Scanlon and Parfit have deep reflections on the issue.

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