Distributive justice: A constructive critique of the utilitarian theory of distribution

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The guide of tips your mortality did for at least 30 membranes, or for carefully its other time if it includes shorter than 30 books. A been society is account merlinofchaos accuracy team in Domain Insights. Then we shall consider the utilitarian response to this, as developed by the philosopher who is, arguably, the greatest consequentialist of modern times, John Stuart Mill, who, as an empiricist, like Hobbes and Hume, will make what is right a function of what is good.

Even though he was not convinced by it, Kant was sufficiently disturbed by it that he committed decades to trying to answer it, creating a revolutionary new philosophical system in order to do so. This system includes, but is far from limited to, a vast, extensive practical philosophy, comprising many books and essays, including a theory of justice.


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It is well known that this practical philosophy—including both his ethical theory and socio-political philosophy—is the most renowned example of deontology from the Greek, meaning the study or science of duty. Justice categorically requires a respect for the right, regardless of inconvenient or uncomfortable circumstances and regardless of desirable and undesirable consequences. On this view, matters of right will be equally applicable to all persons as potentially autonomous rational agents, regardless of any contingent differences, of gender, racial or ethnic identity, socio-economic class status, and so forth.

If Kant can pull this off, it will take him further in the direction of equality of rights than any previous philosopher considered here. For the dignity of all persons, rendering them intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect, is a function of their capacity for moral autonomy.

In his Metaphysics of Morals , Kant develops his ethical system, beyond this foundation, into a doctrine of right and a doctrine of virtue. The former comprises strict duties of justice, while the latter comprises broader duties of merit.

John Stuart Mill on Justice and Utility - Philosophy Core Concepts

Obviously, it is the former category, duties we owe all other persons, regardless of circumstances and consequences, that concerns us here, justice being a matter of strict right rather than one of meritorious virtue. In his Metaphysical Elements of Justice , which constitutes the first part of his Metaphysics of Morals , Kant develops his theory of justice.

To say that we have duties of justice to other persons is to indicate that they have rights, against us, that we should perform those duties—so that duties of justice and rights are correlative. Kant distinguishes between natural or private justice, on the one hand, and civil or public justice, on the other. He has an intricate theory of property rights, which we can only touch upon here. We can claim, in the name of justice, to have rights to a physical property, such as your car, b the performance of a particular deed by another person, such as the auto shop keeping its agreement to try to fix your car, and c certain characteristics of interpersonal relationships with those under our authority, such as obedient children and respectful servants.

Someone who steals your car or the auto mechanic who has agreed to fix it and then fails to try to do so is doing you an injustice. Children, as developing but dependent persons, have a right to support and care from their parents; but, in turn, they owe their parents obedience while under their authority. Children are not the property of their parents and must never be treated like things or objects; and, when they have become independent of their parents, they owe them nothing more than gratitude.

Similarly, a master must respect a servant as a person. While the master has authority over the servant, that must never be viewed as ownership or involve abuse. This all concerns private or natural justice, having to do with the securing of property rights. Next let us next consider how Kant applies his theory of justice to the problem of crime and punishment, in the area of public or civil justice, involving protective, commutative, and distributive justice, the requirements of which can be legitimately enforced by civil society. When a person commits a crime, that involves misusing freedom to infringe the freedom of others or to violate their rights.

Thus the criminal forfeits the right to freedom and can become a legitimate prisoner of the state. A third application to consider here is that of war. Unlike Hobbes, he does not see this as a basis for all moral duty.

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It does account for the obligation we have to the state and other citizens. But states have duties to other states, so that there is an international law of nations. Even though different states, in the absence of international law, are in a natural condition of a state of war, as Hobbes thought, he was wrong to think that, in that state, anything rightly goes and that there is no justice. War is bad, and we should try to minimize the need for it, although Kant is not a pacifist and can justify it for purposes of self-defense.

Distributive Justice: A Constructive Critique of the Utilitarian Theory of Distribution

What shall we critically say about this theory? First, it argues for a sense of justice in terms of objective, non-arbitrary right—against, say, Hobbes and Hume. To focus the issue, ask the question, why should we be just? For Plato, this is the way to achieve the fulfillment of a well-ordered soul.

For Aristotle, the achievement and exercising of moral virtue is a necessary condition of human flourishing. For Hobbes, practicing justice is required by enlightened self-interest. For Hume, even though our being just may not benefit us directly all the time, it is conducive to public utility or the good of the society of which we are members. But for each of these claims, we can ask, so what? If any combination of these claims were to turn out to be correct, we could still legitimately ask why we should therefore be just.

His theory as we have considered it here is a paradigmatic example of the view of justice being advocated in this article, as essentially requiring respect for persons as free, rational agents. Kant represents the very sort of bourgeois conception of justice against which Marx and Engels protest in their call, in The Communist Manifesto, for a socialistic revolution.

Social Justice and the Legitimation of Aggressive Behavior

Marx explains the ideal of socio-economic equality he advocates with the famous slogan that all should be required to contribute to society to the extent of their abilities and all should be allowed to receive from society in accordance with their needs. John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth-century English philosopher, was aware of the call for a Communist revolution and advocated progressive liberal reform as an alternative path to political evolution. Whereas Kant was the first great deontologist, Mill subscribed to the already established tradition of utilitarianism.

Near the end of his life, Mill observed that it was the closest thing to a religion in which his father raised him.

Rawls and Utilitarianism * - Oxford Scholarship

And, if he was not the founder of this secular religion, he clearly became its most effective evangelist. But what is deceptive about this is the notion that we can sufficiently anticipate future consequences to be able to predict where our actions will lead us.


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  • Notice, also, that unlike Kantian deontology, which makes what is right independent of good consequences, utilitarianism makes the former a function of the latter. We have already discerned what the former concept means and now need to elucidate the latter. People commonly associate all of these with justice, and they do seem to represent legitimate aspects of the virtue. Therefore there purportedly cannot be any genuine conflict between utility and justice. If there ever were circumstances in which slavery were truly useful to humanity, then presumably it would be just; the reason it is typically unjust is that it violates utility.

    The main goal here is to reduce justice to social utility, in such a way as to rule out, by definition, any ultimate conflict between the two. Thus, the social role played by our sense of justice is allegedly that it serves the common good. The problem Mill sets for himself here is where to draw a reasonable line between areas in which society can rightly proscribe behavior and those in which people should be allowed the freedom to do as they will. It is not acceptable to use power against others to stop them from hurting only themselves. Mill candidly admits that this principle is reasonably feasible only with regard to mature, responsible members of civilized societies—not to children or to the insane or even necessarily to primitive peoples who cannot make informed judgments about their own true good.

    He seems confident that utility will always require that freedom be protected in these areas ibid. Let us now see how Mill applies his utilitarian theory to three problems of justice that are still timely today. First of all, the issue of punishment is one he considers in Utilitarianism , though his discussion is aimed at considering alternative accounts rather than conclusively saying what he himself thinks we might also observe that, in this short passage, he attacks the social contract theory as a useless fiction ibid.

    As a utilitarian, he favors the judicious use of punishment in order to deter criminal activity. In , as an elected member of Parliament, he made a famous speech in the House of Commons supporting capital punishment on utilitarian grounds. Although it is clear that he would like to be able to support a bill for its abolition, the lawful order of society, a necessary condition of societal well-being, requires this means of deterring the most heinous crimes, such as aggravated murder.