Justice in Development: A Philosophical Analysis with Implications for Social and Educational Policy

Dissertation, Stanford University (1999)

In order for a society to be just, it must---among other things---enact redistributive policies with respect to social goods. These policies must follow principles that would produce a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of economic and social life. The purpose of theories of development---and, in consequence, of actual development policies is to lead countries and their citizens to higher standards of living; that is, they are aimed both at overcoming poverty within countries and at reducing the gap between rich and poor countries. I will argue, therefore, that redistributive justice is the moral basis upon which the process of development rests, for development policies inescapably address the production and distribution of scarce resources among the population. The question of "fair" distribution of the burdens and benefits of this process in a society inevitably arises. Theories of development, however, do not adequately treat issues of justice. Despite the moral issue present at the heart of the field of development, no one has evaluated the ethical basis of current theories and their consistency with any concept of justice. Whether these theories respond to what development does or should do to the lives of human beings has not been seriously addressed. Redressing this deficiency is the main purpose of this dissertation. To take this basic moral issue seriously, we have to contend with some conception of justice, as well as with questions related to a person's actual achievements; that is, whether the people involved in the process are succeeding in getting what they desire or need out of the "means" of development. ;I analyse two groups of development theories: Those produced by the founders of the field that emphasize economic growth as the policy objective of development; those that emphasize the social objectives of development, primarily dealing with problems of inequality and poverty. By analyzing the ethical basis of these theories, I find that their explanations and justifications of growth are supported by a utilitarian view of ethics which is incompatible with a theory of justice; furthermore, development economists focus on such things as national product, aggregate income, and the total sum of goods as the "metrics" of growth and welfare. I base my argument for this discussion on the claim of Rawls and Sen that utilitarianism offers, at best, a rather limited theory of justice, because utilitarianism is not concerned with equity "redistribution with growth" and "basic needs" foreshadow elements of the Rawlsian view of justice, but still have limitations with regard to a full concept of justice in development. Finally, I explore a notion of justice that would be suited for the new development context, based on both Rawls' principles of justice as fairness and Sen's and Nussbaum's notion of capability. I claim that this latter notion is more fruitful for orienting social and education policies in developing countries in the present international development context
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