Distributive Justice in Education and Conflicting Interests: Not (Remotely) as Bad as you Think

Journal of Philosophy of Education 49 (4):491-509 (2015)
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The importance of education and its profound effect on people's life make it a central issue in discussions of distributive justice. However, promoting distributive justice in education comes at a price: prioritising the education of some, as is often entailed by the principles of justice, inevitably has negative effects on the education of others. As a result, all theories of distributive justice in education face the challenge of balancing their requirements with conflicting interests. This article aims to contribute to developing an account of conflicting interests by identifying a category of conflicting interests—non-positional conflicting interests—the realisation of which does not necessarily disrupt distributive justice. Non-positional conflicting interests include, for example, the interest in realising one's full potential and parents’ interest in familial relations. The article argues that the core dimensions of non-positional conflicting interests can usually be realised without upsetting distributive justice, and that actions that do upset distributive justice tend to be peripheral to these interests. Either way, there is no severe friction between distributive justice and non-positional conflicting interests: in the former cases, both are realised simultaneously. In the latter, tension exists; however, because the infringement on the conflicting interest is of relatively little weight, it is often justified, all things considered, in order to promote distributive justice. The conclusion is that while there are indeed cases in which distributive justice must retreat in the face of other interests, the friction between distributive justice and other interests is actually weaker than meets the eye



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