Sharing with the vulnerable? The Vulnerability Objection and Vanderschraaf’s theory of justice as mutual advantage

Synthese 200 (2):1-17 (2022)
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Abstract

The most recent major contribution to the literature on justice as mutual advantage is Peter Vanderschraaf’s book Strategic Justice. In this book, he develops a theory of justice as convention, where justice is those principles that rational, self-interested agents would choose to solve problems of partially conflicting interest. His theory is thus a kind of theory of justice as mutual advantage. A common criticism of theories of justice as mutual advantage is the Vulnerability Objection: if the principles of justice require that resources are only shared with those that are net-contributors to a cooperative surplus, then those that are not net-contributors to that cooperative surplus have no claim of justice to any share of the resources. But, the objection states, surely justice cannot exclude people simply because they are vulnerable. Vanderschraaf argues that his theory of justice as convention successfully answers the Vulnerability Objection. However, in this paper, I argue that although Vanderschraaf’s theory successfully demonstrates that it can be to the mutual advantage of rational, self-interested people to agree to share equally even when some people contribute more than others, the problem remains of why such people would share with those that can never contribute more to the cooperative surplus than what they would withdraw from it. Vanderschraaf’s solution is to weaken the requirement that people actually contribute. But that, I argue, undermines the claim that his theory is a theory of justice as mutual advantage.

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