Distributive Justice in the State of Nature: An Egalitarian View

South African Journal of Philosophy 31 (3):517-540 (2012)
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This paper proposes a novel egalitarian answer to the question: what initial distribution of the world’s resources could possibly count as just? Like many writers in the natural rights tradition, I take for granted that distributive justice consists in conformity to pre-political principles that apply to property regimes. Against the background of that assumption, the paper distinguishes between broadly Lockean and broadly Grotian conceptions of distributive justice in the state of nature. After an extended critique of various versions of the Lockean approach, it argues for a particular, egalitarian version of the Grotian view. My position is based on what I call the common ownership formula, which says: each human being, as an equal co-owner of the world’s resources, may use those resources provided that the terms of their use are in conformity with principles that no co-owner could reasonably reject as the basis of an informed, unforced general agreement between all of the world’s co-owners who sought to find equitable principles of resource division. Using this principle, I suggest how an unequivocally egalitarian view of pre-political entitlement can be justified without recourse to any alleged duty to ameliorate the effects of brute bad luck on people’s lives



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Timothy Hinton
North Carolina State University

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