The significance of distribution

In matters of distributive justice, we assume that it is important how benefits and burdens are distributed among different people. But what, precisely, is important about this? In particular, what, from the point of view of justice, is ultimately at stake in what distributions come about? T. M. Scanlon has been coy about what his contractualist moral theory might imply for justice.[ii] Yet his conception of morality bears directly on this question of stakes. The significance of distribution then depends on independently valuable relations of recognition. Distribution has no fundamental importance per se. This in turn has significant implications for how philosophical reasoning about justice in distribution must proceed. In recent years, many egalitarians have proceeded as though a distribution can be just by its very nature, in and of itself. The basic aim of the theory of distributive justice is to say what this intrinsically just distribution is.[iii] What is ultimately at stake in matters of distributive justice, it is suggested, is whether or not a certain intrinsically valuable distributional pattern comes about. Scanlon ’s theory implies that this cannot be right: a distribution, taken as such, cannot be owed, and so cannot be justice. Or at least this follows given the platitude about justice, due to Aristotle, that justice is, by nature, giving each his or her due.[iv] The platitude tells us that to distribute justly is simply to give to each individual what he or she is due or owed, as determined by an independent conception of what this is. According to Scanlon ’s independent conception of “what we owe to each other,” no individual can be owed a distribution across persons, as such. We are at most each owed our respective shares—only what we can reasonably ask for on our own behalf.
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What is the Point of Egalitarian Social Relationships?Patrick Tomlin - 2014 - In Alexander Kaufman (ed.), Distributive Justice and Access to Advantage. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press. pp. 151-179.

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