Justice after Catastrophe: Responsibility and Security

Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture 26 (4):215-230 (2015)
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The issue of justice after catastrophe is an enormous challenge to contemporary theories of distributive justice. In the past three decades, the controversy over distributive justice has centered on the ideal of equality. One of intensely debated issues concerns what is often called the “equality of what,” on which there are three primary views: welfarism, resourcism, and the capabilities approach. Another major point of dispute can be termed the “equality or another,” about which three positions debate: egalitarianism, prioritarianism, and sufficientarianism. On these topics of distributive justice, authors are concerned with the current difference between the better-off and the worse-off or the present situation of the badly-off. By contrast, it is essential to take account of the past distribution of well-being as well as the present situation in order to explore questions of post-catastrophe justice. Without looking at the pre-disaster distribution of income, preference satisfaction, or basic capabilities among affected people, no present assessment of the damage caused by the disaster could be correct and no proposed remedy adequate. It is true that luck egalitarians assess the current distribution among people by referring to the decision that each individual made. Yet they pay scant attention to the situation in which each one stayed in the past. Therefore, we can legitimately say that most theorists of distributive justice, including luck egalitarians, have failed to give consideration to the past state of each person. To fill this gap in the literature, the present article explores philosophical questions that arise when we take account of each person’s past and present situations in discussing distributive justice regarding public compensation and assistance to survivors and families of victims of natural and industrial disasters. In addressing these novel questions, I develop and refine various concepts, ideas, and arguments that have been presented in the study of distributive justice in normal settings. I tackle two tasks, the first of which is to explore the foundation and scope of luck egalitarianism. Despite the moral appeal it has in many cases, luck egalitarianism has attracted the so-called harshness objection. Some luck egalitarians attempt to avoid this objection in a pragmatic way by combining the luck egalitarian doctrine with the principle of basic needs satisfaction. However, they do not provide any systematic rationale for this combination. In contrast with such pragmatic responses, I seek to offer a principled argument for holding individuals responsible for their choices only when their basic needs are met, by invoking the ideas of respect for human voluntariness and rescue of human vulnerability. Based on this argument, I propose a form of responsibility-sensitive theory, which considers the pre-disaster distribution of well-being as a default position. The second task I take on is to refine sufficientarianism in the context of post-catastrophe justice. Luck egalitarianism with boundaries set by the basic needs principle seems to indicate the potential for sufficientarianism. But major proponents of this view conceive the welfarist assumption, a considerably high standard of well-being, and the controversial treatment of persons staying below the threshold, all of which seem problematic in the post-disaster situation. I try to construct a new version of sufficientarianism by replacing these current features with more robust ones.



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Makoto Usami
Kyoto University

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References found in this work

What is the point of equality.Elizabeth Anderson - 1999 - Ethics 109 (2):287-337.
Sour grapes: studies in the subversion of rationality.Jon Elster - 1983 - Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme.
Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality.Jon Elster - 1983 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Luck Egalitarianism.Carl Knight - 2013 - Philosophy Compass 8 (10):924-934.
Equal justice.Eric Rakowski - 1991 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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