Academic year
Paula Casal
Law School, Area of Legal and Political Philosophy
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Master courses
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy
2012-09-27 - 2012-11-29
Thu. 15-18
Room 40.113, Roger de Llúria Building, Campus Ciutadella, Fac. Filosofia, UPF



To become familiar with the main debates within contemporary distributive justice, and  to learn how to defend a position regarding resource distribution in a clear and rigorous manner.




This module examines some of the central debates about distributive justice that have taken place in Anglo-American political philosophy since the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971. Rawls’s work has stimulated responses from the right, most notably from Robert Nozick, a libertarian, as well as from the left, including authors like G. A. Cohen, feminists like Susan Okin and other liberal egalitarians like Ronald Dworkin and Amartya Sen.


These responses can be organized via three main debates. The first concerns the search for the correct principles of distributive justice. For example, is it important to distribute benefits equally or is all that matters that people have enough? The second, known as the debate on “the currency of justice”, concerns what should be distributed equally (or according to whatever turns out to be the right principle or combination of principles) in a just society.  Is it primary goods, as Rawls argues, or resources, as Dworkin advocates? Is it welfare, as Cohen believes, or is it what Sen describes as capabilities and functionings?


The third and more extensive debate in distributive justice concerns the scope of application of whatever combination of principles and currencies turns out to be correct. Many employ the term “distributive justice” as if it was coextensive with social justice. However, those terms aren’t equivalent. One important reason is that discussing the ethics of distribution is relevant at both micro- and macro-levels. For example, Cohen has argued that those principles should apply all the way down to individuals and even specific actions, including those concerning occupational choice. He appeals to the feminist slogan “the personal is political” which those concerned with gender equality have also employed to argue in favor of including the family as a legitimate site for distributive justice. Distributive justice, thus, has sub-social applications. It also has supra-social applications, as it can also apply across countries, generations, and even species.


The course employs short expositions of a position and long discussions of the pros and cons of holding it. These expositions and discussions take place within 3 hour seminars among students who have read at least one paper for the discussion.


One 2000-4000 essay on one aspect of the course OR an exam with short questions on basic notions learnt during the course. Students can chose.




II.               Equality or Priority?


Derek Parfit, “Equality or Priority?”, The Ideal of Equality ed.  Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Palgrave MacMillan 2002)


Larry Temkin, Inequality, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), Ch. 9.


Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve, Why it Matters if Some are Worse Off than Others” Philosophy and Public Affairs (2009)


III.            Equality or Sufficiency?


Harry Frankfurt, “Equality as a Moral Ideal”, Ethics (1987)


Paula Casal, “Why Sufficiency of Not Enough”, Ethics (2007)


IV.           Equality of what?


Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Harvard University

Press, 2000), Chs. 1 and 2.


Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

1984)  Appendix I “What Makes Someone’s Life Go Best”


Amartya Sen “Equality of What?” in

and Equal Freedom ed. Steve Darwall (University of Michigan, 1995)


G. A. Cohen “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice”, Ethics (1989)


V.               The rejection of distributive justice


           Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, (Basic Books, 1974) Ch. 7


VI.            The egalitarian ethos


G. A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality



     VII. Justice within the family


Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family (Basic Books, 1989)


   VIII. International and global justice


Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity, 2008)


Hillel Steiner, “Just Taxation and International Redistribution” NOMOS XXXVII (1999)


Paula Casal “Global Taxes on Natural Resources” with replies from Pogge and Steiner”, Journal of Moral Philosophy (2011)


IX. Inter-generational distributive justice


Axel Gosseries and Lucas Meyer, Intergenerational Justice (Oxford University Press, 2009)


X.  Justice across species


Peter Vallentyne, “Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals”, Egalitarianism ed. Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert Rasmussen (Oxford University Press, 2007)