Academic year
Paula Casal
Departament of Humanities - Area of Moral and Political Philosophy
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Master courses
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy
2015-01-22 - 2015-03-26
Thu. 15-18 & Wed. 18/03, 15-18


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.


Participants are expected to read at least one paper a week, write a 2,000 word essay, and offer a 10 minute presentation. “All essays must include a Word Count and be under 2,000 words; students should not count on excess words being read. All essay titles must either come from a list of Sample Titles on the module document or receive the written agreement of the Tutor before the end of the penultimate session. A penalty of ten points will be deducted from the grade of any submitted essay failing to satisfy this condition. All essays must be submitted before Friday noon of the week following the last session, and there will be a 5 point penalty for every 24 hours of unjustified delay.

 Students may not miss over 20% of the sessions without a serious and documented justification. Class participation (attendance, presentations and discussions) may raise the essay mark up to 5 points.


I. 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)

II. Equality or Sufficiency?

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

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

    III. Equality of what?  

      Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Harvard UniversityPress, 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)

      IV. The rejection of distributive justice

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

        V. The egalitarian ethos 

          G. A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality and Justice and Equality, (Harvard UP, 2008)

          VII. Justice within the family 

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

          Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Harvard UP, 1991)

          Jennifer Saul, Feminism (OUP, 2003)

          Alison Jaggar (ed.) Living with Contradictions (Westview 1994)

          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)

          Joseph Mazor, “Liberal Justice, Future People and Natural Resource Conservation” , Philosophy and Public Affairs  (2010).

          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).

          Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis. A Political Theory of Animal Rights (OUP, 2011).