How Association Matters for Distributive Justice

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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Under which conditions does the relation between the levels of benefit and burden held by distinct individuals become a concern of justice? Associativists argue that principles of comparative distributive justice apply only among those persons who share some (special) form of association; humanists argue that some such principles apply among all human persons qua human persons. According to the “weak associativist” account that I defend, humanism is wrong, but so are current versions of associativism. Association is necessary if talk of comparative distributive justice is to be apt, but no special form of it is required. Whether or not principles of comparative distributive justice do in fact apply to an association will depend on whether or not the conditions for legitimate enforcement of the resulting duties are satisfied, and we can expect these conditions to be satisfied by a wide range of associative forms.

How Association Matters for Distributive Justice

in Journal of Moral Philosophy




 See e.g.; David MillerNational Responsibility and Global Justice (New York: Oxford University Press2012); Mathias Risse On Global Justice (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2012); Gillian Brock Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (New York: Oxford University Press 2009); Michael Blake ‘Distributive Justice State Coercion and Autonomy’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 30:3 (2001) pp. 257–296.


 See Derek Parfit‘Equality and Priority,’ Ratio X (1997) pp. 202–221.


GilabertFrom Global Poverty to Global Equality p. 163.


 See e.g. Darrell Moellendorf‘Equal respect and global egalitarianism,’ Social Theory and Practice 32 (2006) pp. 601–16 at p. 608–9.


 See GilabertFrom Global Poverty to Global Equality p. 221 and Caney “Humanity Associations and Global Justice” p. 507.


GilabertFrom Global Poverty to Global Equality p. 196. Similarly see Vlastos’ argument in ‘Justice and Equality’ that it is the fundamental equal worth of all persons which gives rise to their rights to equal freedom and happiness.


GilabertFrom Global Poverty to Global Equality p. 178.


Thomas NagelEquality and Partiality (New York: Oxford University Press1991) p. 107. See also Scanlon’s comments on the institutional underpinnings of fairness-based claims to “equal benefit” in his “The Diversity of Objections to Inequality” (Thomas Scanlon The Difficulty of Tolerance: Essays in Political Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003) pp. 202–218. Can’t it sometimes be unfair to exclude non-associates from an association – a possible case of humanist distributive unfairness? In some cases this is so because those included and those excluded share a broader association that subsumes the one from which they are denied entry. In other cases the specific charge of unfairness is unfounded but exclusion can be morally criticized on the distinct ground that it undermines the basic welfare or human rights of those excluded. Associativists can accommodate both points. One remaining worry here concerns cases of what we might call “discriminatory” exclusion. What if for instance against a backdrop of no association whatsoever and in a world where all sufficientarian duties had been discharged an association decided for no reason other than animus to admit only those outsiders who were white? The claim that such behavior would be wrong is compelling. But it is less obvious that it involves distributive unfairness in particular. The key wrong here does not seem to be one of an unfair distribution of benefits between white and non-white candidates for admission. Instead it is the sort of expressive wrong that is characteristic of racism: the classing of people as inferior on the basis of their group-membership in denial of the fundamental moral equality of all persons.


 See Cohen and Sabel‘Extra Rempublicam’ p. 170.


 See Helena de Bres‘Disaggregating Global Justice’Social Theory and Practice 39:3 (2013) pp. 422–448.


Andrea Sangiovanni‘Global Justice, Reciprocity and the State,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 35:1 (2005) pp. 3–39 at p. 20.


 See e.g. Nagel‘The Problem of Global Justice’ pp. 17–18.


 See e.g. Caney“Humanity Associations and Global Justice” p. 521 and Richard Arneson 'Do Patriotic Ties Limit Global Justice Duties?’ Journal of Ethics 9 (2005) pp. 127–50.


Caney‘Humanity Associations and Global Justice’ pp. 522–525.


Caney‘Humanity Associations and Global Justice’ pp. 525–529.

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