The Principle of Fairness, Political Duties, and the Benefits Proviso Mistake

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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  • 1 1Visiting Assistant Professor, Amherst College

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Recent debate in the literature on political obligation about the principle of fairness rests on a mistake. Despite the widespread assumption to the contrary, a person can have a duty of fairness to share in the burdens of sustaining some cooperative scheme even though that scheme does not represent a net benefit to her. Recognizing this mistake allows for a resolution of the stalemate between those who argue that the mere receipt of some public good from a scheme can generate a duty of fairness and those who argue that only some voluntary action of consent or acceptance of the good can generate such a duty. I defend a version of the principle of fairness that holds that it is the person’s reliance on a scheme for the provision of some product or service that generates duties of fairness to share in the burdens of sustaining the scheme. And, on this version, the principle of fairness is politically significant: regardless of whether the citizen has a duty to obey the law, she will still have important political duties of fairness generated by her reliance on the various public goods provided by those society-wide cooperative schemes sustained by the sacrifices of her fellow citizens.

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  • 2

    Hart (1955), 185–6.

  • 3

    Cullity (1995), 22–23.

  • 4

    Rawls (1999a), 123.

  • 9

    Nozick (1974), 93–4. (The person’s name is my own addition.) That the scheme assigns each person a share of the burden is a complication that I intend to ignore in what follows, for it raises important questions about procedures for arriving at public determinations of persons’ fairness duties.

  • 11

    Klosko (1992), 39. See also Klosko (2005), 6.

  • 13

    Klosko (1992), 39.

  • 14

    Klosko (1992), 44. Emphasis added.

  • 15

    Klosko (1992), 44. Emphasis added.

  • 16

    Klosko (1992), 44.

  • 19

    Klosko (1992), 39, italics added. Also: “[B]ecause the benefits of national defense are presumptively beneficial, we can presume that Pickerel would pursue them (and bear the associated costs) if this were necessary for their receipt” (Klosko (1992), 42, first italics added). Klosko says similar things in Political Obligations: “[I]f a given benefit is indispensable to Smith’s welfare… then we can assume that she benefits from it, even if she has not sought to attain it” (Klosko (2005), 6).

  • 20

    Klosko (1992), 42.

  • 21

    Cullity (1995), 6. (The name is my own addition.)

  • 25

    Cullity (1995), 23.

  • 32

    Nozick (1974), 95; Simmons (2001), 15.

  • 34

    Rawls (1999b), 96. See also Rawls (1999b), 301–308.

  • 36

    Simmons (2001), 18.

  • 38

    Simmons (2001), 20. For additional discussion of the criteria for voluntary acceptance of public goods, see Simmons (1993), 252–7.

  • 45

    Simmons (2001), 34. The character’s name is my own addition.

  • 46

    Simmons (2001), 36. Of course, Simmons’ discussion does not concern the specific question of forced reliance but rather forced benefit via the preclusion of private provision of a good.

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