Distributive Justice and Distributed Obligations

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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Collectivities can have obligations beyond the aggregate of pre-existing obligations of their members. Certain such collective obligations distribute, i.e., become members’ obligations to do their fair share. In incremental good cases, i.e., those in which a member’s fair share would go part way toward fulfilling the collectivity’s obligation, each member has an unconditional obligation to contribute.

States are involuntary collectivities that bear moral obligations. Certain states, democratic legal states, are collectivities whose obligations can distribute. Many existing states are democratic legal states, but none satisfies more rigorous requirements of distributive justice. There, citizens who hold assets, in excess of what is just, bear a distributed duty to dedicate that excess toward correcting the injustice. It is an incremental good case not conditioned on the conformity of others who are also wealthier than justice allows, nor on the diligence of the state in meeting its obligations.

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