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Critically Evaluate Distributive Justice

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  • Category: Justice

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As the gap between the rich and poor widen, the principles of distributive justice have become more applicable in our social life. Distributive justice has been the central concept in religious beliefs with an assertion that everyone is equal in the society and therefore deserve share of equal resources.  This premise if based on ethical principle with a utilitarian approach. However, there are critiques who argue that distributive justice is not applicable in normal social life because there are some members of the society with more needs and there are those who work harder than others and therefore will be rewarded more than others. Let us critically review distributive justice.

Distributive justice

Distributive justice is an ethical principle which is concerned with what is just or right in allocation of resources in the society (Phelps 1987, p. 86).  This means that distributive justice would require the society to distribute its resources in a manner that every member in the society will be given their due.  In most cases, distributive justice is more confused with procedural justice which is concerned with the justice processes like administration of law.  On the contrary distributive justice is concerned with the outcomes and the consequences.

According to John Rawls who is one of the contemporary theorists of distributive justice, distributive justice in the society would be assessed through its outcomes. This assessment can be carried out through different factors like wages, wealth distribution, standards of living, and many others. Distributive justice is therefore considered fair distribution of goods among all the members of the society.  It is a utilitarian approach which believes in doing right for all people in the society (Nardin 2006, p. 240).

However distributive justice is not only concerned with the outcomes of the process but it should also go deeper to the process that is used to achieve the outcome. For example it should take into consideration the total amount that is to be distributed, the procedure which will be used in the distribution process and the patters that result from the distributive justice.

However, even when there is general acceptance that everybody in the society should get a fair share, critics argue that it would be difficult to determine which constitutes a “fair share” according to individuals needs (Konow 2003, p. p. 124). In our capitalist economies, there are those who are likely to work hard than others and therefore they are not likely to be entitled to the same share. These are two great hurdles in explaining distributive justice.  Principles of distributive justice are based on equality, equity and needs. Equality will determine who gets what in which case everyone gets equal share. However due to the varying levels of needs, this will give different results from equal outcome. The principle of equity is concerned with individual production which means those who produce more in the society should get more than others. Those who need more are also likely to be given more than others. Therefore it is clear that distributive justice is good for society members but there are many hurdles in achieving fair distribution for all people (Leventhal et al., R 1980, p. 50)


Distributive justice was developed by John Rawls assert that everyone in the society should be given equal share of the society resources. Under this ethical principle, everybody in the society should be allocated a fair and equal share of resource. However, the implementation of this principle is hindered by many factors including the differences in individual needs, difference in production efforts by different members of the society, and many others.


Konow, J 2003, Which is the fairest one of all? Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 42, Issue 4

Leventhal, G., Karuza, J., & William, R 1980, Beyond fairness: Theory of allocation of resources, Plenum, New York

Nardin, T 2006, Distributive justice and the criticism of international law, Political Studies, Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 232-244

Phelps, E 1987, Distributive justice, New Plagrave

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