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Distributive Justice: from local to global issues

Vak 2013-2014


Many inspiring theories about distributive justice exist and have been the result of more than two thousand years of political philosophy. In this course an overview of dominant modern approaches to the issue of distributive justice will be provided. In this context, attention will be paid to both ‘ideal and abstract visions’ on justice, as well as more specific examples of social, economic and political injustice on a local and global scale.

Purpose: 1. Getting a systematic overview of the most relevant theoretical ideas about distributive justice, and understanding the high complexity involved in this topic. 2. Apply concepts of distributive justice in a specific region, community, and national or international institutions.

Content: The concept of distributive justice will be considered in its many moral and political dimensions. During the seminar meetings a multitude of topics will be discussed, varying from the central philosophical notions of distributive justice in the history op political theory, local and global economic and social justice, social problems as caused by racial discrimination and economic exclusion, to questions of justice related to natural resources and the global environment. There will be a special focus on the issue of distributive justice in relation to the much debated problems of climate change and global warming. A considerable part of the readings will cover the issues of poverty and global economic injustice between now living generations (intra-generational justice), and between current and future generations (inter-generational justice) In this context, the emphasis will be on the ideas of political philosophers such as Friedrich Hayek, John Rawls, Amartya Sen, Brian Barry, Peter Singer, Thomas Nagel, J.W. Gray and Derek Parfit.

Methods of Instruction

This course includes workgroup meetings, guest lectures, watching at least one or two relevant documentaries, class debates, writing papers and giving class presentations.

Study Material

Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, (2002) diverse versies

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, diverse edities 1999

Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice, Penguin 2010

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save: How to play your part in ending world poverty, Picador 2010

Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford paperbacks, 1986

Copies of a number of relevant book chapters and journal articles.


Students have to write short papers and give presentations on a regular basis, which will be graded. At the end of the course a more substantial final essay has to be written. The final mark will be based on the quality of the various papers, presentations and general participation.

You can register for an exam or retake through USIS until 10 days before the exam or retake.


Wednesday 4 September until 18 December, 9.00-11.00 hrs in SA21