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Distributive Justice



Some have argued that a good conception of politics is the process of determining “who gets what, when and how?” This conception is at the heart of the debate in political philosophy about distributive justice. Societies are made up of different forms of cooperation between individuals. The fruits of cooperation have to be distributed and political processes serve to determine which pattern of distribution is actually implemented. Political philosophers in turn have asked: what is a just distribution? Who should get what and how? In this seminar we study the different answers to this question. In the first part of the seminar we examine three main theories of distributive justice: libertarianism, Marxism and liberal egalitarianism. This gives us a grip on the possible answers to the perennial distributive question. In the second part of the seminar we will apply these abstract theories by looking at several contexts in which the question of just distribution is practically relevant. Topics will include distribution with respect to social benefits (the welfare state), health care, the environment and global justice.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures and group discussions.

Study material

(approximately 700 pages)

  • Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy. An Introduction, 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). ISBN 978-019878274-2.

  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 2nd, revised edition (Oxford University Press, 1999) ISBN 9780798250555.

  • Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1974). ISBN 9780631197805.

  • Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (Basic Books, 1983). ISBN 9780465081899.

  • Robert Goodin, James Mahmud Rice, Antti Parpo, Lina Eriksson, Discretionary Time. A New Measure of Freedom, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). ISBN 9780521709514.

  • Collection of articles (available via digital library)

N.B. With respect to all books except Kymlicka’s, we will be reading only some passages. A copy of each of these books is available on hold in the library.


Written assignment and final paper.


Tuesday 1 February till 8 March, 9.00-11.00 hrs., in 6C03
and Tuesday 15 March, 9.00-13.00 hrs., in 6C03
Friday 4 February till 11 March, 13.00-15.00 hrs., in 1A03.