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Utilitarianism on Distributive Justice - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 223
Distributive Justice/Utilitarianism/Lamont: Over the last couple of centuries, one traditional
answer to the question of how the goods and services of a society should be distributed has been
that they should be distributed in a way that increases the welfare ofthe poor.
Gaus I 224
Under utilitarianism, the right distribution is that which maximizes overall welfare, or 'utility', variously interpreted as net positive happiness, preference satisfaction, pleasure, or well-being (Bayles, 1978(1); Kelly, 1990(2); Smart and Williams, 1973(3)).
VsUtilitarianism: problems: Unfortunately, through such extension, the theory makes the requirement to benefit the poor a contingent matter, according to the degree such help will maximize overall welfare. Utilitarians, who tend to accept the diminishing marginal utility of resources, believe resources will tend to produce more good when redistributed to the poor than to the rich. Nevertheless, there are easily describable conditions, such as in the case ofa poor but satisfied person and a non-satiated rich person, under which utilitarianism would prescribe forcibly transferring goods from the poor to the rich person. Because of prescriptions such as this, and others, which systematically violate common sense morality (Scheffler, 1988(4); 1994(5)), the ongoing movement in utilitarian theory, in the last two decades, has been towards variations of 'indirect' and 'institutional' utilitarianism (Bailey, 1997(6); Goodin, 1988(7); 1995(8); Pettit, 1997(9)). The most forceful idea of these theories is to restrict the application of utilitarianism to guide the choice of practices, institutions or public policies rather than to guide individual actions.


1. Bayles, Michael D., ed. (1978) Contemporary Utilitarianism. Gloucester, MA: Smith.
2. Kelly, P. J. (1990) Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice. Oxford: Clarendon.
3. Smart, J. J. C. and Bernard Williams (1973) Utilitarianism For and Against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Scheffler, Samuel, ed. (1988) Consequentialism and its Critics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Scheffler, Samuel (1994) The Rejection of Consequentialism, rev. edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
6. Bailey, James Wood (1997) Utilitarianism, Institutions, and Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7. Goodin, Robert E. (1988) Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
8. Goodin, Robert E. (1995) Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
9. Pettit, Philip (1997) Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lamont, Julian, „Distributive Justice“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Utilitarianism
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-03-04
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