PHIL 273.001 – Philosophical Perspectives on Justice

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Instructor: Christopher Howard. This course meets TR 12:30 – 1:45 p.m. in PH 381.

In the Institutes of Justinian, a sixth-century codification of Roman law, justice is defined as ‘the constant and perpetual will to render each his due’. Absent further specification the proposal is rather abstract. We might ask, in particular, what it would mean to ‘render each his due’. A plausible first pass is that to render each his due is to give each what he deserves. And in fact, there is a venerable tradition according to which justice is, at the most basic level, a matter of receipt in accord with desert. The aim of this course is to explore this tradition. We’ll canvass a number of historical and contemporary sources with the goal of answering questions including, but not limited to, the following: What is it to deserve something? What (if anything) do we deserve? In virtue of what do we deserve the things we do? We’ll then bring various candidate answers to these questions to bear in assessing the plausibility of various ‘desertist’ theories of justice. Of particular focus will be the common criticism that desertist theories have objectionably inegalitarian implications.