The Justice Test

“Is this a fair distribution of benefits and burdens?”

Ask: “Is this a fair distribution of benefits and burdens.”B. WHY IS THE JUSTICE TEST A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG?
If everyone is equal – that is, has equal value as a human person– then everyone has an equal claim to a share.  The default distribution is to give everyone an equal share since all are worth the same.

But there are circumstances in which everyone does not have an equal claim because they worked harder or less hard, contributed more or less, have greater or less need, etc.

So a fair distribution is in each situation depends on their equality or inequality:
Treat equals equally and unequals unequally.

The reasons for inequality:
•    Effort – some may have worked harder
•    Accomplishment – some may have achieved more or performed better
•    Contribution – some may have contributed more to the group or society
•    Need – some may have a greater need to be served first or receive a larger share
•    Seniority – some may have arrived in line first, be older or younger, or have more years of    service
•    Contract – a prior agreement about how the distribution should be made.
•    Relationship or In-Group Status — some may have a claim because they are members of my family or a group to which I owe loyalty.

STEP 1: What is the distribution? Who is getting the benefits and burdens in the situation: Do those who get benefits also share burdens?  Do those with benefits share some of the burdens?  These are factual questions.  Once you know the distribution you can decide if it is fair or not.

STEP 2: Is the distribution fair? Which criterion for distribution would be     most fair in this situation and why would it be most fair in this situation?  You     have to defend the distribution and the criterion or reason for the distribution.

STEP 3: If disagreement persists over which outcome is fair or over which criterion for inequality is best in the situation, then select a fair process to decide what is fair: an election, dispassionate judge, chance decided by a coin or paper-rock-scissors.

STEP 4: Draw a conclusion
Will this action produce a fair distribution, and why?


Research shows fairness to be one of the most fundamental ethical instincts in     humans.  It is present in many animals, including primates and dogs.  Subjects     will give up rewards that would make them better off than they are, if others are     getting greater rewards that are not justified.

There is no single criterion for a fair distribution so the test is always open to disagreement among ethical persons.

© 2009  J. Brooke Hamilton III, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.