What is the qualification in virtue of which the good is due a person (the right holder)?

Published by Jeannie R. Ferrell

Dec 8, 2022


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DQ Instructions:
1. Watch this summary of a debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Ted Cruz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRm6tQadqeE
2. Using the categories below, identify the conception of distributive justice that you think best matches each senator’s position.
3. Provide supporting reasons for your interpretation of each senator’s views.
(The clip is very short, so if you need more information watch the entire debate or parts of it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bapp45Vx0UE (The opening and closing remarks may be a good place to start.))
4. Then answer this question: Does society have a responsibility to provide access to health care to those who lack it?
5. Provide support for your position by drawing from one of the theories of distributive justice introduced in Vaughn and explained further below.
Theoretical background:
Justice: People getting what is due them or fair.
Distributive Justice: the fair distribution of goods.
Retributive Justice: the fair meting out of punishment for wrongdoing. Retributive justice is usually based upon a notion of distributive justice.
Elements of Distributive Justice:
1. What is the good being distributed?
Access to health care
Prevention from health risks (environmental, etc.)
2. What is the qualification in virtue of which the good is due a person (the right holder)?
Merit-based v. Egalitarian
The question of what sorts of things are due a person is based upon a conception of justice that gives an account of the qualification of the right-holder, the responsible parties, the good involved.
3. Who is the responsible party? Who is primarily responsible to make sure the good is distributed in keeping with the principle?
A principle of distributive justice makes clear what sorts of goods ought to be distributed to what individuals in virtue of what characteristic, in what way and who is primarily responsible to do this.
Competing Conceptions of Justice:
1. Libertarian: Libertarians generally do not recognize socially enforced obligation from justice to distribute health care fairly, because this would impinge upon the inalienable right to one’s own property, skills, and freedom. Many libertarians, however, acknowledge that all people have a responsibility to act beneficently towards those who lack a basic minimum of health care. Yet, how a particular person properly fulfills this responsibility to act beneficently will vary greatly.
Justice determined by basic rights of the individual to property and reward for labor (merit-based).
2. Utilitarian: Just acts (e.g., providing universal access to health care) are justified ultimately in terms of how they fulfill the principle of utility, which states that one should act in such a way as to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Justice determined by the principle of utility (whatever provides the greatest balance of good over bad.)
3. Egalitarian: The qualification for distribution of goods is relative to a qualifying characteristic that people share equally (this qualifying characteristic may be that one is simply a human person, a rational agent, or a cooperating member of the/a human community or something else).
Justice determined by rights of the individual and their equal qualification.
4. Communitarian: Each person is viewed primarily not as an isolated individual with rights but as a member of communities. The demands of justice in a given community depend on the shared or common good around which that community is based.
Justice determined by the specific common good of a community. The common good determines one’s role and responsibility to others.


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