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The Ones in Darkness

  • D. A. Lloyd Thomas (a1)


If the world were wholly just, the following inductive definition would exhaustively cover the subject of justice in holdings.

1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding.

2. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding.

3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) applications of i and 2.

The complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution.



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1 Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), 151.

2 Williams, Bernard, ‘The Idea of Equality’, in Problems of the Self (Cambridge University Press, 1973), 241.

3 Ibid., 241.

4 Nozick, Robert, op. cit., 223.

5 Ibid, 234.

6 Williams, Bernard, op. cit., 241242 (my italics).

7 Nozick, Robert, op. cit., 185186.

8 Robert Nozick has an excellent and relevant example, op. cit., 226 (footnote).

9 ‘The Justification of Liberalism’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy II, No. 2 (12 1972), 205.

10 In Three Essays on Political Violence (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976).

11 Ibid., 41.

12 Ibid., 42.

13 Ibid., 10.

14 Ibid., 42–43.

15 ‘Very probably’, not ‘certainly’; for the equalizing effect of discharging claims based on serious need might be more than outweighed by the creation of a privileged bureaucracy administering these activities.

16 It would be natural to take the expression ‘the community generally’ as referring to the nation state. But it could be argued that moral claims based on need ought to be regarded as falling upon the whole of mankind, or, at least, upon that section of mankind in a position to help. Voluntary aid bodies sometimes use advertisements depicting the dreadful circumstances of people in poor countries. An appeal is being made to the belief that serious need gives rise to moral claims: claims which fall upon any person in a position to help, not only upon the fellow-countrymen of the distressed. If it is arbitrary, from a moral point of view, to say that the needs of a stranger constitute a moral claim against anyone who happens to be around, but not others, then it might be thought equally arbitrary to suggest that it extends no further than the stranger's fellow-countrymen.

The existing organizational capacity to discharge moral claims, if seen as falling upon the whole of mankind, is limited. But if, within the context of the nation state, it is said that lack of organization to deal with claims falling upon the community generally is no reason for denying the moral force of such claims, then equally, the lack of international organization can be no reason. Such claims may be thought to constitute a reason why organizations ought to be established in both cases.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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