Distributive Justice – Concept, origin, objectives and examples

We explain what distributive justice is, its origin and examples. Also, which are retributive justice and commutative justice.

distributive justice
Distributive justice refers to both the distribution of goods and opportunities.

Distributive justice

In law, it is known as distributive justice to a form of justice that deals specifically with the correct distribution of goods and burdens in a society determined. That is, it refers to the way in which a society distributes benefits, duties and opportunities, in the face of economic activity.

Distributive justice studies the way in which, at a moment in history, the goods of a society are distributed, to determine whether it is fair or acceptable. It is a very common concept in the philosophies of egalitarianism, which defend the need for society to grant each individual exactly the same, although these positions have been criticized for stripping the individual of all responsibility for their economic decisions.

However, in every society, instances of distributive justice are required, which ensure the equitable distribution of goods, and thus avoid the construction of brutally unequal societies, in which precisely social peace is impossible. There are many ways of understanding this model of justice, not all focused on the distribution of material goods.

Distributive justice was dealt with in classical antiquity by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), but Its most prominent theorist in history was the American John Rawls (1921-2002), for whom the notion of justice was inseparable from the notion of equity.

Examples of distributive justice

Some simple examples of the application of distributive justice are as follows:

  • The appraisal and tax systems, which require contributions from all citizens of the country, according to the percentage they are capable of facing: the poor, less, the rich, more. In this way, an attempt is made to balance the socioeconomic balance.
  • Social opportunity programs, in which the State or private organizations offer free and quality study and training opportunities to individuals from lower social strata, as a way to help them move up socially.
  • The public health system, designed to serve the poor, the rich and the middle class alike, in such a way that access to medical solutions and health information is not exclusive to any social class.

Retributive justice

retributive distributive justice
Retributive justice focuses on the punishment of the crime.

Retributive justice is a conception of justice that focuses on the compensation provided for the crime, that is, on impart the just and deserved punishment to those who break the law.

For this, there are principles of proportionality of the sentence applied, which obey a moral idea of ​​justice, rather than a utilitarian sense that sees in the application of justice something capable of producing concrete benefits or damages. This justice focuses on the punishment of the crime, with the purpose of mitigating or eliminating the crime through exemplary sanctions, that is, of making the punished criminal an example for the whole of society.

Commutative justice

For its part, commutative justice (from the Latin I will commute, “Exchange”), is the one that focuses on business relationships and transactions, with the purpose of making them a fair, equitable and peaceful exercise.

It differs above all from distributive justice in that it does not take into account at all the particularities of each individual involved, but rather focuses on the justice of the transaction itself, that is, that it is done in accordance with the law and without violating any of the parties.

According to Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), this last difference is explained because distributive justice regulates the relationship of the community with each of its members, while commutative justice regulates the relationship of one individual to another.