Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Spring 2011
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 12B

Social Justice

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber


Michael Walzer's
"Third Theory" of Justice


In the READER in Chapter Twelve: Justice, Community, and Membership there is an excerpt from Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice where Walzer advances, it would not be unreasonable to say, an alternative to the theories of justice put forward by Rawls and Nozick.

However one may describe it, for Walzer distributive justice does not require us to look at where members of a society end up or where they might start out, nor does it require us to think about whether members deserve what they have or gain, distributive justice requires us to look more closely at the goods we are distributing. The distribution of different goods are governed by different principles. Thinking of justice in this way is in part why Walzer calls his theory: "spheres of justice." Different goods occupy different spheres each informed by principles of distribution bound by the particularity of this or that good within a sphere.

As Michael Sandel puts it: "The key to [Walzer's] solution is to worry less about the distribution of money and more about limiting the things money can buy . . . different goods . . . different principles - welfare to the needy, honors to the deserving, political power to the persuasive, offices to the qualified, luxuries to those able and willing to pay for them, divine grace to the pious, and so on."

But it quickly becomes evident that simply cordoning off this or that good from money "where it does not belong," is not the beginning and end of the story because there is the more fundamental issue of identifying and agreeing upon the nature of the goods. "What sort of a good is education?" is a key question in the affirmative action debate. What sort of good is health care?

In the excerpt in the READER from page 335 to 342 Walzer lays out his "theory of goods" and the theory of distributive justice that accompanies it and then, drawing on his theory makes a case for universal medical care.

Take a look.

What do you think?

Are you convinced?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

How might Rawls and Nozick respond?

Make a case for or against Walzer's "third theory" of justice and his defense of some form of national health care, offer what you think are the most powerful objections to your case, and respond to them.