Distributive Justice (versus Social Justice)/ Equity (versus Equality)

Distributive Justice (versus Social Justice)

Equity (vs Equality)

In social justice (equality) everyone gets the same, regardless of need. Thus, everyone might be given $10.

In distributive justice (equity) each unit gets according to need. In this case those with some need would get $10, those with more need might get more than $10, and those without need would get nothing. This is how some of the Covid relief money was handled.

What makes distributive justice controversial is when those without need are asked to subsidize those with more need. Thus, those who were not given $10 could be asked to give some of their own money to those with greater need.

In the picture below labeled equality, the three people on the left are given equal amounts (one box each). This results in inequality because it does not serve the needs of the smallest person. In the picture on the right labeled equity the tall person gets no box because he can already see over the fence, the midsize person gets one box, allowing him to see over the fence. The smallest person gets two boxes, allowing him to see over the fence. This is distributive justice.

To explore this further, consider three thought experiments on the next page.


Thought Experiment 1:

Imagine that you are on a long line to use the restroom. There is one handicapped stall, and 8 regular stalls. All stalls are full. If a person in a wheelchair entered the line, would you let that person go ahead of you when the handicapped stall was free, if you were:

The first in line?

The tenth in line?

The twentieth in line?

Would any of your answers change if five people using wheelchairs entered the line?

Thought Experiment 2:

You are waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight. You have carry-on luggage you need to store in an overhead bin; if room runts out you will have to check your bag. Also, you very much want an aisle or window (not a middle) seat. Preboarding is allowed for those with various disabilities and families with young children, and those with service animals.

What number of people with disabilities (and their families) going ahead of you would it take before you felt it was unjust to people without disabilities, in Boarding Group:




Thought Experiment 3:

You have applied for a job you very much want. The final decision is between you and a person who is blind. You are both equally qualified.  Who do you think should get the job, and why? Make your case for your decision.

Does the type of disability the other candidate has make a difference in your decision?