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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Work as a problem of distributive justice Preinsperger, Kurt


This thesis tackles a problem of contemporary society: What constitutes a just distribution of work? After an analysis of "work" as a family resemblance concept in the manner of Wittgenstein, I discuss the dual nature of work as both a benefit and a burden, a benefit because it can provide a livelihood, comfort, prestige, power, social contacts, self-esteem and self-realization, a burden because it can involve toil, tedium, danger, humiliation and dehumanization. I appraise some important value judgments about work - that it has dignity and spirituality, that it contributes to society, that it is a duty, a right, a privilege, a necessity. Reflecting on the nature of distributive justice, I criticize four distinct approaches: moral skepticism, the confusion of law and justice, a number of influential stipulative definitions of justice which are either blatantly arbitrary or insufficiently general, and three attempts to derive the principles of justice from less controversial assumptions. I try to show that an understanding of justice is best elicited in paradigm situations of injustice, and that principles of justice can be extracted, although imperfectly, from such situations and applied to more or less analogous situations. The principle of justice I apply to the distribution of work requires that no citizen be discriminated against, on irrelevant grounds, in the distribution of social benefits and burdens. Although no explication of "irrelevant grounds" seems generally sound, I argue that there is a strong presumption of discrimination on irrelevant grounds whenever people are put at a serious disadvantage through no fault of their own by modifiable social arrangements. After explaining why no single, society-wide distribution of work can be generated simply by an appeal to justice, I focus on the existing work allocation process and identify ways in which it puts people at a serious disadvantage through no fault of their own. Examples are the prevalence of favoritism, the inflation of formal job requirements, lack of access to training and job vacancy information, and work monopolies protected by sheltering mechanisms. I conclude with a brief survey of reform proposals, such as worksharing and job creation, as well as the twofold role of a guaranteed income in relieving pressure on the job market and compensating vicitims of social injustice.

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