Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Contributive Justice: An Exploration of a Wider Provision of Meaningful Work

  • Published:
Social Justice Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Extreme inequality of opportunity leads to a number of social tensions, inefficiencies and injustices. One issue of increasing concern is the effect inequality is having on people’s fair chances of attaining meaningful work, thus limiting opportunities to make a significant positive contribution to society and reducing the chances of living a flourishing life and developing their potential. On a global scale, we can observe an increasingly uneven provision of meaningful work, raising a series of ethical concerns that need detailed examination. The aim of this article is to explore the potential of a normative framework based upon the idea of contributive justice to defend a fairer provision of meaningful work.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. Adrian Walsh (1994, 248) concludes that “meaningful work (i.e., eudaimonian activity in the workplace) is a legitimate distributive good, which should be included alongside other distributive goods such as wealth, education, leisure goods, and income”. Yet while we may be able to identify jobs that in their job description offer opportunities to exercise and develop skills that demand engagement with theory, in practice we can only distribute such jobs within a small group provided all commit to do a fair share of tedious tasks as well. At a global level, the task of distributing meaningful work fairly becomes unfeasible. This type of practical impediment pushes the distribution of meaningful work beyond the realm of what can be addressed through principles of distributive justice (cf. Lamont & Favor, 2013).

  2. See Yeoman (2014, 237) for a discussion, primarily questioning the real freedom people have to choose the work they will do in the labour market.

  3. For strong scepticism that the principle of equality of opportunity shall ever be more than a mere ideal, see Mijs (2016).

  4. For an excellent discussion of the job market for academic philosophy and its effect on diversity and well-being, see Behrensen and Kaliarnta (2017).

References

  • Anderson, E. (2015). Equality and freedom in the workplace: Recovering republican insights. Social Philosophy and Policy, 31(02), 48–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arneson, R. (1987). Meaningful work and market socialism. Ethics, 97(3), 517–545.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arneson, R. (2009). Meaningful work and market socialism revisited. Analyse & Kritik, 31(1), 139–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arneson, R. (2015). Equality of opportunity. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition).

  • Arnold, S. (2012). The difference principle at work. Journal of Political Philosophy, 20(1), 94–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barry, B. (1982). Humanity and justice in global perspective. Nomos, 24, 219–252.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bascara, R. (2016). Compatriot partiality and cosmopolitan justice: Can we justify compatriot partiality within the cosmopolitan framework? Etikk i praksis-Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 10(2), 27–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Behrensen, M., & Kaliarnta, S. (2017). Sick and tired: Depression in the margins of academic philosophy. Topoi, 36(2), 355–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowie, N. E. (1998). A Kantian theory of meaningful work. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(9), 1083–1092.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brennan, J. (2011). The right to a competent electorate. The Philosophical Quarterly, 61(245), 700–724.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Britz, J. J. (2008). Making the global information society good: A social justice perspective on the ethical dimensions of the global information society. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 59(7), 1171–1183.

    Google Scholar 

  • Britz, J. J., & Lipinski, T. A. (2001). Indigenous knowledge: A moral reflection on current legal concepts of intellectual property. Libri, 51(4), 234–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Britz, J. J., & Lor, P. (2004). A moral reflection on the digitization of Africa’s documentary heritage. IFLA Journal, 30(3), 216–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burchell, B., Sehnbruch, K., Piasna, A., & Agloni, N. (2014). The quality of employment and decent work: Definitions, methodologies, and ongoing debates. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 38(2), 459–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Calder, G. (2016). Family autonomy and class fate. Symposion, 3(2), 131–149.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campesina, Via. (1996). The right to produce and access land. Rome: Via Campesina.

    Google Scholar 

  • Claassen, R. (2012). Temporal autonomy in a laboring society. Inquiry, 55(5), 543–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Claassen, R. (2015). The capability to hold property. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 16(2), 220–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Danaher, J. (2017). Will life be worth living in a world without work? Technological unemployment and the meaning of life. Science and Engineering Ethics, 23(1), 41–64.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Deranty, J. P., & MacMillan, C. (2012). The ILO’s Decent Work initiative: Suggestions for an extension of the notion of “decent work”. Journal of Social Philosophy, 43(4), 386–405.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dieterlen, P. (2003). La pobreza: un estudio filosófico. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dietsch, P. (2008). Distributive lessons from division of labour. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 5(1), 96–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dodds, W. K. (2005). The commons, game theory and aspects of human nature that may allow conservation of global resources. Environmental Values, 14, 411–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elster, J. (1986). Self-realization in work and politics: The Marxist conception of the good life. Social Philosophy and Policy, 3(02), 97–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Espindola, J., & Vaca, M. (2014). The problem of historical rectification for Rawlsian theory. Res Publica, 20(3), 227–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Frischmann, B. M. (2012). Infrastructure: The social value of shared resources. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gheaus, A., & Herzog, L. (2016). The goods of work (other than money!). Journal of Social Philosophy, 47(1), 70–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilabert, P. (2015). The socialist principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Journal of Social Philosophy, 46(2), 197–225.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilabert, P. (2016). Labor human rights and human dignity. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 42(1), 171–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gilabert, P. (forthcoming). Dignity at work. In H. Collins, G. Lester, & V. Mantouvlou (Eds.), Philosophical foundations of labour law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Gomberg, P. (1995). Against competitive equal opportunity. Journal of Social Philosophy, 26(3), 59–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gomberg, P. (2007). How to make opportunity equal. New York: Wiley.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gomberg, P. (2010). Dilemmas of Rawlsian opportunity. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 40(1), 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gomberg, P. (2016). Why distributive justice is impossible but contributive justice would work. Science & Society, 80(1), 31–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gomberg, P. (2017). Workers without rights. Symposion, 4(1), 49–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gourevitch, A. (2016). Quitting work but not the job: Liberty and the right to strike. Perspectives on Politics, 14(02), 307–323.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graeber, D. (2006). Turning modes of production inside out or, Why capitalism is a transformation of slavery. Critique of Anthropology, 26(1), 61–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graeber, D. (2013). On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs. Strike! Magazine, August (pp. 10–11).

  • Hardwig, J. (2015). Ownership, possession, and consumption: On the limits of rational consumption. Journal of Social Philosophy, 46(3), 281–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hasan, R. (2015). Rawls on meaningful work and freedom. Social Theory and Practice, 41(3), 477–504.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herzog, L. (2011). Wer Sind Wir, Wenn Wir Arbeiten? Soziale Identität Im Markt Bei Smith Und Hegel. Deutsche Zeitschrift Für Philosophie, 59(6), 835–852.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hsieh, N. H. (2009). Justice at work: Arguing for property-owning democracy. Journal of Social Philosophy, 40(3), 397–411.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kates, M. (2015). The ethics of sweatshops and the limits of choice. Business Ethics Quarterly, 25(2), 191–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keat, R. (2009). Anti-perfectionism, market economies and the right to meaningful work. Analyse & Kritik, 31(1), 121–138.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelbessa, W. (2013). Indigenous knowledge and its contribution to biodiversity conservation. International Social Science Journal, 64(211–212), 143–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kohn, M. L., & Schooler, C. (1982). Job conditions and personality: A longitudinal assessment of their reciprocal effects. American Journal of Sociology, 87(6), 1257–1286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kumar, M., & Santoro, D. (2014). Being bound to fail. How epistemic injustice fails educational opportunities. https://imera.univ-amu.fr/sites/imera.univamu.fr/file/being_bound_to_fail.how_epistemic_injustice_fails_educational_opportunities_draft_0.pdf. Accessed 6 Oct 2017.

  • Lamont, J., & Favor, C. (2013). Distributive Justice. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (spring 2013 edition). Stanford: Stanford University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lane, R. E. (1991). The market experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lepisto, D. A., & Pratt, M. G. (2017). Meaningful work as realization and justification: Toward a dual conceptualization. Organizational Psychology Review, 7(2), 99–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lips-Wiersma, M., & Morris, L. (2009). Discriminating between ‘meaningful work’ and the ‘management of meaning’. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(3), 491–511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Louwaars, N. (2007). Seeds of confusion: The impact of policies on seed systems. Ph.D. thesis, Wageningen Universiteit.

  • Lucas, K. (2015). Workplace dignity: Communicating inherent, earned, and remediated dignity. Journal of Management Studies, 52(5), 621–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • May, D. R., Li, C., Mencl, J., & Huang, C.-C. (2014). The ethics of meaningful work: Types and magnitude of job-related harm and the ethical decision-making process. Journal of Business Ethics, 121(4), 651–669.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mijs, J. J. (2016). The unfulfillable promise of meritocracy: Three lessons and their implications for justice in education. Social Justice Research, 29(1), 14–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moellendorf, D. (2006). Equality of opportunity globalized. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, 19, 301–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Murnion, W. E. (1989). The ideology of social justice in economic justice for all. Journal of Business Ethics, 8(11), 847–854.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Narisada, A. (2017). Socioeconomic status and the relationship between under-reward and distress: Buffering-resource or status-disconfirmation? Social Justice Research, 30(3), 191–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Offe, C. (2009). Basic income and the labor contract. Analyse & Kritik, 31(1), 49–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ooms, G. (2010). Why the west is perceived as being unworthy of cooperation. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 38(3), 594–613.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Otsuka, M. (2008). Freedom of occupational choice. Ratio, 21(4), 440–453.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parr, T. (2015). From philanthropy to philanthropists. In B. Morvaridi (Ed.), New philanthropy and social justice: Debating the conceptual and policy discourse (pp. 64–77). Bristol: Policy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pogge, T. W. (2008). World poverty and human rights: Cosmopolitan responsibilities and reforms (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rawls, J. (1999). A theory of justice (Rev. edn.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  • Robeyns, I. (2011). The capability approach. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (summer 2011 edition). Stanford: Stanford University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roessler, B. (2012). Meaningful work: Arguments from autonomy. Journal of Political Philosophy, 20(1), 71–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sarkin, J., & Koenig, M. (2011). Developing the right to work: Intersecting and dialoguing human rights and economic policy. Human Rights Quarterly, 33(1), 1–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sayer, A. (1989). Postfordism in question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 13(4), 666–695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sayer, A. (2009). Contributive justice and meaningful work. Res Publica, 15, 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sayer, A. (2011). Habitus, work and contributive justice. Sociology, 45(1), 7–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sayer, A. (2012). Capabilities, contributive injustice and unequal divisions of labour. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 13(4), 580–596.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schaff, K. P. (2012). Democratic rights in the workplace. Inquiry, 55(4), 386–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, A. (1982). Meaningful work. Ethics, 92(4), 634–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schweiger, G. (2013). Recognition and social exclusion. A recognition-theoretical exploration of poverty in Europe. Ethical Perspectives, 20(4), 529–554.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sen, A. (2001). Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sen, A. (2009). The idea of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shaheed, F. (2012). Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. United Nations (A/HRC/20/26).

  • Shaver, L. (2010). The right to science and culture. Wisconsin Law Review, 121, 121–184.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shiffrin, S. V. (2003). Race, labor, and the fair equality of opportunity principle. Fordham Law Review, 72, 1643–1675.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sison, A. J. G., Ferrero, I., & Guitián, G. (2016). Human dignity and the dignity of work: Insights from Catholic Social Teaching. Business Ethics Quarterly.

  • Sklair, L. (2016). The transnational capitalist class, social movements, and alternatives to capitalist globalization. International Critical Thought, 6(3), 329–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, J. (2010). Exploitation and sweatshop labor: Perspectives and issues. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20(02), 187–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sparrow, R., & Goodin, R. E. (2001). The competition of ideas: Market or garden? Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 4(2), 45–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, D. A. (2013). Promoting high quality work: Obstacles and opportunities. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(3), 583–597.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stanczyk, L. (2012). Productive justice. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 40(2), 144–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steger, M. F. (2017). Creating meaning and purpose at work. In: The Wiley Blackwell handbook of the psychology of positivity and strengths-based approaches at work (pp. 60–81). Hoboken: Wiley.

  • Sturn, R. (2009). Volenti non fit iniuria? Contract freedom and labor market institutions. Analyse und Kritik, 31(1), 81–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tablan, F. (2015). Catholic social teachings: Toward a meaningful work. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(2), 291–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taka, I., & Foglia, W. D. (1994). Ethical aspects of “Japanese leadership style”. Journal of Business Ethics, 13(2), 135–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, C. (1994). The politics of recognition. In A. Gutmann (Ed.), Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition (pp. 25–74). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, R. (2004). Self-realization and the priority of fair equality of opportunity. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 1(3), 333–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Terzi, L. (2007). The capability to be educated. In M. Walker & E. Unterhalter (Eds.), Amartya Sen’s capability approach and social justice in education (pp. 25–43). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Tight, M. (1998). Lifelong learning: Opportunity or compulsion? British Journal of Educational Studies, 46(3), 251–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • United States Catholic Bishops. (1997). Economic justice for all: Pastoral letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. economy. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

  • Valente, R. R., & Berry, B. J. (2016). Working hours and life satisfaction: A cross-cultural comparison of Latin America and the United States. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(3), 1173–1204.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Parijs, P. (1997). Real freedom for all: What (if anything) can justify capitalism?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Veltman, A. (2016). Meaningful work. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Walsh, A. J. (1994). Meaningful work as a distributive good. The Southern journal of philosophy, 32(2), 233–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walzer, M. (1983). Spheres of justice: A defense of pluralism and equality. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolf, S. (2010). Meaning in life and why it matters. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolff, J. (2004). Training, perfectionism and fairness. Journal of applied philosophy, 21(3), 285–295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yeoman, R. (2014). Conceptualising meaningful work as a fundamental human need. Journal of Business Ethics, 125(2), 235–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young, I. M. (2004). Responsibility and global labor justice. Journal of Political Philosophy, 12(4), 365–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ziegler, J. (2011a). Destruction massive: Géopolitique de la faim. Paris: Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ziegler, R. (2011b). Fair competition of ideas. Paper presented at the responsible innovation conference, The Hague, April 18–19, 2011.

  • Timmermann, C., & Félix, G. F. (2015). Agroecology as a vehicle for contributive justice. Agriculture and Human Values, 32(3), 523–538.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Timmermann, C. (2014). Sharing in or benefiting from scientific advancement? Science and Engineering Ethics, 20(1), 111–133.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Timmermann, C., & van den Belt, H. (2012). Global justice considerations for a proposed “climate impact fund”. Public Reason, 4(1–2), 182–196.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the participants at workshops in Mexico City, Budapest and Campinas, Isabella Trifan, Georges Félix, the journal’s editor and the anonymous reviewers for valuable feedback and Michael Pockley also for careful language editing on earlier versions of this article.

Funding

This study was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship UNAM-DGAPA [National Autonomous University of Mexico, no grant numbers are given] and a postdoctoral fellowship by FONDECYT/CONICYT No. 3170068.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cristian Timmermann.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Timmermann, C. Contributive Justice: An Exploration of a Wider Provision of Meaningful Work. Soc Just Res 31, 85–111 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-017-0293-2

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-017-0293-2

Keywords

Navigation