Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Justice

pp 176-178

Complex Equality

  • Win-chiat LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Wake Forest University

Complex equality is the theory of distributive justice proposed by Michael Walzer in Spheres of Justice (1983). As an account of justice based on social practices and institutions, the theory is communitarian in its approach and poses obstacles for thinking of distributive justice in global terms. Such a communitarian approach, however, would be open to thinking of global distributive justice if, as a matter of fact, the relevant social practices and institutions have themselves become more globalized.

The theory begins with an account of goods. The basic idea is that goods do not have an “essential nature.” In Walzer’s view, almost all goods, with very few exceptions, are social goods in the sense that they are goods only due to their social meanings. It is these social goods that concern distributive justice in any case. For a good to have a social meaning means that the reason why it is valued is based in some ways on a particular set of social practices or institutions embedded in p ...

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