"Justice" Q&A: The Fallacy of Distribution?

January 14, 2008 by  

Peter Jaworski wrote, in part:

Just from the preface, I had two things to say:You write: “In other words, the logical implication of making the justness of one person’s conduct dependent upon the deservedness of others is that the justness of every individual’s actions is measured in terms of the deservedness of a single, collective entity. For such a definition of justice to have any logical integrity, it must judge deservedness in terms of the “greater good” of a body corporate; of a disembodied leviathan; of a corporation whose shareholders are human individuals. As a result, such definitions of justice compel the logical (though irrational) mind to view humanity not as billions of individuals, but as a single collective entity.”

And I say: That is not a logical implication. It is a logical fallacy. The fallacy of distribution, or something like that (I can’t recall the formal name for it). You can’t go from “Jones deserves x,” to “all Jones-like things deserve x”.

It’s not a logical implication, but it is a logical mistake that many make. You might want to change your claims to reflect this, which is still a strong point.

I replied, in part, as follows:

The fallacy of distribution is a fallacy in which one asserts either:

  1. that X is true of each of those individuals, so X is true of those individuals taken as a unitary whole; or
  2. that X is true of those individuals taken as a unitary whole, so X is true of each of those individuals.

By saying “logical implication”, I am not implying that one or both of 1 and 2 is true. Rather, I am saying that because neither 1 nor 2 is logical, the logical (though not rational) mind asserts that it is irrelevant whether “X is true of each of those individuals”. Here’s why:

The approach of judging justice by the “deservedness” of others cannot be squared with multiple individuals qua individuals, but can only be squared with a multiple individuals taken as a unitary whole: for “deservedness” to be the standard by which justice is measured, one will end up with a conflicting set of results unless one measures the deservedness of only a single entity (i.e., unless one removes from the set all but one result). Of course, that is merely a strategy to disguise (from others, and perhaps from oneself) the fact that deservedness fails, as a standard, when more than one entity is involved. One might, therefore, properly say that a “deservedness” standard is founded on a false or erroneous assumption (i.e., that individuals do not exist as individuals). In other words, to preserve “deservedness” as a workable standard for justice, the logical (though irrational) mind is led to disregard the existence of individuals, as such, altogether; to treat as false the assumption that individuals exist as individuals, and to treat as true the assumption that they exist only as a collective.


Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!