Distributive justice before the eighteenth century: The right of necessity

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Until recently, few people would have doubted that the idea of distributive justice is old, indeed ancient. Several authors have now challenged this assumption. Most prominently, Samuel Fleischacker argued that distributive justice originates in the eighteenth century. If accurate, this would upset much of what we have taken for granted about an important part of the history of Western political thought. However, the thesis is manifestly flawed; and since it has already proven influential, it is important to set the record straight. We will focus on the principle of extreme necessity, developed in twelfth- and thirteenth-century canon law, and subsequently adopted in civil law. Despite its immense importance for the history of political thought, the principle is barely known, and much less discussed. We briefly characterize the main tenets of the principle and show that it meets all the criteria to count as a principle of distributive justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-464
Number of pages16
JournalHistory of Political Thought
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 25 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy

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