- We are all roughly equal with respect to an array of biologically-grounded basic needs that are requisites for survival and reproduction.
- These needs are not only well-defined and measurable but they are also inescapable imperatives; if they are not satisfied, for whatever reason, there will be measurable harm and possibly a loss of life.
- Satisfying these needs represents a virtually universal (shared) normative preference.
- In a complex society, we are highly interdependent; each of us depends on many others for the satisfaction of their basic needs. An organized society is, first and foremost, a collective survival enterprise.
- Accordingly, we are all parties to an implicit social contract which entails a mutual/reciprocal responsibility to provide for the basic needs of the other participants.*
- Social justice, then, is grounded in assuring that our common needs are satisfied.**
- In order to avoid exploitation, however, social justice also requires differential rewards, and punishments, for merit (equity) and a proportionate sharing of the costs (reciprocity).
- A just society, therefore, can be defined as one in which all of these three fairness precepts (equality, equity, and reciprocity) are fully realized.
* Historically, a failure to assure that these basic needs are met has undermined the social contract and has produced more or less serious social conflict. As Thomas Hobbes put it, “Seeing every man, not only by Right, but also by necessity of Nature, is supposed to endeavor all he can to obtain all that is necessary for his conservation, he that shall oppose himself against it, for things superfluous, is guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow.”
** This social responsibility has been acknowledged in numerous public opinion surveys over the years, as well as in the extensive series of social preference studies by Norman Frohlich and Joe Oppenheimer and their colleagues.