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Contributive justice and meaningful work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date02/2009
JournalRes Publica
Number of pages16
Original languageEnglish


The dominant focus of thinking about economic justice is overwhelmingly
distributive, that is, concerned with what people get in terms of resources and
opportunities. It views work mainly negatively, as a burden or cost, or else is neutral about it, rather than seeing it as a source of meaning and fulfilment—a good in its own right. However, what we do in life has at least as much, if not more, influence on whom we become, as does what we get. Thus we have good reason also to be concerned with what Paul Gomberg has termed contributive justice, that is, justice as regards what people are expected and able to contribute in terms of work. Complex, interesting work allows workers not only to develop and exercise their capacities, and gain the satisfaction from achieving the internal goods of a practice, but to gain the external
goods of recognition and esteem. As Gomberg’s analysis of the concept of contributive justice in relation to equality of opportunity shows, as long as the more satisfying kinds of work are concentrated into a subset of jobs, rather than shared out among all jobs, then many workers will be denied the chance to have meaningful work and the recognition that goes with it. In this paper I examine the contributive justice argument, suggest how it can be further strengthened, arguing, inter alia, that ignoring contributive injustice tends to support legitimations of distributive inequality.