British Journal for the History of Philosophy vol:21 issue:1 pages:13-33
This paper examines the rationale for and grounds and implications of Hobbes's redefinition of distributive justice as equity. I argue that this unprecedented reformulation served to ensure the justness of distributive laws. Hobbes acknowledges that the sovereign can distribute rights and goods iniquitously by failing to treat citizens as equals. However, he insists that improper allocations are not unjust, properly speaking – they do not `wrong' citizens. To support this claim, Hobbes puts forth the un-Aristotelian maxim that merit in distributive justice is due by grace alone. You deserve what the sovereign gives you: there is no desert prior to and independent of his allocation of rights. For Hobbes, distributive justice does not track but create merit. It follows that distributive laws cannot fail to give what is due (which would be unjust). This paper proceeds to analyze the nature of the limits equity sets to the apportionment of goods. I argue that these limits are moral and purely procedural: citizens cannot invoke equity to claim a fair share of the goods distributed. Thanks to Hobbes's redefinition of distributive justice, the justness of the sovereign's conduct, and hence his legal immunity, remains intact.