The circumstances of justice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


In this article, I analyze the circumstances of justice, that is, the background conditions that are necessary and sufficient for justice to exist between individual parties in society. Contemporary political philosophers almost unanimously accept an account of these circumstances attributed to David Hume. I argue that the conditions of this standard account are neither sufficient nor necessary conditions for justice. In particular, I contend that both a Hobbesian state of nature and a prisoner's dilemma are cases in which the conditions of the standard account obtain and yet no justice exists between parties. I propose an alternative set of generic circumstances of justice motivated by examples from game theory. Parties are in these generic circumstances with respect to each other when: (1) they are engaged in a conflictual coordination game with multiple strict Nash equilibrium points where, at any of these equilibria, some parties do not receive their greatest payoffs, and (2) they have common knowledge that each party is rational and follows her end of a strict equilibrium where no party receives her greatest payoff. These two conditions reflect the idea that justice requires all parties to make some sacrifices so that others can have more of the goods they need and want. I argue that these generic circumstances are necessary and sufficient conditions for parties to follow generic norms of justice, that is, mutually beneficial practices that require some sacrifices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-351
Number of pages31
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • common knowledge
  • conflictual coordination
  • correlated equilibrium
  • moderate selfishness
  • moderate variable scarcity
  • rough equality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'The circumstances of justice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this