Justice: Who Should Get What?


Does the free market determine how much different people should receive? Or does justice require everyone to have the same? What would an equal society aim to equalize anyway? This course presents some of the key views on this topic and provides you the opportunity to explore and discuss them.

Egalitarianism is in some way the default view of distributive justice; the rules of society should work to the benefit of everyone. But does that mean everyone should have the same as everyone else? Most sophisticated egalitarians would accept some degree of inequality, but how much and for what reason?

Does egalitarian justice require the abolition of private property? Or is a form of redistributive capitalism compatible with equality? When we are approaching these questions, what is it the distribution of that should concern us? Income, wealth, happiness and welfare are some obvious answers. However, each has its own problems, leading political philosophers to develop other metrics of justice.

Others, however, consider some forms of inequalities as perfectly acceptable. They may believe, for instance, that the free market provides the right distributive outcome. But why might that be? Is it because the market produces the best consequences? Or is it because the market gives people what they deserve? Or do we have to accept market outcomes because doing otherwise fails to respect their rights? Alternatively, should we focus more on giving people what they need rather than equal amounts of anything?

This short course considers which of these principles gives the most appealing answer to the question ‘who should get what?’ and the key philosophical and policy debates that follow. It ends with consideration of notable policy disputes and where the theories considered stand on them.

It will include tutor-led discussion, considering several theories of distributive justice which attempt to answer to the important question of who should get what.

This lecture outlines some of the arguments that are covered on the course: 


(Note that this is a public lecture, not an example of a video from the course)

Programme details

Courses starts: 15 Jan 2024

Week 0: Course Orientation

Week 1: Arguments for the free market: 1. It produces the best outcome

Week 2: Arguments for the free market: 2. It respects people's activities

Week 3: Equality and levelling down: Should society work like a camping trip?

Week 4: Rawls’ difference principle 

Week 5: Equality of resources and hypothetical insurance

Week 6: Should bad luck be equalized?

Week 7: What should be distributed? On the currency of justice

Week 8: Does equal relations between people matter more than the distribution of goods?

Week 9: Two further principles of justice: Priority and Sufficiency

Week 10: Policy implications of the theories

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend and participate in at least 80% of the live sessions on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Doug Bamford

Doug Bamford teaches courses in philosophy and political economy at OUDCE. His main interest is in political philosophy and its application to public policy. He received his PhD in Political Philosophy at the University of Warwick in 2013. He is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics). He blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Course aims

  • To introduce students to the prominent principles of economic justice, and to apply them to live policy issues.
  • To give students good knowledge and understanding of the main positions available on the above issues and some of the key arguments for and against them.
  • To give students practice in the analysis and critical assessment of arguments.

Course Objectives: 

  • Gain an understanding of the ethical and policy issues relating to distributive justice.
  • Understand the philosophical and policy issues relating to economic justice.
  • Present and defend their own views on these issues.

Teaching methods

Students will be provided with pre-recorded talks each week and will be asked to read one or two relevant selections each week before the weekly live session. Live sessions will provide an opportunity to ask questions and for class discussion on the topic.

This course will consist of a weekly, one-hour pre-recorded lecture to be viewed by students in preparation for the once weekly tutor-led live session at the time advertised.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • have a knowledge and understanding of theories of distributive justice;
  • have learnt how to offer arguments for and against the main positions introduced and have learnt skills in the analysis and critical assessment of arguments;
  • have gained confidence in expressing ideas in open debate.

Assessment methods

Coursework will consist of either one essay of 1500 words or two or three smaller essays totalling this amount.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form with any piece of work that is part of the assessment criteria. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)