Limitarianism: Pattern, Principle, or Presumption?

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Abstract
In this article, I assess the prospects for the limitarian thesis that someone has too much wealth if they exceed a specific wealth threshold. Limitarianism claims that there are good political and/or ethical reasons to prevent people from having such ‘surplus wealth’, for example, because it has no moral value for the holder or because allowing people to have surplus wealth has less moral value than redistributing it. Drawing on recent literature on distributive justice, I defend two types of limitarian principles of justice. First, limitarian midlevel principles draw on the limitarian thesis to specify normative commitments for guiding institutional design and individual actions. Second, the limitarian presumption draws on that thesis to specify what a just allocation of wealth requires under epistemic constraints. Such a presumption says that without substantive reasons to the contrary, we should regard a distribution as unjust if some people’s wealth exceeds the limitarian threshold. Furthermore, I will argue that we must reject a possible but implausible interpretation of limitarianism as an ideal distributive pattern. Yet both as a midlevel principle and as a presumption, limitarianism can play an important role in theorizing about justice in the real world.
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Archival date: 2021-05-06
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2021-03-02

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