Social Samaritan Justice: When and Why Needy Fellow Citizens Have a Right to Assistance

American Political Science Review 109 (4):735-749 (2015)
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In late 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the U.S., causing much suffering and devastation. Those who could have easily helped Sandy’s victims had a duty to do so. But was this a rightfully enforceable duty of justice, or a non-enforceable duty of beneficence? The answer to this question is often thought to depend on the kind of help offered: the provision of immediate bodily services is not enforceable; the transfer of material resources is. I argue that this double standard is unjustified, and defend a version of what I call “Social Samaritanism.” On this view, within political communities, the duty to help the needy—whether via bodily services or resource transfers—is always an enforceable demand of justice, except when the needy are reckless; across independent political communities, it is always a matter of beneficence. I defend this alternative double standard, and consider its implications for the case of Sandy.
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