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The importance of contingently public goods


Bieber, Friedemann (2023). The importance of contingently public goods. Journal of Social Philosophy:1-21.

Abstract

Exposing an overlooked ambiguity in how philosophers use the term ‘public good,’ this paper proposes to distinguish between inherently and contingently public goods, where inherently public goods are non-rivalrous and non-excludable in principle (e.g., national security) and contingently public goods are non-rivalrous and deliberately provided in a non-exclusionary way (e.g., parks). This distinction is conducive to philosophical debate in two ways. At the level of ideal theory, contingently public goods reveal the inadequacy of the various benefit principles that have been proposed to ensure justice in the provision of public goods (Claassen 2013; Miller and Taylor 2018; Murphy and Nagel 2001). Because these goods could be provided as club goods, benefit principles mandate unacceptable transfer payments to the privately wealthy and to people who disvalue their inclusive mode of provision. At the level of non-ideal theory, contingently public goods constitute a natural yet underappreciated focal point for effectively rectifying injustices. While all public goods promise to render access to private resources less relevant, contingently public goods hold special potential: their provision may be costless and involve no market interference, it can more powerfully express a commitment to status equality and it can be especially effective at addressing inequalities in opportunity.

Abstract

Exposing an overlooked ambiguity in how philosophers use the term ‘public good,’ this paper proposes to distinguish between inherently and contingently public goods, where inherently public goods are non-rivalrous and non-excludable in principle (e.g., national security) and contingently public goods are non-rivalrous and deliberately provided in a non-exclusionary way (e.g., parks). This distinction is conducive to philosophical debate in two ways. At the level of ideal theory, contingently public goods reveal the inadequacy of the various benefit principles that have been proposed to ensure justice in the provision of public goods (Claassen 2013; Miller and Taylor 2018; Murphy and Nagel 2001). Because these goods could be provided as club goods, benefit principles mandate unacceptable transfer payments to the privately wealthy and to people who disvalue their inclusive mode of provision. At the level of non-ideal theory, contingently public goods constitute a natural yet underappreciated focal point for effectively rectifying injustices. While all public goods promise to render access to private resources less relevant, contingently public goods hold special potential: their provision may be costless and involve no market interference, it can more powerfully express a commitment to status equality and it can be especially effective at addressing inequalities in opportunity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology and the Study of Religion > Center for Ethics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:100 Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords:justice, markets, public goods, public vs private, social inclusion, state neutrality
Language:English
Date:21 March 2023
Deposited On:23 Mar 2023 16:26
Last Modified:30 Jan 2024 02:45
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0047-2786
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/josp.12516
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)