Lire des copies de bac c’est parfois l’occasion de découvrir des textes que des collègues font étudier à leurs élèves :

« At the heart of the  particular problem of a unique impartial resolution of the perfectly just society is the possible sustainability of plural and competing reasons for justice, all of which have claims to impartiality and which nevertheless differ from – and rival – each other. Let me illustrate the problem with an example in which you have to decide which of three children – Anne, Bob and Carla – should get a flute about which they are quarrelling.

Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it (the other do not deny this), and that it would be quite unjust to deny the flute to the only one who can actually play it. If that is all you knew, the case for giving the flute to Anne would be strong.

In an alternative scenario, it is Bob who speaks up, and defends his case for having the flute by pointing out that he is the only one among the three who is so poor that he has no toys of his own. The flute would give him something to play with (the other two concede that they are richer and well supplied with engaging amenities). If you had heard only Bob and none of the others, the case for giving it to him would be strong.

In another alternative scenario, it is  Carla who speaks up and points out that she is been working diligently for many months to make the flute with her own labour (the other confirms this), and just when she had finished her work, ‘just then’, she complains, ‘these expropriators came along to try to grab the flute away from me’. If Carla’s statement is all you had heard, you might be inclined to give the flute to her in recognition of her understandable claim to something she has made herself.

Having heard all three and their different lines of reasoning, there is a difficult decision you have to make. Theorist of different persuasions, such as utilitarians, or economic egalitarians, or no-nonsense libertarians, may each take the view that there is straight-forward just resolution staring us here, and there is no difficulty in spotting it. But almost certainly they would have  respectively see totally different resolutions as being obviously right.

Bob, the poorest, would tend to get fairly straightforward support from the economic egalitarian if he is committed to reducing gaps in the economics means of people. On the other hand, Carla, the maker  of the flute, would receive immediate sympathy from the libertarian. The utilitarian hedonist may face the hardest challenge, but he would certainly tend to give weight , more than the libertarian or  the economic egalitarian , to the fact that Anne’s pleasure is likely to be stronger because she is the only one who can play the flute (there is also the general dictum of “waste not, want not”). Nevertheless, the utilitarian should also recognize that Bob’s relative deprivation could make is incremental gain in happiness from getting the flute much larger. Carla’s “right” to get what she has made may not resonate immediately with the utilitarian, but deeper utilitarian reflection would nevertheless  tend to take some note of the  requirements of work incentives  in creating a society  in which utility-generation is sustained and encouraged through letting people keep what they have produced with their own efforts.”

Amartya Sen, The idea of justice

Où l’on retrouve l’exemple aristotélicien des flûtes commentés par Michael Sandel dans une vidéo que j’avais citée ici.