About us

Need-based justice has not been in the focus of recent theories of philosophy, economics and political science, and when it comes to experimental research in psychology or economics on questions of distribution. While the mutually exclusive use of the distribution principles of equality and equity presents inherent legitimacy problems, we argue that a focus on needs can offer legitimatory advantages and reduce criticism towards the distribution results.

The increasing scarcity of societal resources as well as states’ decreasing power of agency in the context of globalization, economic crises and debt, lead to a rising potential of conflict when it comes to questions of distribution. In this context, our research group wants to help answer the societally salient question of how to organize distribution procedures of indivisible and scarce goods. The goal is to limit inherent potentials for conflict and thus reduce the threat to societal cohesion. In this context, we focus on the following question: Which principles of justice and distribution procedures – given realistic conditions of preferences - offer the greatest likelihood to be generally accepted and guarantee stable societal development? Specifically, we use two main hypotheses to investigate if, and to what extent, the objectivation of needs can help increase societal acceptance of those needs by establishing transparency (social objectivation) and by employing more expertise (factual objectivation).

Distribution decisions affect questions from various disciplines, such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, philosophy, etc. Thus, our research can only be conducted using an interdisciplinary approach. This becomes apparent not only through the conceptually intertwined perspectives from behavioral and social sciences in our main research project, but especially through the interdisciplinary collaboration in our sub-projects. Each of our sub-projects is designed to facilitate discussions between at least two disciplines.

Consequently, our first research goal is to identify patterns in distribution-related decision making behavior emerging under specific individual, institutional, and societal conditions. Secondly, we address the question, whether distributional procedures can meet certain normative criteria, such as rationality, legitimacy, stability, and sustainability, also under conditions of empirically evident patterns of distribution-related decision making behavior. Thus, the questions is whether decisions on distributions on a societal level can be made rationally and legitimately following the principle of need-based justice and whether those decisions can then be regarded as stable and sustainable.  

In this context, we also address the conflict between decision making following the principle of justice and decision making guided by preferences based on egoistical motives and strategic reasoning. Distribution preferences and judgments about justice can be based on social preferences and/or principles of justice. We assume that distribution decisions made according to the principle of need-based justice minimize this conflict under certain conditions and contribute to the convergence of differing opinions. Thus, those decisions create stability and sustainability within a system of distribution. However, there is a high potential of conflict inherent to the preceding processes of identification and acceptance of needs, which is why our research group puts a special focus to these dimensions of a theory of need-based justice.

From the experimentally discovered factual difficulties or limits when it comes to the determination of distributions based on need-based justice, we can draw conclusions regarding the attainability of certain normative demands regarding need-based justice. For example, there are structural instabilities that are discussed using normative theory. This can lead to the establishment of concepts of distribution within the framework of a thus informed normative theory of need-based justice.