An Empirical Inquiry into the Relation of Corrective Justice to Distributive Justice
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
We report the results of three experiments examining the long-standing debate within tort theory over whether corrective justice is independent of, or parasitic on, distributive justice. Using a "hypothetical societies" paradigm that serves as an impartial reasoning device and permits experimental manipulation of societal conditions, we first tested support for corrective justice in a society where individual merit played no role in determining economic standing. Participants expressed strong support for a norm of corrective justice in response to intentional and unintentional torts in both just and unjust societies. The second experiment tested support for corrective justice in a society where race, rather than individual merit, determined economic standing. The distributive justice manipulation exerted greater effect here, particularly on liberal participants, but support for corrective justice remained strong among non-liberal participants, even against a background of racially unjust distributive conditions. The third experiment partially replicated the first experiment and found that the availability of government-funded insurance had little effect on demands for corrective justice. Overall, the results suggest that, while extreme distributive injustice can moderate support for corrective justice, the norm of corrective justice often dominates judgments about compensatory duties associated with tortious harms.