The Deep Grammar of Distribution: A Meta-Theory of Justice

146 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2012

Date Written: February 1, 2005


Justice is the soul of the law, and, happily for lawyers, the past forty years have been particularly fertile where justice theorizing is concerned. The period in question has been so very rich in competing theories, however, that the non-specialist lawyer is apt all too easily to lose sight of the forest for the particular trees.

This article aims to bring order to the wide array of justice theories on offer by means of a theory of theories - a 'metatheory' - of justice. It does so by reference to the fundamental structure that all such theories must share. This structure is helpfully elaborated by reference to the case grammar of 'to distribute' and cognate infinitives - 'to allocate,' 'to apportion,' 'to mete out,' etc. Pursuant to that grammar, all complete accounts of justice must say something about who they take to be distributing, what they are distributing, to whom they are distributing it, pursuant to what pattern they are distributing it, and, if the theory purports to have practical import, by what means or mechanisms they do the distributing.

Comparing competing accounts of justice along these several axes facilitates critique and selection, not to mention improvement. It also reveals that some theorists who take themselves to be in disagreement actually talk past one another, for differences along one axis often are cancelled out by compensatingly varying differences along other axes. The metatheory here offered thus offers us means of finding our way about the forest of justice theories in a manner that ultimately illuminates the nature of justice itself.

Keywords: justice, law, metatheory, grammar, language

Suggested Citation

Hockett, Robert C., The Deep Grammar of Distribution: A Meta-Theory of Justice (February 1, 2005). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2005, Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-16, Available at SSRN:

Robert C. Hockett (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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