Would a just world be one where people get what they need, or one where people get what they deserve?

In the context of crime, justice is getting what one deserves (twenty years hard labour, hanging, if anyone deserves hanging), and so criminal justice includes retributive justice. In the social context, since there is the assumption that everyone deserves to be treated as a human being should be treated, justice can assume the form of the meeting of basic needs, for example housing and education. This is sometimes called distributive justice. The two forms of justice are complementary rather than inconsistent, however. What underlies both is the concept of desert. Some conservative thinkers find the whole idea of distributive justice a confused one. To think that a way of cutting a cake is unfair makes complete sense, because there is a central distribution. But the world of labour is not like this, and the concept of fairness has no application; there is no cake waiting to be divided if I do no work, these thinkers say. Liberal thinkers, on the other hand, work from the admittedly abstract concept of the sum total of human goods.

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