Are inputs sometimes outcomes? Some thoughts on definition in distributive justice Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper argues that the central concepts of justice theory (e.g., inputs and outcomes) have not been well defined and that this lack of precision in definition has led to subsequent ostensible inconsistencies in empirical findings. We offer definitions of both inputs and outcomes in a manner that facilitates more formal theoretical formulations and specifies a functional relationship between the two. In addition, the concept of relevance is discussed. This discussion highlights the difference in determinations of what is relevant to an outcome and the moral desirability of the distribution rule producing those outcomes. We suggest that the perception of what is relevant to the production of an outcome and how much it should be weighted is a source of potential conflict and/or disagreement between groups who are allocators or recipients of resource distributions. The potential disjuncture between what is considered relevant and what is considered moral in terms of allocation decisions is a potential source of dissatisfaction and feelings of injustice across groups. The discussion also suggests that it is not simply a difference in rule preference across groups that may lead to negative feelings regarding allocations but even when groups agree on the rule they may not agree on either the factors to be included in the assessment of relevance or on the morality of the distribution resulting from such assessments. Finally we introduce the concept of exchange domain as a mechanism for facilitating theoretical development. © 1993 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

author list (cited authors)

  • Sell, J., & Griffith, W. I.

citation count

  • 3

publication date

  • December 1993