The Ideal of Justice
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Law - Camden
May 10, 2012
Jurisprudence (Symposium Issue), Forthcoming
This is a short draft contribution to a symposium on Amartya Sen's book, The Idea of Justice, the final version of which will appear in the journal Jurisprudence with a reply by Sen. I argue that Sen errs in claiming that it is not necessary to identify an ideal of justice to make systematic comparative judgments about justice and injustice. To illustrate this, and to situate Sen’s view within the broader landscape of political philosophy, I first consider GA Cohen’s own recent well-known attack on Rawls’s conception of justice, which takes the opposite tack to Sen’s. Though the two approaches differ fundamentally, Sen’s "comparativism" and Cohen’s especially robust brand of "transcendentalism" share the strategy, familiar from indirect consequentialist moral theories, of decoupling the criterion of right action from the decision procedure on how best to act. This move raises trouble for both views, but it seems to me that the trouble it raises for Sen’s is graver, for he eschews any need for an ideal of justice in favor a purely comparative decision procedure. Like a boat without a rudder, a decision procedure that does not appeal to a criterion of right action – here, the regulative ideal of justice – is aimless and adrift. We may not need a fully-developed theory to identify certain egregious injustices, but even to identify such blights as injustices, we need an ideal of justice.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: Amartya Sen, John Rawls, GA Cohen, The Idea of Justice, justice, ideal theory, political philosophy, democracyAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 5, 2012
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