Theories of Justice

Topics: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Justice Pages: 23 (11209 words) Published: October 1, 2014
Theories of Justice

The theme of justice is the most relevant in contemporary political philosophy. A political philosopher to deal with the theme of justice has to take into prior consideration what is usually called distributive justice (or social justice, hereafter dj). This choice depends on both conceptual and historical reasons. From the conceptual point of view, the notion of justice coincides first of all with the notion of justice as equitable consideration of interests and equal treatment. From the historical point of view, the conceptual priority of dj is explained by the struggle between capitalism and communism that has characterized the political theory and practice during the second part of 20th century. This means furthering a treatment of the idea of justice as (re)-distribution, which focuses on the socio-economic problems in terms of liberty-equality and class difference. A direct implication of this approach is dealing only at later time with the idea of justice as ‘recognition’, an idea the content of which is typically symbolic and relates to cultural and status issues more than to class issues (Walzer 1983, Rawls 1993, Honneth and Fraser 2003, Taylor 1994). Even in this case, there are both conceptual and historical reasons. From the first point of view, it is advisable to consider justice as recognition in terms of specific difference with respect to dj. From the second one, instead, it would seem reasonable to consider that the centrality of justice as recognition derives to a considerable extent from the crisis of 1989, with the wane of communism and the parallel revival of so-called ‘identity politics’ (Honneth and Fraser 2003, Benhabib 1996, 2002, Appiah 2005). Justice as redistribution and justice as recognition may be viewed as being closely connected concepts (see also Fraser 2003), so that it would be impossible to deal with one without dealing at the same time with the other (see box 1). Instead, something like that is indeed possible, provided that we keep clearly in mind the boundaries between these two ways of conceiving justice and, perhaps, the possibility of integrating them. This introduction is mainly devoted to discuss dj. The second part of the chapter –however- shows that, above all, these boundaries have to do with the consequences that justice as recognition has on the issue of cultural pluralism and minority rights. A similar remark could be made with respect to the relationships between the idea of dj and the idea of power, meant as determination of forms, ways and groups capable of concretizing politically - and, perhaps through conflict - the contents expressed by the theories being debated. Even in this case, these pages mean to stress a few limits of the standard dj theories when starting from the centrality of the power issue. What interests here is to show the inner connection existing between “justice” – understood in a general sense - and its articulations through the nexus power/culture that are going to be dealt with at length in the following chapters.

1. Justice as Distribution
By dj we mean a special type of political justice linked to the fact that individuals belong to the basic institutional structure (see box 2), as it provides them with the criteria for the allocation of primary goods. From this point of view, dj has to do first of all with normative principles that are meant to serve as a guide to the optimum distribution of the advantages and disadvantages resulting from social cooperation. This is how John Rawls (hereafter R) dealt with dj in his seminal book A Theory of Justice in 1971 (R 1971, hereafter TJ). Besides, it should be pointed out that: i.the notion of dj is discontinuous with respect to the classical notion of justice (for instance, the notion held by Plato and Aristotle), at least because it presupposes the individuals’ equality and a complex social system based on cooperation and the division of labor; ii.there...

Bibliography: New York: Garland.
Wingo, Ajume. 2003. “Fellowship Associations as Foundation for Liberal Democracy in Africa”, in K. Wiredu (ed.), A Companion to African Philosophy (pp. 450-459). London: Blackwell.
Wiredu, Kwasi (ed.). 2003. A Companion to African Philosophy. London: Blackwell.
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