Justice: Metaphysical, After All? [Book Review]

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (2):207-222 (2011)
Abstract
Political liberals, following Rawls, believe that justice should be ‘political’ rather than ‘metaphysical.’ In other words, a conception of justice ought to be freestanding from first-order moral and metaethical views. The reason for this is to ensure that the state’s coercion be justified to citizens in terms that meet political liberalism’s principle of legitimacy. I suggest that privileging a political conception of justice involves costs—such as forgoing the opportunity for political theory to learn from other areas of philosophy. I argue that it is not clear that it provides any benefit in return. Whether a political conception of justice more adequately satisfies the liberal principle of legitimacy than a metaphysical conception of justice is an open question. To show this, I describe three ways in which political conceptions of justice have been developed within the literature. I then argue that while each might be helpful in finding reasons that reasonable citizens can accept, all face challenges in satisfying the liberal principle of legitimacy. Political conceptions of justice confront the same set of justificatory problems as ‘metaphysical’ conceptions. The question of whether a political conception is preferable should receive greater scrutiny
Keywords Political liberalism  Rawls  Freestanding  Justice  Public reason
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