Why Justice Matters

Philosophical Papers 38 (2):157-181 (2011)
Abstract
This paper assesses Brian Barry's attempt in Why Social Justice Matters to argue the importance of social justice. Barry seeks to dismiss the ideological misunderstandings that have prevented recognition of the importance of social justice. He also suggests that a robust conception of social justice will be needed to guide policies that solve the problems of the modern world. I argue that the issue of social justice has suffered neglect because of the influence of different ideas of social justice than Barry's rather than a misunderstanding among politicians and media pundits of generally shared intuitions of justice. These different ideas of justice must be shown to be wanting. In doing this, I argue that any adequate theory of social justice must address the issue of the fairness of starting points in peoples' lives. I point out that any such theory requires such revolutionary change that it contradicts the presuppositions of public policy and thus cannot serve to guide public policy solutions to the problems that Barry wants addressed. I argue that a 'non-ideal' theory of justice and principles for making unjust societies fairer, with more modest proposals for change, will better serve as a guide to public policy
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