Cohens Rescue

Journal of Ethics 14 (3-4):263-334 (2010)
G. A. Cohen's Rescuing Justice and Equality proposes that both concepts need rescuing from the work of John Rawls. Especially, it is concerned with Rawls' famous second principle of justice according to which social primary goods should be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution is to the benefit of the worst off. The question is why this would ever be necessary if all parties are just. Cohen and I agree that Rawls cannot really justify inequalities on the basis given. But he also thinks equality is the correct analysis of justice, though he provides no actual direct arguments for this. He does, however, provide a striking analytical argument claiming that fundamental principles of justice must be fact insensitive, and that Rawls's view of justice violates this requirement. I argue that the requirement is itself misconceived and that principles of justice cannot possibly be fact insensitive in the sense developed by Cohen. Few philosophers share this view of Cohen's—which I argue is due to several conceptual mistakes. With these ironed out, the contractarian view, broadly speaking, is seen to be plausible and powerful. Meanwhile Cohen appears to embrace intuitionism, a stance that cannot possibly be acceptable in social philosophy. In the end, Cohen is successful in arguing that Rawls cannot have what he wants, but neither is Cohen successful in claiming that justice is equality
Keywords Basic structure  G. A. Cohen  Constructivism  Difference principle  Egalitarian/egalitarianism/equality   Ethos of justice  Fact-sensitive/fact-insensitive  Free market  Incentive argument  Incentive(s)  Intuitionism  Justice  Libertarian  Pareto/Paretian  Principles  John Rawls  Rules of regulation  Social contract
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