Ideas of justice: Positive

We use the term “justice” in many different ways. In this essay, I consider justice only as it used in Anglo-American political and legal theory. In this realm of discourse, all forms of justice consist of non-utilitarian allocative principles, i.e., principles governing, to put it as broadly as possible, who gets how much of what. Some may wish to treat utilitarian principles as principles of justice. As a matter of nomenclatural pedantry, this is surely reasonable. But, perhaps as a consequence of John Rawls’ arguments in Theory of Justice,2 or perhaps as a result of Aristotle’s classifications of two forms of justice in the Nicomachean Ethics,3 or perhaps as a result of John Stuart Mill’s appreciation of the need for reconciling utilitarianism with justice,4 we generally think of justice as consisting of principles that are sensitive to factors shielded from any stable form of utilitarianism. Furthermore, thanks to Rawls, we generally think of distributive justice as being primarily applicable to political and social institutions and not to individual actors (this, though, has been challenged by those who would still recognize a sharp distinction between utilitarianism and justice5). Regardless of whether this distinction between justice and utilitarian principles is sustainable in the long term, I shall presume it, if only to make clear what is at stake if we are to treat utilitarianism as just one form of justice.
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