Conflicting answers to the question of what principles of justice are for may generate very different ways of theorizing about justice. Indeed divergent answers to it are at the heart of G. A. Cohen's disagreement with John Rawls. Cohen thinks that the roots of this disagreement lie in the constructivist method that Rawls employs, which mistakenly treats the principles that emerge from a procedure that involves factual assumptions as ultimate principles of justice. But I argue that even if Rawls were (...) to abandon his constructivism, and to accept Cohen's argument that ultimate principles of justice are not grounded directly in any facts, their divergent views concerning the proper role of principles of justice would lead them to different conclusions. I contend that even if ultimate principles of justice are not directly grounded in any facts, the role that principles of justice are needed to play may mean that their justification depends upon facts about what is feasible and facts about what is burdensome to people. Contrary to what Cohen maintains, being dependent on the facts in this manner does not preclude a principle from being ultimate; nor do principles which have this sort of dependence on the facts necessarily combine justice with other values in a way that must lead to conflation. (shrink)
Can Rawlsian theory provide us with an adequate response to the practical question of how we should proceed in the face of widespread and intractable disagreement over matters of justice? Recent criticism of ideal theorizing might make us wonder whether this question highlights another way in which ideal theory can be too far removed from our non-ideal circumstances to provide any practical guidance. Further reflection on it does not show that ideal theory is redundant, but it does indicate that there (...) is a need for a non-ideal theory that does not consist simply in an account of how to apply the principles which are yielded by ideal theory to non-ideal circumstances in the light of what is feasible and an assessment of the costs of implementation. Indeed any non-ideal theory that can adequately address this question will have to be partially autonomous, drawing on a notion of legitimacy that is rather different to the one which lies at the heart of Rawlsian ideal theory. (shrink)
Some moral theorists defend a holistic account of practical reasons and deny that the possibility of moral thought depends upon the existence of moral principles. This article explores the implications of this position for theorising about justice, which has often aspired to provide us with an ordered list of principles to govern our institutions and practices.
"Equality of opportunity for all" is a fine piece of political rhetoric but the ideal that lies behind it is slippery to say the least. Some see it as an alternative to a more robust form of egalitarianism, whilst others think that when it is properly understood it provides us with a real radical vision of what it is to level the playing field. This book combines a meritocratic conception of equality of opportunity that governs access to advantaged social positions, (...) with redistributive principles that seek to mitigate the effects of differences in people's circumstances. Taken together, these spell out what it is to level the playing field in the way that justice requires. -/- Oxford Political Theory presents the best new work in contemporary political theory. It is intended to be broad in scope, including original contributions to political philosophy, and also work in applied political theory. The series will contain works of outstanding quality with no restriction as to approach or subject matter. Series Editors: Will Kymlicka, David Miller, and Alan Ryan. (shrink)
It is often supposed that the point of equality of opportunity is to create a level playing-field. This is understood in different ways, however. A common proposal is what I call the neutralization view: that people's social circumstances should not differentially affect their life chances in any serious way. I raise problems with this view, before developing an alternative conception of equal opportunity which allows some variations in social circumstances to create differences in life prospects. The meritocratic conception which I (...) defend is grounded in the idea of respect for persons, and provides a less demanding interpretation of fair access to qualifications; it nevertheless places constraints on the behaviour of parents, and has implications for educational provision in schools. (shrink)
In an important piece of work Derek Parfit distinguishes two different forms of egalitarianism, ‘Deontic’ and ‘Telic’ (Parfit 1995; see also Parfit 1997). He contrasts these with what he calls the Priority View, which is not strictly a form of egalitarianism at all, since it is not essentially concerned with how well off people are relative to each other. His main aim is to generate an adequate taxonomy of the positions available, but in the process he draws attention to some (...) of the different problems they face. I shall argue that there are forms of egalitarianism overlooked by Parfit which avoid the problems encountered by Deontic and Telic Egalitarians. (shrink)
A number of egalitarians have reached the conclusion that inequalities are just provided that they are the outcome of holding people appropriately responsible for their choices, and that only inequalities which can be traced back to the circumstances in which people happen to find themselves are objectionable. But this form of egalitarianism needs to be supplemented with an account of when it is appropriate to hold people responsible for their choices that is properly sensitive to the profound effects of socialisation. (...) Two of the most promising attempts to develop such an account-those of Ronald Dworkin and John Roemer-are found to be problematic in the light of a range of cases where gender socialisation influences values and aspirations. (shrink)
Brian Barry's Justice as Impartiality is a highly enjoyable and rewarding book. It throws new light on some familiar theories of justice, and shows how the idea that principles of justice are those principles which no one could reasonably reject can yield prescriptions for constitutional design. But I shall argue that Barry's defence of his theory is less robust than he thinks, and more generally that there is reason to suppose that principles of justice are as contestable as conceptions of (...) the good. (shrink)
This book examines a number of different accounts developed by philosophers and political theorists to explain why political disagreement is so extensive and persistent. The author argues that moral and political questions can have correct answers, but that not every reasonable person will necessarily be satisfied with these answers. He develops a framework that gives a role to the individual's reasons for his or her beliefs, but also to psychological and sociological factors, to explain the intractability of political disputes.
Although the notion of an essentially contested concept may shed light on the logic of disputes over the proper application of some key political terms, it nevertheless plays no genuine role in explaining the intractability of these disputes. The notion of an essentially contested concept is defended against some influential criticisms, showing how it is possible for one conception of an essentially contested concept to be justifiably regarded as superior to other competing conceptions. Two possible answers are distinguished to the (...) question of why disputes over essentially contested concepts should be regarded as inevitable, but neither provides us with a plausible explanation for why they are so intractable. Disagreements over the proper use of key political concepts are better explained by features of moral and political discourse, such as the short reach of ?intellectual authority? and the fact that consensus is not one of its primary aims, in conjunction with empirical hypotheses from the social sciences, rather than by essential contestedness theses. (shrink)