The Burden of Securing Social Justice: Institutions, Individuals, and Moral Action

Social Philosophy Today 22:137-152 (2006)

Abstract

It is a commonsense view held by many citizens in democratic nations that whether or not a society is socially just depends on the nature of these major institutions and their functioning. On this view, social justice is so to with what philosophers have referred to as “realized, rather than abstract, institutions,” rather than, say, individual character or actions. I will examine one sensible sounding argument in support of this view, which I will call “The Effects Argument.” It is deceptively simple in appearance and based on the claim that major social institutions have profound effects on the lives of individuals, effects that are far more significant and far-reaching than those typically brought about by individual action. Because of this vast potential, securing social justice means focusing on such major social institutions and on how they function. In short, social justice is the business and responsibility of those major institutions. Examining this argument, however, provides support for a wider vision of what is involved in achieving social justice and raises concern about the diminishing role of the individual in much of contemporary writings on social justice. Paradoxically, citizens in democratic states are especially in danger of expecting major social institutions to carry a loadthey cannot successfully bear

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