Justice, Liberalism, and Responsibility

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (1999)


This dissertation addresses the importance of conceptions of responsibility for contemporary theories of justice. I criticize recent defenses of liberalism which try to proceed without conceptions of responsibility. I argue that a conception of neutrality does not provide adequate support for defending a liberal theory of justice. I defend this claim by examining Brian Barry's recent defense of neutrality liberalism. His idea of neutrality reduces to an indefensible skeptical argument about conceptions of the good. I next examine John Rawls's account of political liberalism. I argue that his approach fails to appropriately address the persons and traditions that would be sacrificed within a Rawlsian liberal order. Rawls's notion of reasonableness and his argument from the burdens of judgment are insufficient bases to develop a liberal theory of justice. ;I then examine the idea of equality and its relationship with responsibility. Egalitarians describe the ideal of equality as the most fundamental notion for a theory of justice. They also interpret other traditions---such as the contractarian approaches of Barry and Rawls---in terms of this commitment to moral equality. Through a discussion of Ronald Dworkin's liberal egalitarianism, I argue that any plausible interpretation of moral equality must rely on an account of personal responsibility. Claims about responsibility, I argue, must be at the core of any theory of theory of justice. In the last chapter, I consider what a theory of justice should be about. I argue that the common assumption that justice is about devising principles to regulate institutions distorts how we should organize concerns of justice. Justice is about people treating each other with the respect and dignity that they are due. Problems about institutional design must be responsive to an account of individual responsibilities of justice, rather than the contemporary liberal approach of devising institutional principles prior to and with regulative primacy.

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