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Justice, Equality, and Rights

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1 JUSTICE, EQUALITY, AND RIGHTS

by John Tasioulas

For R. Crisp (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics

1. The Nature of Justice Philosophers have advocated many divergent views as to the content of the correct principles of justice. In contemporary philosophy, for example, the live options range from the austere libertarian thesis that the claims of justice are limited to a small class of rights that protect us from coercive interference by others to more radically egalitarian doctrines that mandate the large-scale redistribution of wealth and other goods. But there is a prior, conceptual question: is there an illuminating sense in which these disagreements are aptly described as concerned with justice? Alternatively put, is there a concept of justice of which these rival accounts can be interpreted as offering different conceptions? (Rawls 1971/1999: 5-6). If not, the dispiriting conclusion looms that these disputes are „verbal‟ rather than genuine, like a debate about the nature of „banks‟ in which one party has in mind financial institutions and the other party the sloping bits of land at the sides of rivers. One answer is that the concept of justice marks out the entire domain of moral evaluation, or at least the whole of inter-personal morality, excluding only moral concerns relating purely to oneself or to non-persons, such as animals. This expansive reading of justice – as (inter-personal) moral rightness or virtue – has a venerable pedigree. The Greek word for justice, dikaiosyne, can mean acting rightly or as one ought (although there is a real question about the extent to a specific category of the „moral‟ comes into focus within ancient Greek ethical thought). This is a meaning „justice‟ bears when Plato and Aristotle claim that all of virtue is contained in justice.

2 The wide sense is also found in modern writers such as Hugo…...

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