Review of Metaphysics 49 (4):948-949 (1996)

Abraham Bruce Anderson
Sarah Lawrence College
Hillel Steiner's objective in this remarkable book is to give an account of justice based on rights. He argues that rights must be conceived as property, and proposes that property be conceived in terms of freedom as the power of unimpeded action. The political philosophy involved is as he says a classical laissez-faire liberalism. However, on the basis of an argument against a natural right to bequeath property, Steiner proposes that such a liberalism requires radical redistribution of natural resources in each generation, a redistribution which provides equal shares in such resources or their monetary equivalent for each individual when he attains majority. Steiner follows Henry George in holding that the earth is a "commons" and holds that our possession of it is subject to the condition that we leave "as much and as good," in Locke's phrase, for others. The genetic endowment of individuals, as well as the germ lines from which they emerge, are among the natural resources of the earth, and possession of a child endowed with good genes should obligate his parents to compensate others for their possession of him as of other natural resources by payment into a global common fund. Steiner proceeds to this striking conclusion by means of a steady march through successively more concrete domains of investigation: from a discussion of the metaphysics of liberty, through a discussion of the logic of rights, of moral reasoning, economic reasoning, and justice as the adjudication of competing claims. He deploys the technical apparatus of these fields with wit and rigor, as well as a deep knowledge of older authors.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph199649489
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