The circumstances of justice: Pluralism, community, and friendship

Journal of Political Philosophy 1 (3):250–276 (1993)
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Liberal political theory sees justice as the "first virtue" of a good society, the virtue that guides individuals' conceptions of their own good, and protects the equal liberty of all to pursue their ends, so long as these ends and pursuits are just. But ever since Marx's declaration that "liberty as a right of man is not founded upon the relations between man and man, but rather upon the separation of man from man...,"i liberal society has been frequently criticized for falling seriously short of the conditions of a good society.ii A prominent recent criticism of this sort has been voiced by "communitarians," who charge that the primacy of rights in liberalism reveals a failure to appreciate the value of friendship and community, and tends to undermine their possibility.iii My aim in this paper is to defend liberal political theory, understood as the theory that justifies a polity of individual rights and justice, against this charge.iv My main argument will be directed at the assumption that there is an inherent tension between rights and justice on the one hand, and familial love and friendship on the other. According to the communitarian, two or more individuals constitute a community when they share a common conception of the good, and see this good as partly constitutive of their identities or selves.v Such "constitutive community," in Michael Sandel's words, may be a close friendship or family relationship, or an intermediate association such as a neighborhood organization, or a comprehensive political community. The communitarian charges that in making justice the first virtue of social institutions, liberalism undermines community at all levels, and this for two reasons. First, liberalism demands that we revise or surrender our conceptions of the good - including our attachments and commitments to family and friends - if they should turn out to be unjust. But this demand, the communitarian claims, requires attitudes 2 that are inconsistent with these attachments and commitments..



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Neera K. Badhwar
University of Oklahoma

Citations of this work

Corrective vs. Distributive Justice: the Case of Apologies.Andrew I. Cohen - 2016 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):663-677.
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References found in this work

Kantian constructivism in moral theory.John Rawls - 1930 - Journal of Philosophy 77 (9):515-572.
Review: Communitarian Critics of Liberalism. [REVIEW]Amy Gutmann - 1985 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (3):308 - 322.

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