The Aim of a Theory of Justice

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (1):7-21 (2012)
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Abstract

Amartya Sen argues that for the advancement of justice identification of ‘perfect’ justice is neither necessary nor sufficient. He replaces ‘perfect’ justice with comparative justice. Comparative justice limits itself to comparing social states with respect to degrees of justice. Sen’s central thesis is that identifying ‘perfect’ justice and comparing imperfect social states are ‘analytically disjoined’. This essay refutes Sen’s thesis by demonstrating that to be able to make adequate comparisons we need to identify and integrate criteria of comparison. This is precisely the aim of a theory of justice (such as John Rawls’s theory): identifying, integrating and ordering relevant principles of justice. The same integrated criteria that determine ‘perfect’ justice are needed to be able to adequately compare imperfect social states. Sen’s alternative approach, which is based on social choice theory, is incapable of avoiding contrary, indeterminate or incoherent directives where plural principles of justice conflict

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Martijn Boot
University of Groningen

Citations of this work

Incomplete Ideal Theory.Amy Berg - 2019 - Social Theory and Practice 45 (4):501-524.
The Tyranny of a Metaphor.David Wiens - 2018 - Cosmos + Taxis 5 (2):13-28.

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References found in this work

Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Justice as fairness: a restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
The idea of justice.Amartya Sen - 2009 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Inequality Reexamined.Amartya Sen - 1927 - Oxford University Press UK.

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