Fact-Sensitivity and the ‘Defining-Down’ Objection

Res Publica 23 (1):117-135 (2017)
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This paper aims to clarify what it means for a normative theory to be fact-sensitive, and what might be wrong with such sensitivity, by examining the ways in which ‘justice as fairness’ depends upon facts. While much of the fact-sensitivity of Rawls’s principles consists of innocent limitations of generality, Rawls’s appeal to stability raises a legitimate worry about defining justice down in order to make ‘justice’ stable. If it should turn out that the correct principles of justice are inconsistent with human nature, it might be important for us to recognize that as a feature of human psychology we regret, rather than revising our principles for the sake of stability in a way that obscures the fact that there is anything to regret. Whether or not Rawlsian principles are in fact watered down depends on how one interprets the role of reciprocity in the theory. Reciprocity can be seen as a fact about human psychology that limits the extent to which justice can be realized where assurance of compliance on the part of others is lacking. Or it can be seen as a fact about justice, to wit, that its point is to create a relationship of mutual recognition and respect, making strictly unilateral compliance pointless.



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Andrew Lister
Queen's University

Citations of this work

Publicity, reciprocity, and incentives.Andrew Lister - 2020 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (1):67-82.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1978 - Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.

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