Justice and Democracy

The Monist 55 (1):121-133 (1971)
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I. We have been warned by Professor H. L. A. Hart not to think of the word ‘justice’ as an all-encompassing moral word, and, so far as it goes, the warning is surely one we should heed. But “justice” is a concept so complex as to make the warning necessary. I do not intend my remarks as countering Hart's claim, but they thrust in a different direction. They are aimed at the fact that our concept of justice permeates and conditions our use of a wide variety of other concepts such as freedom, equality and happiness. It is a common practice, among those who seek to elucidate the concept of justice, to appeal to these other concepts in an unanalyzed way. Thus, John Rawls, in formulating his now famous “two principles,” which are offered as an elucidation of one sense of justice, assumes that we understand such notions as maximum liberty and equality of opportunity before the concept of justice has itself been clarified. Few in recent decades have done more than Rawls to enrich the philosophical literature on justice, but I want to suggest that some very misleading inferences might be drawn from this opening gambit.



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