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What Is the Point of Justice?


Conflicting answers to the question of what principles of justice are for may generate very different ways of theorizing about justice. Indeed divergent answers to it are at the heart of G. A. Cohen's disagreement with John Rawls. Cohen thinks that the roots of this disagreement lie in the constructivist method that Rawls employs, which mistakenly treats the principles that emerge from a procedure that involves factual assumptions as ultimate principles of justice. But I argue that even if Rawls were to abandon his constructivism, and to accept Cohen's argument that ultimate principles of justice are not grounded directly in any facts, their divergent views concerning the proper role of principles of justice would lead them to different conclusions. I contend that even if ultimate principles of justice are not directly grounded in any facts, the role that principles of justice are needed to play may mean that their justification depends upon facts about what is feasible and facts about what is burdensome to people. Contrary to what Cohen maintains, being dependent on the facts in this manner does not preclude a principle from being ultimate; nor do principles which have this sort of dependence on the facts necessarily combine justice with other values in a way that must lead to conflation.

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
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