Imperfection and Impartiality

Marcel Wissenburg; London: UCL Press, 1999; ISBN 1-85728-850-5 (HB) 1-85728-851-3 (PB)

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Imperfection and ImpartialityImperfection and Impartiality argues, from a liberal perspective, for a radical re-interpretation of existing ideas concerning social justice. Its aim is to take the liberal commitment to impartiality seriously and, based on a new conception of impartiality, to rephrase the answer to the classic question of justice and politics: who gets what, when and how.

Social justice requires that the benefits and burdens of social cooperation be distributed according to morally defensible rules, most importantly one defining 'equal' treatment. In a morally divided world, where no ultimate standard of the good can be defended or imposed, liberals hope to avoid the other extreme of moral relativism by introducing an impartial standard, one that is universally acceptable despite the diversity of incompatible views of the good. The interpretation of impartiality developed in this book takes this concept as well as the idea that liberalism is fundamentally about respecting the plans of life of individuals to their limits. It is argued that the object of impartiality should not be any of the usual — morally substantive — measures for the quality of a life but the most basic deontological reasons for acting that guide the lives of individuals: so-called full reasons.

Recognizing the irreducible diversity of real existing individuals and societies results in other major revisions of mainstream justice theory. The author develops more refined and open conceptions of society, of the members of society and recipients of justice, as well as of the kinds of benefits and burdens distributed within a society and the measure for their equal distribution. He introduces a new reading of the old distinction between basic needs and further wants in terms of their relevance to the individual's full reasons. Although generalizations are by no means impossible, the implication is that basic needs are ultimately individual and individually defined. As a result, a liberal conception of justice that takes impartiality seriously must be one that limits its pretensions to the definition of very broad (although still stringent) principles of justice, principles that offer ample room both to the plurality of individual plans of life and to the diversity of social conceptions of the good life. Thus, liberalism and impartiality on the one hand and real-world politics and communitarian ethics on the other become inseparable..

Imperfection and Impartiality is essential reading for graduate students and scholars in political theory, political and social philosophy, for social scientists interested in social justice research and for all intellectuals who take an interest in the fate of liberal democracy.



Part I: The Archimedean point

Chapter 1: Justice in society

  1. An introduction to book, chapter and verse
  2. Social justice and other virtues
  3. The limits of impartiality
  4. On conceptions of justice

Chapter 2: Between community and nature

  1. Social justice: temporal, substantial and impartial
  2. Natural justice
  3. Communitarian justice

Chapter 3: The archpoint

  1. The possibility of impartiality
  2. Full reasons
  3. On forms and contents

Chapter 4: Impartiality on the mind

  1. Categories of information
  2. Knowing the self, society and possibility
  3. Knowing oneself
  4. Knowing what to do

Chapter 5: Dies Irae

  1. Premises, premises
  2. The final position and Philadelphia
    • The final position
    • Philadelphia

Part II: Principles of distributive justice

Chapter 6: we not bleed?

  1. The elements of principles of justice
  2. Four bad and three good reasons for attributing recipiency
  3. Causal and moral responsibility
  4. Society and exploitation
  5. Being there

Chapter 7: The distribution of rights

  1. Owning — the stringent view
  2. What it is to have a right
  3. Ownership — the rights version
  4. Conditional ownership
  5. Distribution and the limits of justice

Chapter 8: Equalisanda

  1. Types of equalisanda
  2. Equality of options
  3. Containment of envy

Chapter 9: Principles of minimal justice

  1. Principles for options and envy
  2. Principles for the public realm
  3. Principles for recipients
  4. Principles of minimal social justice
  5. Epilogue: The Good, the Bad, and the Aesthetically Challenged
    • The Good
    • The Bad
    • The Aesthetically Challenged



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