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Libertarian Justice, Socialist Justice, Welfare Liberal Justice: The Contractarian Perspective, Welfare Liberal Justice: The Utilitarian Perspective

Virtually everyone becomes involved in disputes about justice at some point. Sometimes our involvement in such disputes is rooted in the fact that we believe ourselves to be victims of some form of injustice, such as job discrimination; sometimes our involvement is rooted in the fact that others believe us to be the perpetrators or at least the beneficiaries of some form of injustice affecting them, such as unfair taxing policies. Elimination of the injustice may require drastic reform, or even revolutionary change in the political system, such as took place in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and South Africa. In other cases, redress of the injustice may require only some electoral pressure or administrative decision, such as that required to end a war, for example, the Vietnam War. Whatever the origin and whatever the practical effect, disputes about justice are difficult to avoid, especially when dealing with issues that have widespread social effects like access to employment opportunities, distribution of income, structure of political institutions, and use of the war-making capabilities of a nation.

Reasonable resolutions of such disputes require critical evaluation of the alternative conceptions of justice available to us. Philosophical debate at the beginning of the twenty-first century supports five major conceptions of justice: (1) a libertarian conception, which takes liberty to be the ultimate political ideal; (2) a socialist conception, which takes equality to be the ultimate political ideal; (3) a welfare liberal conception which takes contractual fairness or maximal utility to be the ultimate political ideal; (4) a communitarian conception, which takes the common good to be the ultimate political ideal; and (5) a feminist conception, which takes a gender-free society to be the ultimate political ideal.

All of these conceptions of justice have features in common. Each has requirements that belong to the domain of obligation rather than to the domain of charity; differences arise as to where the line between these domains should be drawn. Each is concerned with giving people what they deserve or should rightfully possess; disagreements exist about what those things are. Each is secular rather than religious in character because for justice to be enforceable it must be accessible to all who apply for it; only a conception of justice that is based on secular reason rather than on religious faith could have that accessibility. Each is thought to apply cross-culturally in virtue of its being accessible to everyone on the basis of reason alone. These common features constitute a generally accepted core definition of justice. What we need to do, however, is examine that part of each of these conceptions of justice over which there is serious disagreement in order to determine which, if any, is most defensible.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to Kabbalah