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What conclusions should we draw from this discussion of libertarian, socialist, welfare liberal, communitarian, and feminist conceptions of justice? Is MacIntyre's opinion, described in After Virtue (1981), that such conceptions of justice are incommensurable and, hence, there is no rational way of deciding between them correct? Many philosophers have challenged this view, and even MacIntyre, in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (1990), has significantly qualified it, contending that it is possible to argue across conceptions of justice.

One could also conclude that if the ideal of liberty of libertarian justice can be shown to require the same rights to welfare and equal opportunity that are required by the welfare liberal conception of justice, and if the communitarian critique of welfare liberalism can be rebutted, that it may then be possible to reconcile, at a practical level, the differences between welfare liberal justice, socialist justice, and feminist justice. To reasonably resolve our disputes about justice, we then need only understand the shared practical requirements of these conceptions of justice and simply act upon them.

It can be argued, however, that even if these conceptions of justice can be reconciled in practice, such reconciliation would not have cross-cultural validity because the discussion derives primarily from Western philosophical traditions. While this objection cannot be fully addressed in the absence of a detailed examination of non-Western conceptions of justice and morality, there is good reason to think that, like the results of a well-reasoned discussion of mathematics derived from Western sources, this discussion of conceptions of justice also has cross-cultural validity. The conceptions of justice considered here arguably run the full gamut from least demanding (libertarian justice) to most demanding (socialist justice). Egoism is less demanding than libertarian justice, but it is a not a moral view because egoism entails a rejection of morality. Pure altruism is more demanding than socialist justice, but no conception of justice could require us to sacrifice ourselves to the degree that pure altruism does; pure altruism goes beyond the requirements of justice and morality. If libertarian justice and socialist justice, and those conceptions that purportedly fall in between, can all be practically reconciled in the way suggested, there is good reason to think that the argument is valid not only for Western philosophical traditions but cross-culturally as well.


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James P. Sterba

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to KabbalahJustice - Libertarian Justice, Socialist Justice, Welfare Liberal Justice: The Contractarian Perspective, Welfare Liberal Justice: The Utilitarian Perspective