What Justice Is Not

While the “gold standard” of philosophy of justice still is the positive and complete theory of justice, this research tradition has not yet produced (and probably never will) an ultimate criterion for choosing among the inevitably conflicting theories. Thus, the discipline cannot meet the widespread claim to present guidelines for contexts varying from personal behavior to political decisions or the design of institutions. In order to come a little closer to this ideal I suggest a different approach. Instead of defining justice it could be helpful to identify elements that should not be part of a theory of justice. In terms of operationalization this means implementing a falsification test. Subsequently, I will try to apply this test to the three most common concepts in philosophy of justice: justice in exchange, equality and distributional justice. Rigorously trying to falsify assumptions, arguments and conclusions can neither replace a theory of justice nor convey the sort of guidelines a positive definition does. It also implies no decision on whether a positive theory of justice should be sought at all. But it would help establishing a better understanding of what justice is not and thereby serve as a basis for further research.