12:30 p.m. March 29, 2017
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.
Practical Unintelligence and the Vices
When we think about good and bad character, especially from Aristotle’s point of view, we usually think of good and bad intent, where virtue is a matter of choosing good ends for their own sake (Nicomachean Ethics [NE] II.4, 1105a26-33). That is not incorrect, but it is only half the story, because Aristotle thinks that virtue has a twofold structure. It is because of virtue, he says, that one has the right goal, but it is because of practical intelligence or wisdom—what Aristotle calls phronesis—that one gets things right in what leads to that goal (VI.12, 1144a7-9). There are therefore two broad ways of failing to act with virtue. One is the familiar failing of acting for the sake of a bad or corrupted end; this is the familiar sense of vice as a failure with respect to intent. And the other failing is a failure to deliberate well and effectively about realizing an end, even when that end is good. It is this second, often overlooked vice that I have in mind. In the first half of the paper, I say more precisely what sort of failing this vice is, and why it really is a vice. Then in the second half I look at several real-life challenges for deliberation—in particular, deliberation about public policy—in order to recommend several habits of thought for responsibly managing the inevitable uncertainty and complexity of a constantly changing world.