A Theory of Ecological Justice

By Brian Baxter | Go to book overview

8

Ecological justice and justice as impartiality

The aim of this chapter is to try to relate the idea of ecological justice to what is arguably the most defensible theory of distributive justice developed for the purely human domain in recent years. This is the theory of Brian Barry, which he has dubbed 'justice as impartiality' (Barry 1995). It is a theory of justice which takes much of its inspiration from Rawls' theory of justice as fairness, albeit via some important modifications of that theory introduced by the political philosopher Thomas Scanlon (see ibid.: 67-72).

There will not be room here to develop the case for accepting Barry's theory against its competitors, but the issue of its merits will be briefly returned to after an outline has first been given of its main features. The guiding thought behind what is here being attempted is that if the concept of ecological justice should prove to be wholly incompatible with Barry's theory then defenders of the concept will have an even bigger job on their hands than they might otherwise suppose. For they will have to develop their own theory of distributive justice for human beings which is defensible for that domain and at least compatible with, and preferably supportive of, ecological justice. Given the enormous amount of intellectual effort in the last thirty years which has gone into developing the ideas that have emerged in Barry's theory, it is reasonable to suggest that it would be preferable if defenders of ecological justice could marry this theory to their concerns, rather than have to start again from scratch.

As will emerge in due course, this marrying is possible. But there is a significant cost for Barry's theory in seeking it. For it is thereby deprived of the possibility of realizing one of its key aims, namely to stand in a position of lofty detachment from all the substantive moral views which divide people and show how such people can, nevertheless, be reconciled, even when their moral views remain irreconcilable.


Barry's theory of justice as impartiality

Let us first, then, consider the basic elements of Barry's ambitious theory. We are invited to imagine, in accordance with the idea of the social contract tradition as updated by Rawls, that a group of people want to live together on terms which all can accept as reasonable. They will come to see that a fundamentally just society will be one which all can freely agree to live in because the basic rules under which it operates treats everyone as moral equals. Hence, no one will be able intelligibly

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