Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives

By James P. Sterba | Go to book overview

4

LIBERTARIAN JUSTICE

Tibor R. Machan

The nature of justice

By libertarian justice one would have in mind the account of justice advanced in libertarian political theory. Since what justice is has been and remains in serious, often deep-seated dispute, there are widely different conceptions of it emanating from different schools of political thought, each aiming to be the true or right one. Libertarianism proposes one, as do socialism, fascism, welfare-statism, and so forth. 1

As to which conception of justice is right or what justice really is, there is a great deal to be said on how that might be determined. In this discussion I shall not be aiming to find a fixed, final, perfect ideal of justice, along lines suggested in some of Plato’s dialogues. Nor am I convinced that some consensus is what is wanted, nor that no determination is possible. Instead, it seems to me that a conception that arises from justified and thus most reasonable propositions in various branches of human inquiry, starting with metaphysics and including psychology, economics and ethics, will constitute the right idea of what justice is. Why this should be so is a story that is too long to tell here, even though a great deal depends on it. 2

To do justice is to treat something appropriate to its nature or as it deserves or ought to be treated. Only certain kinds of beings can be said to deserve or be owed justice. (There is no problem about doing justice to a rock or the moon, although some environmentalists argue that the issue does arise vis-à-vis trees, and even mountains. 3)

When we want to learn what it is to do justice to human beings, we must first learn what is due them. That, in turn, depends on what kind of beings they are.

As an analogous case in point, when defenders of animal rights lay out their reasons for why animals have rights, they tell us about the nature of animals. They focus on what kind of beings they are, on what in their nature warrants our ascribing to them and respecting their rights. 4 Justice for the

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