Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives

By James P. Sterba | Go to book overview

6

WHAT (WELFARE) JUSTICE OWES CARE

Eva Feder Kittay

From libertarianism to welfarism—maybe, maybe not

James P. Sterba offers us a conception of philosophy as cooperation rather than conflict—as peacemaking rather than war-making. Being a peace-loving person myself, I find this notion very congenial. Philosophy is too often based on an antagonist/agonistic model where the winner in a philosophical debate is she who proffers the most devastating argument against her opponent. However, in the philosophical war games, or peace games, the only real victor should be truth—and, in this context, the truth of justice—or better still, what can truly and justly be established here and now.

I would like to engage with Sterba in the spirit of his peacemaking. But if I seem to be more conflictual than conciliatory, it is because I want the outcome to be what is most true and useful. My sense is, however, that although I believe I disagree with Sterba, he will nonetheless show that, in fact, our views are entirely compatible, and perhaps even identical. In fact, where I want to begin questioning his position with respect to “welfare justice” is precisely the point at which Sterba demonstrates his uncanny ability to reconcile what seem, at first at least, to be diametrically opposed views.

To those who have not followed the dialogue that Sterba has carried on with libertarians, Sterba seems to make a surprising claim, namely that the position of what he calls “welfare liberals” (among whom he counts himself) can be reconciled with that of libertarians. 1 Proponents of a “welfare state” hold the view that the only way that a democratic market-based state can adequately dispense justice to all is to protect us from, and to compensate us for, the extreme inequalities an unfettered capitalism is likely to produce. The welfare state is intended to address the needs we have when we are most vulnerable—when we are too old for gainful employment, too weak due to illness or disability, too young or otherwise incapable of competing in the marketplace. It is meant to help protect us from disaster when the economy shrinks or collapses, or when our own marketable skills are no longer

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