Spheres of Justice (Michael Walzer) pdf, epub, doc

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Spheres of Justice represents Walzer’s half of a debate with Robert Nozick. (Nozick’s side of the debate is found in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which was also written as a response to Rawls’s Theory of Justice. Nozick defends a libertarian ideal of minimal government and a laissez-faire principle of distributive justice.)

Walzer argues for a conception of distributive justice that he refers to as “complex equality.” The idea is that there is no one correct principle of distribution that constitutes justice. Instead, there are different kinds of social goods—education, wealth, political power, etc.—and each constitutes a different “sphere.” Different forms of distribution are appropriate for different spheres. Justice might require strict equality in some spheres, merit-based distribution in another sphere, need-based distribution in yet another sphere, etc. Injustice, on Walzer’s view, consists primarily when one sphere, and its distribution of goods, comes to dominate other spheres. For example, if money and wealth became the dominant sphere in society (hard as that might be to imagine) and other goods such as education, healthcare, and political power were distributed according to wealth, then that would constitute injustice. Justice is primarily a matter of keeping the various spheres autonomous and distributing the goods of those spheres in ways that are independent of the distribution in other spheres. (A small number of people possessing most of the wealth would not necessarily constitute injustice if it meant only that those people had more material possessions. It is unjust when their wealth also gives them a greater share of the social goods in other spheres such as political power, control of the means of production, health care, etc.)

Also important is Walzer’s method. He rejects the idea that there might be one set of principles of distribution that determine justice for all societies and all times. Instead he insists that we must argue for principles of justice from the shared understandings of actual people. What sorts of things are good, and the principles of distribution appropriate for those goods, depends on the beliefs, values, and expectations of the actual members of society. It is this method ad its emphasis on how justice is determined (in part) by community standards that lumps Walzer into that group of political theorists who are collectively labeled “communitarians.”

Walzer’s general theory is presented in chapter 1 and the last chapter (13). The other (eleven) chapters each examine a particular kind of social good, searching for the form of distribution appropriate in that sphere and the potential for that sphere to dominate or be dominated by other spheres. This structure of the book allows for the reader to skip a few chapters, if desired. But fully understanding Walzer’s theory and appreciating its strength requires seeing how it applies to particular social issues and policy debates. It is especially important to read chapters 2, 3, 4, and 12 on membership (citizenship), security and welfare (including healthcare), money and commodities, and political power.

One drawback of Walzer’s approach is that his method of arguing from “shared cultural meanings” sometimes amounts to little more than an appeal to intuition. Opponents can reasonably dispute Walzer’s interpretation of the meaning of a particular good in our society.Nevertheless, Walzer’s theory is sophisticated yet simple and serves as a very useful and plausible analysis of a wide range of issues. Unlike many other communitarians, who offer only critiques of liberalism with little in the way of positive alternatives, Walzer argues for realistic communitarian approaches to contemporary political debates in our liberal society.

This book is making me rethink my general aversion to communitarian political theory.

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Book info

  • Author:
  • Publisher:Basic Books
  • File: 7 Mb
  • Ganre: Philosophy
  • Release: 02.09.1984
  • ISBN: 9780465081899
  • Pages 364
  • Rating: 4.49 (341 votes)


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