The Function of Justice: Assessing Coercion
This chapter develops a new account of the types of social relations that principles of justice are meant to assess. It argues that the function of justice is to limit the ways in which we may permissibly coerce one another and distinguishes between two types of coercion: interactional (directly perpetrated by agents) and systemic (occurring through systems of rules). Two key insights underpin this coercion-based normative framework. First, from a liberal perspective, certain restrictions of freedom – those defined here as coercive – need special justification. The principles articulating the required justification are those that should be called principles of justice. Second, the relevant restrictions of freedom need not be direct, that is, perpetrated by an agent – collective or individual – against other agents. They can also be indirect, resulting from formal and informal social rules, supported by a large enough number of agents. This conclusion has important implications for our thinking about justice in the global realm, where there clearly are pervasive systems of formal and informal social rules, but no overarching, state-like group agent.
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