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A System of Rights$
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Rex Martin

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198292937

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198292937.001.0001

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Critical Justification

Critical Justification

Chapter:
(p.323) 13 Critical Justification
Source:
A System of Rights
Author(s):

Rex Martin (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0198292937.003.0014

The internal coherence of any system of political institutions and ideas is only one of the considerations we must have in mind in an account of ultimate justification; there is also the idea of a critical moral justification for it. Thus, the book turns, last of all, to the subject of the possibility and character of such vindication for a system of rights.

Two principal theories are canvassed in this regard: the indirect utilitarianism of J. S. Mill and more recent utilitarian thinkers and the contractarian moral justification elaborated by John Rawls in his Theory of Justice (and for several years thereafter). The utilitarian theory is set aside first; it is fundamentally unable to provide a principled justification for the priority of basic rights over policies justified by considerations of aggregate benefit or general well being. And Rawls's contractarianism is set aside as failing in one of its own self‐appointed tasks: it cannot provide an objective basis for assessing competing political or moral theories

These two failures to provide, from among leading contemporary moral theories, a critical moral grounding for a democratic system of rights do not serve to establish the creditability of philosophical anarchism; but it is clear, nonetheless, that more than was initially thought to be involved will be required in order to do the job effectively.

The chapter and the book, conclude with a brief survey of the tasks of political theory and of what has been accomplished to date. The idea of a system of rights is one of the great ideas of political philosophy and, unlike many of these ideas, it is still a living one; so, some suggestions are made about the way forward.

Keywords:   contractarianism, democracy, John Stuart Mill, moral justification, moral theory, philosophical anarchism, political theory, John Rawls, system of rights, utilitarianism

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