A Contractualist Theory of Nonideal Justice

Adams, Matthew, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Adams, Matthew, Arts & Sciences Graduate-aasg, University of Virginia

Philosophers who have written about justice have predominantly focused on ideal theory—a conception of how a perfectly just society should be structured. However, all actual societies are in nonideal conditions, failing to realize any (plausible) ideal theory of justice. Accordingly, we must consider what theory of justice applies in our actual nonideal world and how, if at all, this theory of justice relates to an ideal theory of justice.

My dissertation develops a new nonideal theory of justice and clarifies its relationship with ideal justice. This theory hinges on an innovation I term “nonideal principles of justice.” These principles—forged using a Rawlsian contractualist framework—constitute the transitional path for the realization of ideal justice. For example, a nonideal liberty principle specifies how to increase people’s ability to exercise their basic liberties. Ultimately, I argue that the principles are valuable—perhaps even essential—for tackling difficult exigent questions, such as how to specify the conditions under which non-meritocratic affirmative action is just. Furthermore, they facilitate an “agent-guiding” function of justice: they direct people to adopt the right response to institutional realizations of justice, which are attuned to their epistemic limitations and make appropriate concessions to considerations of political feasibility.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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