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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Images of justice Lu, Catherine Yen-ping


Can we dispense with justice? This thesis seeks to defend the concept of justice against critics who characterize it as insidious, inadequate or irrelevant to human society. It will be argued that contemporary debates about justice, which have focused mainly on John Rawls' conception of liberal justice, obscure significant aspects of the concept of justice. In finding foundational flaws in Rawls1 theory, some claim to have shaken the very foundations of liberalism, overlooking the fact that there is more to liberalism than Rawls. In critiquing liberalism, some claim to have defeated the idea of the indispensability of justice to human society, overlooking the fact that there is more to justice than liberalism. Firstly, communitarians argue that justice is a cold virtue and an inadequate bond of society. Secondly, some feminists, while challenging traditional boundaries, such as the public/private dichotomy, that have been integral to liberal theories of justice, assert that justice is too harsh and biased against women. Thirdly, so-called realists in international politics argue that justice is largely irrelevant to the relations between states, or at least, secondary to the preservation of order. In place of justice, each critic offers a rival ideal, such as fellowship, care, and security, as more pertinent to human social relations. It will be argued, however, that justice is the precondition for the pursuit of all other human ideals, and without it, such values would lose their ideal qualities. I offer three images of justice that its critics ignore, devalue or misconstrue: justice as a bond, a boundary, and a balance. Justice in these images requires recognition of our commonality as human beings, our distinctness as persons, and our equality as moral subjects. Justice is a bond because it is what makes our societies morally coherent; without it, human societies would be indistinguishable from the vast morally incoherent world of nature. Justice is also a boundary in constituting the moral floor of society, which involves drawing limits on how we may treat others, as well as on what we may legitimately demand from others in the way of sacrifice. Finally, justice is a balance in its function as a reconciliator of conflicting ends, values and interests. The critics of justice, in conceiving of it in narrow, inadequate, or inaccurate terms, overlook the warmer, human, and basic qualities of justice that make it indispensable to human society.

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