Rescuing Justice and Equality / Edition 1

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In this stimulating work of political philosophy, acclaimed philosopher G. A. Cohen sets out to rescue the egalitarian thesis that in a society in which distributive justice prevails, people’s material prospects are roughly equal. Arguing against the Rawlsian version of a just society, Cohen demonstrates that distributive justice does not tolerate deep inequality.

In the course of providing a deep and sophisticated critique of Rawls’s theory of justice, Cohen demonstrates that questions of distributive justice arise not only for the state but also for people in their daily lives. The right rules for the macro scale of public institutions and policies also apply, with suitable adjustments, to the micro level of individual decision-making.

Cohen also charges Rawls’s constructivism with systematically conflating the concept of justice with other concepts. Within the Rawlsian architectonic, justice is not distinguished either from other values or from optimal rules of social regulation. The elimination of those conflations brings justice closer to equality.

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Editorial Reviews

Joshua Cohen
With his characteristic brilliance and philosophical depth, G.A. Cohen aims to defend a more pure equality and justice by retrieving them from Rawlsian liberalism. The result is a bracing challenge to contemporary complacency about inequality.
Arthur Ripstein
This book is easily the deepest and most sophisticated critical work on Rawls's theory of justice. It brings together several distinct lines of argument that Cohen has been developing over the past two decades. In so doing, it manages to provide both a detailed and intricate critique of Rawls's approach to economic distribution and, at the same time, to articulate and defend a different way of thinking about the fundamental questions of economic distribution.
Andrew Williams
Many liberals favor a relatively permissive attitude to economic inequality, and do so partly because they assume the egalitarian values governing our political decisions are inapplicable to our more everyday decisions. Focusing on the work of John Rawls, Rescuing Justice and Equality subjects such liberal convictions to a critique of unrivaled depth and brilliance, which will enhance our understanding of one the greatest political philosophers, and stimulate debate for years to come.
Samuel Scheffler
This masterful work is written with a remarkable combination of passion, verve, and analytical rigor. It presents a formidable challenge to Rawlsian liberalism and is a major contribution to the development of egalitarian political thought.
Times Literary Supplement - Michael Rosen
Rescuing Justice and Equality is an exceptionally rich and challenging work. Cohen develops his ideas with a remarkable degree of ingenuity, subtlety, and textual attentiveness. Furthermore, they are presented with extraordinary clarity...[An] impressive book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674030763
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 664,961
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

G. A. Cohen was Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface

  • Introduction

  1. The Big Issue

  2. Rescuing Equality and Justice

  3. Some Methodological Disagreements

  4. Justice and Fairness

  5. The Two Standpoints

  6. The Greatness of John Rawls

  7. An Outline of the Book

  1. Part One: Rescuing Equality from...
    1. The Incentives Argument
    I. The Incentives Argument, The Interpersonal Test, and Community
  2. Incentives, the Difference Principle, and Equality

  3. Nigel Lawson’s Tax Cut

  4. On Uttering Arguments in Variable Interpersonal Settings

  5. The Kidnapper’s Argument

  6. Community, and the Interpersonal Test

  7. Does the Incentive Argument Pass the Interpersonal Test?

  8. II. Testing the Incentive Argument
  9. What Makes the Minor Premiss of the Incentive Argument True?

  10. Why the Incentive Argument Fails the Interpersonal Test

  11. The Incentive Argument and Bad Faith

  12. Should the Poor Reject the Incentive Argument?

  13. First Persons and Third Persons

  14. III. Incentives and the Difference Principle
  15. Strict and Lax Readings of the Difference Principle

  16. Why Just People Must Practise the Strict Difference Principle

  17. The Difference Principle and “Daily Life”

  18. Dignity, Fraternity, and The Difference Principle

  19. The Difference Principle and “Mutual Indifference”

  20. The Difference Principle and the Unjust Society

  1. 2. The Pareto Argument for Inequality
  2. Introduction

  3. The Argument Expounded

  4. TheArgument Challenged

  5. The Argument Rejected

  6. Labour Burden in the Metric of Equality

  7. Inconsistent Metrics

  8. Raising the Baseline

  9. Impartiality and Mutual Advantage

  10. Inequality: A Necessary Evil?

  11. Conclusion

  1. 3. The Basic Structure Objection
  2. “The Personal is Political”

  3. Incentives and the Difference Principle: A Review of the Argument

  4. The “Basic Structure” Objection

  5. The “Basic Structure” Objection: A Preliminary Reply

  6. The “Basic Structure” Objection: A More Fundamental Reply

  7. Who is to Blame?

  8. Coercive and Non-Coercive Social Structures

  • Appendix I. More on Coercion and the Basic Structure

  • Appendix II. The Basic Structure is a Structure

  1. 4. The Difference Principle
  2. Introduction

  3. Reconsidering the Difference Principle

  4. The Moral Arbitrariness Case for the Difference Principle Contradicts its Content

  5. A Recent Argument for the Difference Principle

  6. A Contractarian Argument for the Difference Principle

  7. What is the Moral Arbitrariness of Talent Differences Supposed to Show?

  8. Chamberlain and Pareto

  9. “Can’t” or “Won’t”

  10. Human Nature and Constructivism

  1. 5. The Freedom Objection
  2. Introduction

  3. Equality, Pareto, and Freedom of Choice of Occupatio Freedom in Work

  4. The Unequal-Income Inference

  5. Blood, Kidneys, and Sex

  1. 6. The Facts
  2. A Statement of my Thesis

  3. Facts, and Some Meta-Ethical Questions

  4. What Most Philosophers Think about Facts and Principles

  5. My Thesis: Ultimate Principles are Fact-Insensitive; and the Clarity of Mind Requirement

  6. An Illustration of the Thesis

  7. More Illustration of the Thesis

  8. The Argument for the Thesis

    • (i). A Defence of the First Premiss of the Argument

    • (ii). A Defence of the Second Premiss of the Argument

    • (iii). A Defence of the Third Premiss of the Argument

  9. Still Further Illustration and Defence of the Thesis

  10. The Clarity of Mind Requirement

  11. The Merely Logical Priority of Fact-Insensitive Principles

  12. The Conditional Character of the Thesis

  13. On “Is” and “Ought”

  14. On “Ought” and “Can”

  15. Possible Misunderstandings of the Thesis

  16. The Thesis is not a Causal Thesis

  17. The Thesis is not a Psychological Thesis

  18. The Thesis is Neutral with Respect to Central Meta-Ethical Disputes

  19. Some Bad Rawlsian Arguments that Reject My Thesis

  20. Utilitarianism, and the Difference Between Fundamental Principles and Rules of Regulation

  21. The Interest of My Thesis

  • Appendix: God

  1. Part Two: Rescuin Overview

  2. Fundamental Principles of Justice and Constructivism

  3. Fundamental Principles of Justice and Constructivism: Matters Arising

  4. Is Justice the First Virtue of Social Institutions?

  5. Two Illustrations: Social Insurance, Property Taxation

  6. Justice and the Pareto Principle

  7. Justice, and Constraints, Notably Publicity, on Choice of Optimal Rules at Regulation

  8. Justice and Stability

  9. The “Circumstances of Justice”

  10. Conclusion

  • Appendix: Is the Original Position Justification of Principles Contractarian?

  1. 8. The Publicity Argument
  2. Andrew Williams on Publicity and the Egalitarian Ethos

  3. An Anatomy of Williams’s Argument

  4. Racism, Justice, and Assurance

  5. Does Assurance Williams-type Determinacy?

  6. Does Justice Require Precision?

  7. Egalitarian Ethi at Home, in the Market, and in the State

  8. Publicity as a Desideratum of Justice

  9. Justice and Occupational Choice

  10. Conclusion

  1. General Appendix: Replies to critics
  2. Public and Private Action

  3. The Site of Justice is not Where it Gets Caused

  4. Prior Principles, Self-Respect, and Equality

  5. Incentives and Prerogatives

  6. Pogge’s Mastergoals and Supergoals

  7. Pogge’s Failure to Address the Standard Case

  8. The Currency of Distributive Justice and Incentive Inequality

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