Death, Afterlife, Justice and Value


Richard Marshall interviews Samuel Scheffler in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: A criticism of some moral philosophy – and perhaps of the position that you’ve just been discussing where the scope is about small-scale personal relationships and avoiding harm – is that it doesn’t accommodate big-scale issues like justice. These are deeply felt values, so how do you propose we accommodate them within your non-consequentialist ethical position?

SS: Your question seems to suggest that the issue of how to accommodate justice within one’s overall moral outlook is a problem for non-consequentialists alone. And in a way that’s right, but only because justice is not a concept that plays a fundamental role in consequentialist thought at all. We can, if we like, treat utilitarianism (for example) as a candidate theory of justice, as Rawls did in A Theory of Justice, but this is in one respect misleading. Utilitarianism offers us a theory of right action, but it is not a theory that even mentions, let alone uses, the concept of justice. At no point in their theory do utilitarians rely on an independent notion of justice or fairness. They are concerned solely with the maximization of value. Non-consequentialists are the only people who treat justice as a fundamental moral concept.

Since justice is a fundamental moral concept, the question should be: how do we (any of us) accommodate ideas of justice, and especially ideas about the justice of basic social, political, and economic institutions, within an overall outlook that is also sensitive to a variety of other moral values and principles, including values and principles that apply to small-scale personal relationships? That is a pressing and difficult question. One of the attractions of Rawls’s theory is that it suggests a kind of division-of-labor answer to the question. The idea is that there are sui generis principles of justice that apply to the basic institutional structure of society. If a society’s basic structure satisfies those principles, then individuals in the society may appropriately and without qualms be guided by the many different values and principles that apply to them, including principles governing the conduct of their personal relationships. Of course, individuals have duties to support and sustain just institutions, according to this view, but they have duties of other kinds as well.

More here.