Elements of a Critical Theory of Justice

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In Forst's view, the overemphasis on distribution of goods has led not only to a narrow notion of social justice, but also to a notion which does not get to the heart of the matter. For while distributive justice indeed involves the allocation of goods, such a view neglects the fundamental question of how these goods came 'into the world' in the first place and how this production should be justly organized. Justice is not just a matter of which goods are legitimately distributed and for what reasons.

Since goods are part of a context of cooperation, their very distribution requires justification p.

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To get to the roots of social injustice, Forst argues, the first question of justice must be the question of power. Justice must aim at intersubjective relations and structures rather than the provisions of goods, i. Subjects are not recipients of justice; rather, justice is an achievement of the subjects themselves. It requires that participants in a context of cooperation be respected as equal in dignity, such that they are equal participants in the social and political order of justification, in which the conditions of the production and distribution are determined by themselves through reasons that cannot be reciprocally or generally rejected p.

While Forst's account of justice is 'monistic' in nature, established by the right to justification, its proceduralist structure allows it to open up to a pluralism of specific aspects of justice e. Hence, rather than contributing a particular principle of distribution, such as Rawls's difference principle, it constitutes a higher-order principle for justifying potential distributions under different contextual conditions. From a combination of these monist and contextualist features, Forst shows the limitations of contractualism in addressing transnational justice chapter 10 and draws out the implications of his own account of justice for the transnational and global context chapters 11 and Let me conclude by bringing up two interrelated questions that Forst in my view should address in more detail to strengthen his critical-theoretical project even further, one pertaining to the specification of the right to justification, another pertaining to the question of democracy and democratic legitimacy.


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Since all core normative concepts defended by Forst are grounded in the one and only principle of justification, it is all the more important to look at the specification of this principle. In contexts of moral justification, as we have seen, it says that all those 'relevantly affected' should have a right to justification. I take it that this is also what is alluded to when Forst speaks about all those 'affected' or 'affected in morally relevant ways'.

However, while this is the most frequent specification of the moral right to justification, there are other suggestions that are not fully equivalent. In some places, Forst specifies this right in terms of all those 'possibly affected' and all those 'concretely affected'. Moreover, he speaks about the right not to be 'subjected to' laws, structures, or institutions without justification.

The latter is used not only with reference to moral contexts and strict moral-political justification but also to general political justification. In the latter justificatory context also 'affected in politically relevant ways' is used as a criterion.


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Now, even if Forst claims that disputes over 'relevantly affected' could only be addressed by way of a process of reciprocal and general justification chapter 1 , this does not properly address the fact that a person can be subjected to a law without being affected in a morally relevant way just as much as she can be relevantly affected without being subjected. Neither does it address the question of by what criterion we should decide when those who have a right to justification are those possibly affected or those concretely affected.

Global justice and the renewal of critical theory | Eurozine

Further, while an 'affectedness' criterion looks promising for strict moral-political justification, there seem to be several advantages with a 'subjectedness' criterion concerning questions of general political justification, since in a democratic community those subjected to laws are subjects citizens with a specific legal status, such that either you are a legal subject or you are not. Thus, the criterion is, so to speak, binary coded. By contrast, subjects can be more or less relevantly affected.

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The difference is crucial for a theory of democracy, since an affectedness criterion allows for proportional influence, which also seems sensible since it is affectedness that motivates a right to have a say in the decision-making in the first place. Need to activate? Institutional Access does not have access to this content. Open Athens.

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Forst elaborates the foundation of morality , not the foundation of ethics. This way of contrasting morality and ethics does not reify them as distinct social spheres; rather, we must see how far we can get in universally and indubitably establishing unconditional demands on human action. To support the foundational right to justification, Forst appeals to a second-order principle of justification , which requires that all actions affecting others in morally relevant ways, all claims of justice against others, and all laws and norms be justifiable in reciprocal and general ways.

Echoing Kant, the ideal of reciprocity at work here insists that one must not arrogate to oneself a specific moral status one denies to others. Forst interprets generality via the qualified veto, which is a veto that itself satisfies the principle of justification. Forst supports the right of justification by showing how it can itself satisfy the demands of the principle of justification.

Our resulting everyday familiarity with expecting and giving reasons means that any justification of the right to justification is unlikely to fail in generality or reciprocity. Because social forms always affect people in morally relevant ways, the principle of justification demands that all social forms be justified. Because justifying social forms can happen only through actual dialogue, we must construct procedures that allow for reciprocal and general justification.

Hence, we must construct democracy, in which the people rule. Since the principle of justification requires that all social forms be reciprocally and generally justified, and since Forst treats this second-order principle and the first-order right to justification as the foundational elements of all of morality, including justice, the close of part one leaves us expecting that he will use these requirements of justification to generate critical conclusions about various social forms. That is precisely what the chapters of part two do. It ought to be read by all those with an interest in moral or political philosophy or in global justice.