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Liberalism and Distributive Justice$
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Samuel Freeman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190699260

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190699260.001.0001

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Ideal Theory and the Justice of Institutions

Ideal Theory and the Justice of Institutions

(p.257) 8 Ideal Theory and the Justice of Institutions
Liberalism and Distributive Justice

Samuel Freeman

Oxford University Press

The first part of this chapter addresses Amartya Sen’s argument against Rawls’s reliance on ideal theory and “a perfectly just society.” I argue that Rawls’s ideal theory and principles of justice are not as redundant or irrelevant as Sen contends. The principles of justice that would be agreed to for an ideal society are necessary to determine a just distribution of income and wealth in our own non-ideal society. In the second part of the chapter, I discuss Sen’s rejection of Rawls’s “institutional approach” in favor of an account of “consequence-sensitive” evaluation of “comprehensive outcomes.” I argue that Rawls’s institutional approach, without being consequentialist, is also consequence-sensitive. I discuss some potential problems with a consequentialist interpretation of Sen’s comparative method and suggest that a pluralist interpretation of his account (one that combines deontological with consequentialist principles) is not as different from Rawls’s approach as Sen intends it to be.

Keywords:   ideal theory, non-ideal theory, Sen, basic structure, Rawls, principles of justice, social institutions, consequentialism

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