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Christopher W. Morris on Justice - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 203
Justice/legitimacy/state/Morris: It may (...) be thought that there is too much disagreement about justice to make justice the basis of legitimacy. >State/Morris, >Legitimacy/Morris.
Some have thought that one of the main reasons for states is the absence of agreement about justice or right. And positions like this are popular today both in North America and in Europe.
Sovereign states, on this view, may be needed for social order in large part because people have
incompatible views about justice. The thought is that where there is little agreement about justice and other moral values, these standards cannot be the basis for legitimation. 'Realist' accounts of legitimacy may be understood thus (see, for instance, Morgenthau, 1978(1)). This sort of position may be most plausible if it is seen as derived from some kind of scepticism about morality or 'right reason'. Hobbes can be read as one of the originators of this idea. >State/Hobbes, >Sovereignty/Morris.
If moral disagreement renders justice an inappropriate standard for legitimacy, then the question is what alternative to use. Elsewhere I have considered what I called 'rational justification' (Morris, 1998(2): 114—15, 122—7, 134—6, 160—1). >Justifiation/Morris.
Jutice/society/Morris: There certainly is considerable disagreement about justice,(...). But surely to say that there is no agreement about justice is hyperbolic. Often disagreement about justice concerns the specification of widely accepted principles. For instance, all parties to the contemporary controversies about abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty presuppose that killing generally is wrong. There is considerable disagreement at the margins, but a significant core agreement seems to exist. Even if many norms require determination or specification - for instance, norms prohibiting theft or trespass will always require application to new and puzzling cases - there are some norms of justice which seem to be widely acceptable and applicable prior to the establishment of familiar legislative and judicial institutions. It seems that we might very well be able to evaluate our states by many of the norms of justice. >State/Morris.


1. Morgenthau, Hans J. (1978) Politics among Nations, 5th edn rev. New York: Knopf.
2. Morris, Christopher W. (1998) An Essay on the Modern State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Morris, Christopher W.
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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