Justice: An uncomfortable virtue

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Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Church Thought / 23 November 2021


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A mirror to our complex society

Among the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance), the only one currently under philosophical investigation is justice, thanks mainly to its being proposed by a new contractualism. This is an attempt to present it without using a metaphysical and religious perspective, but identifying evaluation criteria that allow each person to decide as “a free and equal rational being.”[1] It is a proposal for our complex society, where a shared vision of life is lacking.

According to the philosophy of new contractualism, justice can be established by means of a precise type of agreement, a contract, in which individuals who differ considerably in their sensibilities, habits, cultural and religious affiliations can agree on the criteria for the allocation of available resources.

It is an interesting proposal that seeks to be useful in today’s secularized societies, whose characteristics seem destined to become increasingly relevant politically and socially.

John Rawls is one of the most lucid popularizers of philosophical new contractualism. In his main work, A Theory of Justice, engaging with the problem of dialogue between followers of different positions, he coined the term “overlapping consensus” as a possible meeting place between different currents of thought.[2] For the American philosopher, consensus should be limited to social justice. In other words, it should establish the fair distribution of goods essential for a dignified life, such as the recognition of the rights to assistance, education, freedom of expression, and political, cultural or religious belief. The fact of individuals having different positions does not prevent them from finding agreement, as long as they reach shared conclusions, what Rawls calls “considered judgments in reflective equilibrium.”[3] To this end, it is necessary for the different parties to prescind from their own convictions, which can only find full expression in the private sphere.

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