Comparative vs. Transcendental Approaches to Justice: A Misleading Dichotomy in Sen’s The Idea of Justice

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Abstract

In this paper I try to put under scrutiny the distinction offered by A. Sen between transcendental and comparative theories of justice, and its application to Rawls’ doctrine. After presenting Sen’s arguments, I will put forward three theses. First, Sen offers a limited portrait of Rawls’ doctrine. This limitation is the result of a rhetorical strategy that depicts Rawlsian doctrine as more “transcendental” than it really is. Although Sen presents a large number of quotations in order to validate his interpretation, it is possible to offer a different, less transcendental, interpretation of Rawls’ doctrine. Secondly, the dichotomy between transcendental and comparative approaches to questions of justice is partly misleading, insofar as each plausible moral doctrine has at the same time both transcendental and comparative elements. Transcendental elements are necessary in order to avoid the confusion between the general acceptance of a norm, a value or a principle and its justification. Comparative elements depict the conditions of application of the doctrine to the real world, take into account the possibility of moral dilemmas, evaluative disagreements and limited resources and propose possible provisos and caveats in order to allow the doctrine avoid the risk of being self-defeating. Thirdly, although the concept of a transcendental approach is quite useful, I believe that in elaborating this dichotomy Sen overlooks 1) the merits of the third way between comparative and transcendental doctrines, what he calls “conglomerate theory”, 2) the possibility that his doctrine (the well known “capability approach”) might be considered an example of such a theory. A conglomerate theory does not aim at producing complete moral orderings; it is an instance of a comparative approach with transcendental elements, or what I will call “a form of weak transcendentalism”.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)555-577
Numero di pagine23
RivistaRatio Juris
Volume25
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2012

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doctrine
justice
Sen, A.
Third Way
interpretation
quotation
acceptance
resources
Values

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law

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title = "Comparative vs. Transcendental Approaches to Justice: A Misleading Dichotomy in Sen’s The Idea of Justice",
abstract = "In this paper I try to put under scrutiny the distinction offered by A. Sen between transcendental and comparative theories of justice, and its application to Rawls’ doctrine. After presenting Sen’s arguments, I will put forward three theses. First, Sen offers a limited portrait of Rawls’ doctrine. This limitation is the result of a rhetorical strategy that depicts Rawlsian doctrine as more “transcendental” than it really is. Although Sen presents a large number of quotations in order to validate his interpretation, it is possible to offer a different, less transcendental, interpretation of Rawls’ doctrine. Secondly, the dichotomy between transcendental and comparative approaches to questions of justice is partly misleading, insofar as each plausible moral doctrine has at the same time both transcendental and comparative elements. Transcendental elements are necessary in order to avoid the confusion between the general acceptance of a norm, a value or a principle and its justification. Comparative elements depict the conditions of application of the doctrine to the real world, take into account the possibility of moral dilemmas, evaluative disagreements and limited resources and propose possible provisos and caveats in order to allow the doctrine avoid the risk of being self-defeating. Thirdly, although the concept of a transcendental approach is quite useful, I believe that in elaborating this dichotomy Sen overlooks 1) the merits of the third way between comparative and transcendental doctrines, what he calls “conglomerate theory”, 2) the possibility that his doctrine (the well known “capability approach”) might be considered an example of such a theory. A conglomerate theory does not aim at producing complete moral orderings; it is an instance of a comparative approach with transcendental elements, or what I will call “a form of weak transcendentalism”.",
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AB - In this paper I try to put under scrutiny the distinction offered by A. Sen between transcendental and comparative theories of justice, and its application to Rawls’ doctrine. After presenting Sen’s arguments, I will put forward three theses. First, Sen offers a limited portrait of Rawls’ doctrine. This limitation is the result of a rhetorical strategy that depicts Rawlsian doctrine as more “transcendental” than it really is. Although Sen presents a large number of quotations in order to validate his interpretation, it is possible to offer a different, less transcendental, interpretation of Rawls’ doctrine. Secondly, the dichotomy between transcendental and comparative approaches to questions of justice is partly misleading, insofar as each plausible moral doctrine has at the same time both transcendental and comparative elements. Transcendental elements are necessary in order to avoid the confusion between the general acceptance of a norm, a value or a principle and its justification. Comparative elements depict the conditions of application of the doctrine to the real world, take into account the possibility of moral dilemmas, evaluative disagreements and limited resources and propose possible provisos and caveats in order to allow the doctrine avoid the risk of being self-defeating. Thirdly, although the concept of a transcendental approach is quite useful, I believe that in elaborating this dichotomy Sen overlooks 1) the merits of the third way between comparative and transcendental doctrines, what he calls “conglomerate theory”, 2) the possibility that his doctrine (the well known “capability approach”) might be considered an example of such a theory. A conglomerate theory does not aim at producing complete moral orderings; it is an instance of a comparative approach with transcendental elements, or what I will call “a form of weak transcendentalism”.

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