Ariadne's Thread on Justice
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Libertarianism

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OK. I'm probably a fool to do this, but I'll go first. I think the best alternative to Rawls' theory is modern libertarianism.

Libertarians believe that individuals have strong moral rights. Those rights define the boundaries of their individual liberties. Protecting those rights and liberties is the most important function of the state. It may be the ONLY legitimate function of the state. I'm not sure about that.

Rights have been called "side constraints" on what the state or other people can do to the individual. "Side constraints" is a phrase used by one of the best known libertarian philosophers -- Robert Nozick. 

Sometimes the rights of people are called "natural" rights in order to emphasize that they are not created by the state. People have natural rights with or without the state. Although we may give up some of our natural rights in order to have government, we give up only the minimum required to do so. All other natural rights are retained by individuals. Our own constitution comes close to recognizing this fact when it says that all powers not specifically given to the federal government are retained by the states or by the people themselves. The modern welfare state completely ignores these limitations on the power of government.

When we talk about respecting individual rights, we are saying that there is a sphere of inviolability around people -- a sphere within which they can do as they wish and with which others cannot rightfully interfere. There are things we cannot justifiably do to people because it means invading that sphere.

OK, what about justice? On the libertarian view, justice is straightforward. Justice is the defense of individual rights. A just society is one in which individual rights are successfully defended.

There. That's a load off my chest. Take your best shot!


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