The Aim of a Theory of Justice

Martijn Boot*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Amartya Sen argues that for the advancement of justice identification of 'perfect' justice is neither necessary nor sufficient. He replaces 'perfect' justice with comparative justice. Comparative justice limits itself to comparing social states with respect to degrees of justice. Sen's central thesis is that identifying 'perfect' justice and comparing imperfect social states are 'analytically disjoined'. This essay refutes Sen's thesis by demonstrating that to be able to make adequate comparisons we need to identify and integrate criteria of comparison. This is precisely the aim of a theory of justice (such as John Rawls's theory): identifying, integrating and ordering relevant principles of justice. The same integrated criteria that determine 'perfect' justice are needed to be able to adequately compare imperfect social states. Sen's alternative approach, which is based on social choice theory, is incapable of avoiding contrary, indeterminate or incoherent directives where plural principles of justice conflict.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7-21
    Number of pages15
    JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2012 Feb


    • Amartya Sen
    • Comparative justice
    • Ideal theory
    • Impossibility theorem
    • Incomplete ordering
    • John Rawls
    • Social choice theory
    • Theory of justice

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Philosophy
    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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