Justice at the Margins: The Social Contract and the Challenge of Marginal Cases

Southern Journal of Philosophy 55 (1):51-67 (2017)
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Attempts to justify the special moral status of human beings over other animals face a well-known objection: the challenge of marginal cases. If we attempt to ground this special status in the unique rationality of humans, then it becomes difficult to see why nonrational humans should be treated any differently than other, nonhuman animals. We respond to this challenge by turning to the social contract tradition. In particular, we identify an important role for the concept of recognition in attempts to secure rights through a social contract. Recognition, which involves identifying with or seeing ourselves as others, is the key to establishing the scope of justice, and we argue that this scope extends to all humans—even the so-called marginal cases—but not to other animals. If this is correct, then we have a principled reason for why all humans have certain rights that other animals lack.
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