Rawls, self-respect, and assurance: How past injustice changes what publicly counts as justice

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 15 (1):42-66 (2016)
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This article adapts John Rawls’s writings, arguing that past injustice can change what we ought to publicly affirm as the standard of justice today. My approach differs from forward-looking approaches based on alleviating prospective disadvantage and backward-looking historical entitlement approaches. In different contexts, Rawls’s own concern for the ‘social bases of self-respect’ and equal citizenship may require public endorsement of different principles or specifications of the standard of justice. Rawls’s difference principle focuses on the least advantaged socioeconomic group. I argue that a historicized difference principle considers the relative standing of racial, gender, and other historically stigmatized groups; provides their members assurance by weakening incentives to manipulate justice to another group’s advantage; and may result in policies resembling reparations, though justified by forward-looking considerations of self-respect and public assurance. I then examine how disrespectful justifications were historically used to forcibly include indigenous peoples as citizens. While Rawls thinks providing citizens one package of basic liberties signals respect, indigenous self-government could better support self-respect. I invoke Rawlsian international justice, which calls for mutual respect between peoples. Indigenous peoples’ status should reflect their past and persisting peoplehood, providing assurance by weakening incentives to unjustly transform international into domestic contexts.

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Timothy Waligore
Pace University


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