Principles of Social Justice

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9780674706286: Principles of Social Justice

Social justice has been the animating ideal of democratic governments throughout the twentieth century. Even those who oppose it recognize its potency. Yet the meaning of social justice remains obscure, and existing theories put forward by political philosophers to explain it have failed to capture the way people in general think about issues of social justice. This book develops a new theory. David Miller argues that principles of justice must be understood contextually, with each principle finding its natural home in a different form of human association. Because modern societies are complex, the theory of justice must be complex, too. The three primary components in Miller's scheme are the principles of desert, need, and equality.

The book uses empirical research to demonstrate the central role played by these principles in popular conceptions of justice. It then offers a close analysis of each concept, defending principles of desert and need against a range of critical attacks, and exploring instances when justice requires equal distribution and when it does not. Finally, it argues that social justice understood in this way remains a viable political ideal even in a world characterized by economic globalization and political multiculturalism. Accessibly written, and drawing upon the resources of both political philosophy and the social sciences, this book will appeal to readers with interest in public policy as well as to students of politics, philosophy, and sociology.

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From the Back Cover:

The theory ofjustice set out in this book has a different character from most theories developed in recent political philosophy. Besides being more sensitive to popular opinion, it also pays closer attention to the social contexts in which principles of justice are applied. This focus gives the theory a less abstract character. It also, I believe, increases its political relevance. I have felt acutely aware, while writing the book, of the huge gap that exists between the conceptions of social justice defended by political philosophers, particularly those we might describe as egalitarian liberals, and the kind of policy changes it is feasible to propose for the liberal societies of today. Of course social justice has always been, and must always be, a critical idea, one that challenges us to reform our institutions and practices in the name of greater fairness. But it should not be simply utopian.

About the Author:

David Miller is Official Fellow in Social and Political Theory, Nuffield College, Oxford.

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Miller, David
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