Rescuing Justice And Equality Analysis

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In this section I turn to a critical evaluation of Williams’ objection, beginning with Cohen’s own rebuttal presented in chapter 8 of Rescuing Justice and Equality.

Cohen reconstructs Williams’ argument like so:

P1: Justice is a set of demands
P2: Demands of justice are to be discharged (only) collectively
C1: An individual is not obliged by a (punitive) demand of justice unless others in general are disposed to observe that demand. (By 1 and 2.)
P3: You are not obliged to discharge a demand of justice unless you can know that you are obliged to do so.
C2: No one can be obliged by a demand of justice unless it can be known, unless one could be assured, that others are observing it. (By C1 and P3).
C3: Nothing is a demand of justice unless
…show more content…
Cohen’s rebuttal takes the form of denying that Williams’ publicity requirements, specifically (ii) and (iii), are a demand of justice and therefore cannot be drawn on to discredit his egalitarian ethos.

Williams assesses the premises and conclusions of the above reconstruction, explaining where the argument breaks-down. Referring to racial discrimination, Cohen points out that C1 must be false: even if I do not expect others not to discriminate with respect to race, it does not follow that it is not a demand on me. In other words, justice demands non-discriminatory behaviour per se, no matter if others are adhering to it. Cohen is appealing to our intuition here; that this is such an obvious and unequivocal demand of justice is sufficient to reject C1. It follows from this that P1 and/or P2 are false. The obvious target being P2, since, as the racism example highlights, a just act need not be ‘collectively’ discharged to count as such. By extension, the racism example gives us good grounds to reject C2, since “justice does not only bind under assurance”. Further, the problem with the inference from C2 to C3 is that “justice can require something even when no one is obliged to ensure the fulfilment of that requirement”, such as where “insolvable coordination problems

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