Justice

Justice: Rights and Wrongs

Nicholas Wolterstorff
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sgfp
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    Justice
    Book Description:

    Wide-ranging and ambitious,Justicecombines moral philosophy and Christian ethics to develop an important theory of rights and of justice as grounded in rights. Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses what it is to have a right, and he locates rights in the respect due the worth of the rights-holder. After contending that socially-conferred rights require the existence of natural rights, he argues that no secular account of natural human rights is successful; he offers instead a theistic account.

    Wolterstorff prefaces his systematic account of justice as grounded in rights with an exploration of the common claim that rights-talk is inherently individualistic and possessive. He demonstrates that the idea of natural rights originated neither in the Enlightenment nor in the individualistic philosophy of the late Middle Ages, but was already employed by the canon lawyers of the twelfth century. He traces our intuitions about rights and justice back even further, to Hebrew and Christian scriptures. After extensively discussing justice in the Old Testament and the New, he goes on to show why ancient Greek and Roman philosophy could not serve as a framework for a theory of rights.

    Connecting rights and wrongs to God's relationship with humankind,Justicenot only offers a rich and compelling philosophical account of justice, but also makes an important contribution to overcoming the present-day divide between religious discourse and human rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2871-5
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)

    Justice and rights are the most contested part of our moral vocabulary, contested not only, or even mainly, by philosophers, but within society generally. To publish a discourse on justice as rights is to plunge into a hornet’s nest of controversy.

    Few people oppose talk about responsibility and obligation—therapists who believe that guilt feelings are a bad thing, philosophers who see no acceptable way of accounting for obligation, that is about it. Lots of people pay little attention to their own obligations; few declare themselves opposed to talk about obligations. So too with virtue and love. Though many care...

  5. Part I The Archeology of Rights
    • Chapter One TWO CONCEPTIONS OF JUSTICE
      (pp. 21-43)

      I mentioned in the Introduction that there is a polemic making the rounds nowadays against the way of thinking about justice that I will be working with in the pages that follow. I think of justice as grounded ultimately on inherent rights. The polemic I have in mind is conducted by those who think about justice in terms of right order. They conduct their polemic almost entirely by offering a narrative concerning the supposedly disreputable origins of the conception of justice as inherent rights. My project in Part I of the book is to contest that narrative and offer a...

    • Chapter Two A CONTEST OF NARRATIVES
      (pp. 44-64)

      The polemic by those who favor the right order conception of justice over the inherent rights conception gets most of its power from the story they tell about the origins of the latter conception. Having delineated these two conceptions of justice in the preceding chapter, we are ready now to tackle the narrative.

      Actually, it is not just one narrative that the partisans of justice as right order tell but a couple of narratives, with slight variations on each of those. The general contour of all the narratives is the same, however. It is always a story of decline, from...

    • Chapter Three JUSTICE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT/HEBREW BIBLE
      (pp. 65-95)

      In chapter 1 we identified two fundamentally different ways of thinking about justice. I called themjustice as right orderversusjustice as inherent rights. The story commonly told about the origins of these two ways of thinking is that the former goes back into antiquity—pagan, Christian, or both—whereas the latter derives from the nominalism of the fourteenth century or the individualism of the seventeenth.

      In chapter 2 we saw that the concept of natural rights was not an innovation of the fourteenth or seventeenth century; the concept goes back at least to the canon lawyers of the...

    • Chapter Four ON DE-JUSTICIZING THE NEW TESTAMENT
      (pp. 96-108)

      In my presentation thus far of what the Christian Scriptures say about justice, I have spoken exclusively of the Old Testament. It is time to turn to the New.

      The New Testament is all about justice. Or to express myself a bit more cautiously and precisely: justice, along with its negative, injustice, is one of the main themes in the New Testament—realjustice andrealinjustice, not some spiritualized counterpart thereof. In this world of ours, persons are wronged, justice is breached. That is the ever-present context of the New Testament writings. Sometimes the writers bring this context to...

    • Chapter Five JUSTICE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT GOSPELS
      (pp. 109-132)

      We are in the middle of our archeology of the recognition of rights, more particularly, the recognition of inherent natural rights. My thesis is that that recognition goes back to the Old and New Testaments.

      The claim by Nygren and others, that justice is supplanted by love in the New Testament, is a frontal challenge to this thesis. If love supplants justice in the New Testament, then of course it supplants recognition of inherent natural rights, and then the story about the recognition of inherent rights will have to be told very differently from how I tell it. The alternative...

  6. Part II Fusion of Narrative with Theory:: The Goods to Which We Have Rights
    • Chapter Six LOCATING THAT TO WHICH WE HAVE RIGHTS
      (pp. 135-148)

      We are ready to begin developing our theory of rights. A fundamental thesis of my discussion will be that that to which one has a right is always a good of some sort, with the exception of those cases of conferred rights in which the one who conferred the right mistakenly thought it was to a good, or correctly thought it was not to a good but conferred it in order to appease those who believed it was.¹ Not every good is of the right sort, however, for someone to have a right to it. So the first step in...

    • Chapter Seven WHY EUDAIMONISM CANNOT SERVE AS FRAMEWORK FOR A THEORY OF RIGHTS
      (pp. 149-179)

      There are important contemporary eudaimonists; Alasdair MacIntyre comes immediately to mind. But all contemporary eudaimonists, MacIntyre included, acknowledge the ancient eudaimonists as the source of their thought; all of them employ generous citations from the ancients. So I propose going to the source.

      A word about terminology before we set out on our exploration of the employment by ancient eudaimonism of the conception of the good life as the life that is well lived. The ancient philosophers who wrote in Greek used the term “eudaimonia” for the well-lived life. The term is customarily translated in our texts as “happiness.” Unfortunately,...

    • Chapter Eight AUGUSTINE’S BREAK WITH EUDAIMONISM
      (pp. 180-206)

      Had the spell of ancient eudaimonism not been broken, an adequate theory of rights would have been impossible. We can witness in Augustine the struggle to break free of that spell. It was a struggle provoked by his reading of Christian Scripture; the incursion of Christianity into late antiquity created space for a theory of rights. I do not claim that Augustine was the only one in late antiquity to break with eudaimonism in such a way as to create that space. But it will be singularly instructive to see just how and why he made the break.

      In a.d.q...

    • Chapter Nine THE INCURSION OF THE MORAL VISION OF SCRIPTURE INTO LATE ANTIQUITY
      (pp. 207-226)

      Let us take stock of where we are. Our project in this part of our discussion, part II, is to locate the goods to which we have rights. We concluded in chapter 6 that these are all goods in one’s life or history, states or events that contribute to making one’s life and history agoodlife and history. We then observed that in the philosophical literature there are different conceptions of the good life. That led us to ask which of these conceptions, if any, comprises all those goods to which we have rights.

      We concluded rather quickly that...

    • Chapter Ten CHARACTERIZING LIFE- AND HISTORY-GOODS
      (pp. 227-238)

      My argument in this part has gone as follows. First, I argued that that to which one has a right is a good, specifically, a good in one’s life or history—some state or event that contributes positively to one’s life or history having the worth it does have. I then argued that there are life- and history-goods that are not included among the goods constitutive of theexperientially satisfyinglife and that some of these are goods to which we have rights. I went on to argue that there are also life- and history-goods that are not included among...

  7. Part III Theory:: Having a Right to a Good
    • Chapter Eleven ACCOUNTING FOR RIGHTS
      (pp. 241-263)

      We now leave narrative behind and attend exclusively to theory. The question before us is how to understand rights, specifically,claim-rights. What is it to have a right to something? What differentiates those actual and potential life-goods to which one has a right from those to which one does not? And not only differentiates: whataccounts forthe fact that one has a right to these life-goods and not to those? (From now on I will regularly use “life-goods” as short for “life-and history-goods.”)

      My aim is to give an account of those rights that make upprimaryjustice. Every...

    • Chapter Twelve RIGHTS NOT GROUNDED IN DUTIES
      (pp. 264-284)

      We are trying to understand rights. What is it about certain of one’s lifeand history-goods that accounts for the fact that one has a right to those goods, whereas to others, one does not? In the preceding chapter we considered two suggestions to the effect that we have the rights we have on account of our having the duties we have.

      One of these suggestions, theRamsey thesis, as I called it, holds that the life-goods to which one has a right are those one must enjoy in order to fulfill one’s duties. (The Ramsey thesis ignores those history-goods that...

    • Chapter Thirteen RIGHTS GROUNDED IN RESPECT FOR WORTH
      (pp. 285-310)

      Recall one of the conclusions reached in chapter 11: the fundamental structure of claim-rights is that the life- or history-goods to which one has a right are actions or restraints from action on the part of persons or social entities.

      We do not always have the fundamental structure in mind when we speak of rights. Some of the examples I gave along the way, of life- or history-goods to which one has a right, were not actions or restraints from action on the part of others; many of the examples given by other writers are also not of this sort....

    • Chapter Fourteen THE NATURE AND GROUNDING OF NATURAL HUMAN RIGHTS
      (pp. 311-322)

      My discussion to this point has been of rights in general. As context for an analysis of rights of special sorts, I have tried to give a general account of rights. Now I turn to that species of rights that has attracted most attention on the contemporary scene, natural human rights. In this chapter I explain what I take natural human rights be and what we are trying to do when we try to discover how they are grounded. In the following two chapters I critique various grounding proposals and offer my own.

      The twentieth century was a horror. “In...

    • Chapter Fifteen IS A SECULAR GROUNDING OF HUMAN RIGHTS POSSIBLE?
      (pp. 323-341)

      Jonathan Glover opens his “moral history of the twentieth century” with a presentation of what he calls “Nietzsche’s Challenge.” The challenge occurs often in Nietzsche’s writings. Glover quotes a passage fromThe Genealogy of Moralsin which Nietzsche is reflecting on what we must expect when humankind no longer believes in God: “As the will to truth thus gains self-consciousness—there can be no doubt of that—morality will graduallyperishnow: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe—the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also the most hopeful...

    • Chapter Sixteen A THEISTIC GROUNDING OF HUMAN RIGHTS
      (pp. 342-361)

      The most common suggestion for a theistic grounding of human rights is that such rights are grounded in our being in the image of God. The biblical text appears to lend support to this idea. Recall from our discussion in chapter 3 the passage in Genesis that reads:

      Whoever sheds the blood of a man,

      by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;

      for in his own image

      God made humankind. (9:6)

      All by itself, the suggestion that human rights are grounded in the image of God is void for vagueness, because there is probably no topic in Christian...

    • Chapter Seventeen APPLICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
      (pp. 362-384)

      Five topics occupy our attention in this penultimate chapter. In developing my account of rights, I have focused exclusively on persons and human beings. Rather often, however, I have reminded the reader that social entities such as groups and organizations also have rights. It is time to consider how our account applies to the rights of such entities.¹ Second, we must consider the implications of our theory for the question of whether or not additional sorts of entities have rights. Third, in the course of my discussion I have remarked that not only should one not treat persons and human...

  8. Epilogue CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS
    (pp. 385-394)

    A moral subculture of rights has emerged in the West and elsewhere over the past two millennia. I call it asub-culture because rights constitute only a part of our moral culture as a whole; most of us do not think about morality solely in terms of rights, and most of us do not act as we do only because justice requires it.

    Not everybody in the modern world accepts and employs our subculture of rights. Classical utilitarians do not; one’s choice of what to do is to be guided solely by estimates of life-goods to be achieved. Those Christians...

  9. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 395-398)
  10. INDEX OF SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES
    (pp. 399-400)