9th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Christensen

James Christensen

Practice-Dependence and the Subject of Justice

Before we can invoke justness as a criterion of assessment we must be able to say which things are amenable to justice-based assessment, or, in other words, which things are capable of being conceived of as just or unjust. In short, we must be able to identify the subject of justice. Few would deny that the organisation of states can be evaluated by reference to principles of justice. And, similarly, few would insist that it makes sense to enquire about the justness of one’s dinner. But between these two extremes is a sizeable grey area which is not well understood. Individual behaviour, nature, and the international states system are each contested subjects of justice. According to the increasingly popular practice-dependent approach to justice, which will be examined in this paper, justice-based assessment is relevant only in the context of social practices. In what follows I elucidate the notion of a practice and consider one argument in favour of identifying social practices as the subject of justice. According to this argument, which has been advanced by Aaron James, social practices should be regarded as the subject of justice because the social coordination they comprise enables them to exercise a type of power which must be justifiable to all affected parties, and such power cannot be regulated by any particular person. I suggest that this argument has wildly counterintuitive implications, and must therefore be rejected.