Critical Justification

Rex Martin

in A System of Rights

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780198292937
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599811 | DOI:
 Critical Justification

Show Summary Details


The internal coherence of any system of political institutions and ideas is only one of the considerations we must have in mind in an account of ultimate justification; there is also the idea of a critical moral justification for it. Thus, the book turns, last of all, to the subject of the possibility and character of such vindication for a system of rights.

Two principal theories are canvassed in this regard: the indirect utilitarianism of J. S. Mill and more recent utilitarian thinkers and the contractarian moral justification elaborated by John Rawls in his Theory of Justice (and for several years thereafter). The utilitarian theory is set aside first; it is fundamentally unable to provide a principled justification for the priority of basic rights over policies justified by considerations of aggregate benefit or general well being. And Rawls's contractarianism is set aside as failing in one of its own self‐appointed tasks: it cannot provide an objective basis for assessing competing political or moral theories

These two failures to provide, from among leading contemporary moral theories, a critical moral grounding for a democratic system of rights do not serve to establish the creditability of philosophical anarchism; but it is clear, nonetheless, that more than was initially thought to be involved will be required in order to do the job effectively.

The chapter and the book, conclude with a brief survey of the tasks of political theory and of what has been accomplished to date. The idea of a system of rights is one of the great ideas of political philosophy and, unlike many of these ideas, it is still a living one; so, some suggestions are made about the way forward.

Keywords: contractarianism; democracy; John Stuart Mill; moral justification; moral theory; philosophical anarchism; political theory; John Rawls; system of rights; utilitarianism

Chapter.  8371 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.