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Justice as Fairness Modified: A Contractarian Coherentist Response to MacIntyre

  • Author(s): Gillis, Robert Charles
  • Advisor(s): Anagnostopoulos, Georgios
  • et al.

Alasdair MacIntyre regards the cultivation of virtues as the telos for human beings. The final end, the pursuit of which incorporates all the others, is the quest for the good. His account of human well-being and justice is thus perfectionistic: ethical life is the development of excellences of character in non-coerced deliberation about the good. With the Enlightenment-era demise of teleological thinking, however, he believes that we moderns disagree not only about issues in applied ethics, but also about normative ethics, that is, substantive accounts of value. We represent our judgments and their normative justifications as being true or false, despite not knowing how to settle conflicts. Meanwhile, we use moral language to manipulate others although its ostensive purpose is stating propositions with truth-values. In the political realm, liberalism is the attempt to adjudicate among heterogeneous ends, but has produced a tradition of dispute among incommensurable beliefs about justice. He thinks that a life of virtue is still possible—within communities whose practices have common goods in which one both helps others and is in turn helped by them to develop excellences of character.

I refute his claim that moral statements are now used emotivistically by showing that this claim depends on an implausible account of the relationship between the subjective meaning and the intersubjective use of moral language. Moreover, that moral disputes have become interminable assumes they result from incommensurable first principles, which assumes foundationalism, which is implausible. I reject the claim that moral concepts and precepts are the pieces of a once-coherent teleological order and argue for moral pluralism. Moral pluralism is something to which MacIntyre is himself committed. The quest for the ordering of the constitutive goods of one’s life is aporetic. Even among those virtuously pursuing the goods internal to practices, there remains stable, reasonable disagreement about the good. MacIntyre is ultimately a kind of liberal in spite of himself.

I develop a modified Rawlsian position, arguing that the dispute between Rawls and Nozick is not rationally interminable, because justice as fairness exhibits a greater degree of reflective equilibrium with moral and non-moral beliefs.

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