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Justice: Rights and Wrongs Paperback – May 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"[T]his book is a formidable achievement, intellectually rigorous yet emotionally engaged, and combining meticulous conceptual analysis with a rich historical grasp of the roots of our moral culture. Its arguments offer a serious challenge to the complacency of contemporary secularism, implying as they do that our culture of rights could only have come into existence supported by a metaphysical framework that exhibits each human being, whatever their flaws and defects, as loved redemptively by God."--John Cottingham, Times Literary Supplement

"Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a magisterial book. In it . . . Wolterstorff has gotten justice right. This, in case the thrust of my terse comment wasn't plain enough, is a very high praise."--Miroslav Volf, Books & Culture

"For all of us who aspire to, or even just admire, the perhaps not so outrageous vocation of Christian scholarship, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice is an inspiration."--Richard W. Garnett, First Things

"Wolterstorff draws on a wide range of philosophical/theological/ethical material. He does a magnificent job of developing a sustained argument for the thesis that the only solid foundation for grounding human rights is biblical theism."--F. G. Kirkpatrick, Choice

"In Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Nicholas Wolterstorff reaches far back into biblical tradition and Greek philosophy to trace a distinctive vision of justice based on the worth that God confers on each person. For Wolterstorff, respect for human worth entails respect for human rights; this marks an important turn away from the tendency in recent theology to dismiss talk about rights as an Enlightenment innovation that is alien to Christian ethics."--Robin Lovin, Christian Century

"Justice is a seminal contribution to Christian ethics and useful riposte to those modern Gibbons to sneer at the idea that Christians have anything useful to say about the things that matter."--Nick Spencer, Third Way Magazine

"Justice: Rights and Wrongs is magisterial in scope, incisive and inventive in its argument. Wolterstorff stakes out a novel position in contemporary debates with an undeniable analytical rigor. . . . Wolterstorff's philosophical arguments . . . stand on their own two feet and genuinely break new ground in the field. Indeed, this text merits and should attract a very wide readership."--Stephen Lake, Philosophy in Review

"Wolterstorff has made . . . a tremendous contribution . . . to our philosophical acuity and theological discernment on these matters. . . . [R]ender him his due for an erudite and sophisticated account of why rights are not wrong."--John D. Carlson, Journal of Politics and Religion

From the Back Cover

"Wolterstorff's Justice is the most impressive book on justice since Rawls' A Theory of Justice. In a fresh and vigorous manner, Wolterstorff defends a conception of justice as inherent rights and argues for its superiority to a conception of justice as right order. The sweep of the book is breathtaking, ranging from a detailed discussion of justice in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to medieval, early modern, and contemporary theories of justice. Wolterstorff's most provocative thesis is that all existing secular as well as most religious attempts to ground a theory of justice fail. Even those who are skeptical about his theistic grounding of justice will be challenged by the clarity, rigor, and thoroughness of his arguments."--Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research

"The work of a first-rate philosopher at the top of his game, this book sets forth a distinctive and challenging theory of justice formulated in explicitly scriptural and Christian terms, yet in conversation with the leading alternatives in the Anglophone world. Not only does this book reflect the clarity and acuity of thought that characterize Wolterstorff's work, it also reflects the humane sensibilities of someone who has thought and felt deeply about these matters for a long time."--Jean Porter, University of Notre Dame


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691146306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691146300
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Thaddeus J. Kozinski on March 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"This book is an attempt to speak up for the wronged of the world . . . . My speaking up for the wrong of the world takes the form, in this book, of doing what I can to undermine those frameworks of conviction that prevent us from acknowledging that the other comes before us bearing a claim on us, and of offering an alternative framework, one that opens up to such acknowledgements" (ix).

According to Nicholas Wolterstorff's highly acclaimed and landmark book Justice: Rights and Wrongs (comparisons have been made to John Rawls's Theory of Justice), any political framework not based upon "inherent human rights," that is, "normative social relationships . . . . in the form of the other bearing a legitimate claim on me as to how I treat her" (4) cannot do justice to the wronged of the world--any other framework must be, in a word, unjust. Secondly, this exclusively just political framework can only be grounded in theistic belief, both theoretically and practically, for human beings have the right not to be wronged only because they are all equally loved by God--and God Himself has the right to be obeyed, loved, and not wronged.

If contemporary academics, politicians, and talking heads think and speak of
human rights as attached to autonomous, atomistic individuals in virtue of their willful right to do what they want, this is not the fault of inherent human rights; it is due to ignorance to their true character, purpose, and genealogy, and of a corrupt, egocentric culture that has subjectivized, secularized, and privatized something that is God-given and intrinsically normative and social.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Eberle on October 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wolterstorff's "Justice: Rights and Wrongs" is the most profound reflection on justice, and the moral life in general, that I have ever come across. You can reasonably expect that a diligent and close read will transform your understanding of the most fundamental matters -- the nature of human rights, the (in)adequacy of secular accounts of human worth, the historical origins of our most basic normative conceptions, etc. There is a lot in here, some of it a bit dense, but it more than repays any effort you expend on it.

My suggestion: first read Wolterstorff's earlier book, "Until Justice and Peace Embrace," in which the author articulates a number of more concrete moral and political commitments, then read "Justice: Rights and Wrongs."
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Nathan on May 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A theistic theory of rights or even an argument for theism from the idea of rights is what this book presents... It does an excellent job on both accounts - I thought.

Wolterstorff distinguishes between two understandings of justice one linked to right order the other to inherent subjective rights. He finds that the major issue between the two has been missed, where it was thought to be about the existence of rights per se it is really about different conceptions of rights - are they intrinsic to subjects or are they bestowed on subjects from some norm or god. The first few chapters present arguments from the old and new testaments to show that rights are not a recent enlightenment invention but go back along way and have a theological origin that is based on the worth of the person - what it is that accounts for the worth of a person is taken up latter in the book.

after the history of rights in the bible and surrounding literature he turns to continue developing his theory of rights by showing what sort of things we may have rights to -- the happenings that contribute to a good life... Sometime is spent defining what a happening is and what a good life is - all of which is very interesting and illuminating and challenging but it's presented in a very readable style ....

And then the reasons why secularism can't work as a foundation for rights was convincing - although, admittedly I was already convinced, but now I have some good reasons to back up my convictions anyway.. Plus all the 'rights' talk surrounding different issues seems to make more sense - or nonsense - now..
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Omelianchuk on December 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Justice: Rights and Wrongs by Nicholas Wolterstorff was the best philosophy book I read this last year. In what follows are my notes that summarize the main argument of the book.

Broadly speaking, Wolterstorff gives his theoretical account of justice in light of his career of activism on behalf of the `coloreds' in South Africa and Christians living in Palestine. The goal of his theory is to give us ears to hear the cry of pain, to help us see what justice is through the eyes of those who have suffered injustice.

His is an exposition of primary justice. Primary justice covers that which a person is due. It consists of distributive justice (how goods should be distributed in some social order) and commutative justice (how goods are exchanged via legal contracts). Rectifying justice is the justice that becomes relevant when there are breakdowns in primary justice-it calls for the righting of wrongs, so to speak.

There are two conceptions of primary justice (xii). The first is justice-as-right-order, which grounds justice in an objective matrix of obligations for the right ordering of society (11). The second is justice-as-inherent-rights, which considers a social order to be just insofar as its members enjoy the goods to which they have rights (35). Wolterstorff contends for the latter.

Inherent rights are had on account of the worth of the being who has them (11). But the worth need not be an essential feature of the person who has it. Suppose someone attains moral worth by virtue of performing some supererogatory act of charity. That would be an example of worth that is not essential to the person, because she might not have performed the act.
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