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The Elements of Justice Hardcover – January 9, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0521831642 ISBN-10: 0521831644
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Editorial Reviews


"...(W)hat makes Elements of Justice so rich and compelling is that Schmidtz does not follow the dominant pattern of philosophical argumentation..."
Adam Kadlac, The Hedgehog Review

Book Description

What is justice? Questions of justice are questions about what people are due, but what that means in practice depends on context. Depending on context, the formal question of what people are due is answered by principles of desert, reciprocity, equality, or need.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521831644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521831642
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,940,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Many theories of justice are monistic: they suggest that justice boils down to rules x, y, and z, where x, y, and z do not ever conflict, offer clear answers to each moral dilemma when used properly, and do not depend on context. In "Elements of Justice" Schmidtz lays out what he calls a "contextual functionalist" view of the elements of justice - a pluralistic conception that suggests "justice' is made up of four elements that cannot be reduced to any formula. Desert, reciprocity, equality, and need are each part of justice, but depending on the situation, one (or two) of these four may be more important than others. For instance:

What do we owe to children? What they need.
What do we owe to spouses and friends? Reciprocation.
What do we owe to citizens? Equality under the law.
What do we owe to employees? What they deserve.

The book is in six sections. The first goes over why Schmidtz sees this as essentially a pluralistic view of justice that is more akin to a map than a theory (a map is an imperfect guide; a theory is a detailed argument). Section two goes over the concept of desert and what is entailed. Schmidtz points out that desert cannot only be a reward but also in anticipation of what one will do. John can deserve his promotion by doing a good job, but Jane might deserve to be hired based on what we think she will do when she gets the job. The third section is devoted to the idea of reciprocity and how justice often (but not always) demands that we give in proportion to what we receive, paying back or paying forward. The fourth section goes over the idea of equality, noting in particular that attempts at equality of x will always result in inequalities somewhere else.

Lastly, we get into the idea of need.
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12 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on May 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This week the state in which I live, Nevada, executed someone. Was he guilty? Probably, he was found guilty in a trial and then confessed. After some twelve yers on death row he quit appealing and asked to be executed. The comment of the children of the lady he killed were reported by the news as being thankful that justice had been served and closure brought to the situation. Today in the paper there are several articles wanting other people on death row to be executed.

Is this justice? Is it justice if the people executed are largely poor, minority and male? Or do the poor, minority males commit more crimes?

These and many other points about justice do not have easy answers. This little book attempts to present a theory of justice that covers these and many other points. In defining justice he discusses deserving, reciprocity, equality, and the philosophy of what has defined justice down through the years.

Excellently written, this is a book that makes you think.
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