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Justice for Utilitarians 

Chris Woodard (Nottingham) 


Utilitarianism is often thought either to have no theory of justice, or to have a very implausible theory of it. These critics have a point: if the best utilitarian theory of justice is that a set of institutions is just if and only if it maximises utility, it is hard to see what is added by calling these institutions ‘just’ as well as ‘optimal’. This paper seeks to undermine this criticism by presenting a richer utilitarian account of justice, as respect for moral rights. This way of thinking of justice is strikingly historical in character, in sharp contrast to the way that, it is often thought, utilitarians must think of justice. In contrast to egalitarian theories of justice, this utilitarian theory of justice suggests that egalitarian ideals may be best understood as aims of good policy, the pursuit of which may come into conflict with the demands of justice.

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’.
The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers.
This year the series is convened by Elise Woodard (KCL) and Michael Hannon (Nottingham). Talks are normally 45 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.