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Justice: Rights and Wrongs
Princeton University Press / 2008 / Hardcover
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Wide-ranging and ambitious, Justice combines moral philosophy and Christian ethics to develop an important theory of rights and of justice as grounded in rights. Nicholas Wolterstorff discusses what it is to have a right, and he locates rights in the respect due the worth of the rights-holder. After contending that socially-conferred rights require the existence of natural rights, he argues that no secular account of natural human rights is successful; he offers instead a theistic account.
Wolterstorff prefaces his systematic account of justice as grounded in rights with an exploration of the common claim that rights-talk is inherently individualistic and possessive. He demonstrates that the idea of natural rights originated neither in the Enlightenment nor in the individualistic philosophy of the late Middle Ages, but was already employed by the canon lawyers of the twelfth century. He traces our intuitions about rights and justice back even further, to Hebrew and Christian scriptures. After extensively discussing justice in the Old Testament and the New, he goes on to show why ancient Greek and Roman philosophy could not serve as a framework for a theory of rights.
Connecting rights and wrongs to God's relationship with humankind, Justice not only offers a rich and compelling philosophical account of justice, but also makes an important contribution to overcoming the present-day divide between religious discourse and human rights.
"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
Nicholas Wolterstorff is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His many books include Until Justice and Peace Embrace.
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