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Title: The fragility of justice : political liberalism and the problem of stability
Author: Howard, Jeffrey
ISNI:       0000 0004 2746 5609
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Human powers of moral reasoning and motivation are fragile. How should citizens committed to the achievement of liberal justice respond to this fact? This dissertation theorises a class of moral requirements that are central to the practice of liberal democracy but have been recently overlooked by political philosophers: the fortificational duties, which enjoin citizens to design and submit to civic practices that improve both their moral reasoning and the motivational resilience of their sense of justice. It considers the proposition that a conception of justice is unjustified if unlikely to generate its own freely willed maintenance, or stability, in the face of human nature, and it argues that this proposition is false. If justice may face overwhelming resistance unless steps are taken to fortify ourselves against our own fallibility, the right response is to pursue precisely such fortification. Chapter One sketches the orienting ideal of the dissertation: an ideal of a social world in which citizens live together as free and equal. Chapter Two assesses the proposition that we ought to modify or abandon this ideal if we determine that it is unlikely to be freely realised without serious civic or institutional assistance—a move suggested by John Rawls’s “stability test”—and it argues that the candidate arguments for this conclusion fail. The chapter instead argues that citizens are subject to moral requirements to fortify their sense of justice by designing and submitting to measures that increase the likelihood that they will accurately identify and freely comply with their fundamental moral duties. These measures together constitute a liberal democracy’s “stability charter.” Chapters Three to Six explore proposed elements of citizens’ stability charter. Chapter Three discusses the fortification of moral reasoning through democratic deliberation. Chapter Four considers what institutional mechanisms could keep democracy oriented toward the achievement of justice despite human fallibility, and it defends a minimalist conception of judicial review as a case study. Chapter Five argues that the practice of criminal punishment is justified by the duties of wrongdoers to pursue additional fortificational measures in the aftermath of their moral powers’ defective operation. And Chapter Six focuses on the special problem posed to the enduring achievement of justice by “unreasonable citizens” who reject fundamental liberal values. The distinctive contribution of the dissertation lies, firstly, in its novel appropriation of the Rawlsian ideal of stability—reconceiving stability not as a justificatory condition set by reason on our convictions, but as a practical challenge that our own convictions set for us—and, secondly, in its deployment of that insight to motivate novel arguments about the character of democratic deliberation, the limits and role of judicial review, the proper purposes of criminal punishment, and the ideal method of engagement with unreasonable citizens.
Supervisor: Waldron, Jeremy Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Political science ; Criminal Law ? Jurisprudence ; Ethics (Moral philosophy) ; political liberalism ; stability ; democracy ; public reason ; judicial review ; punishment ; unreasonable citizens