On Rawls and Nussbaum

frontiers-of-justiceLiberal-contractarian philosophies of justice see the unjust systems of slavery and autocracy in the past as being based on coercion—whereas the social order in the modern democratic market societies is based on consent and contract. However, the ‘best’ case for slavery and autocracy in the past was based on consent-based contractarian arguments. Hence our first task is to recover those ‘forgotten’ apologia for slavery and autocracy. To counter those consent-based arguments, the historical anti-slavery and democratic movements developed a theory of inalienable rights. Our second task is to recover that theory and to consider several other applications of the theory–including to the current system of voluntarily renting or hiring human beings. Finally the theories of justice expounded by John Rawls and by Martha Nussbaum are examined from this perspective.

It is remarkable that Rawls as well as Nussbaum could live their whole lives in an economic system based on the renting of human beings–while being philosophers writing on justice–and never even consider that the system might be per se problematic. This paper was delivered at a 2008 conference in Leuven on Martha Nussbaum’s book Frontiers of Justice. The paper was to be published in the conference proceedings, but somehow that never happened.

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