The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and Its Limits

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Philosophy and Democracy Thomas Christiano. Political Vices Mark E. After Occupy Tom Malleson. Ethics and Cyber Warfare George Lucas. Sparing Civilians Seth Lazar. Our Faithfulness to the Past Sue Campbell.


If so, then the big questions for any theory of social justice are: On the basis of the principle of publicity or public equality -- that is, the moral requirement that each person not only be treated justly, but that he or she be able to see that this is so -- Christiano contends that only a democratic procedure counts as a reasonably just mechanism for crafting public rules which spell out, for action-guiding purposes, what justice requires.

Christiano also employs the principle of publicity to argue for democratic rights i. Together, these moral requirements demarcate the range within which rules may tolerably deviate from what justice truly requires while retaining their legitimacy, and so provide an answer to the second of the aforementioned big questions for a theory of social justice.

Why accept the claim that social justice requires fidelity to the principle of publicity, or the public treatment of all as equals? Christiano's answer, in a nutshell, is this:. Three key concepts figure in this claim: As the name suggests, an agent's fundamental interests are those that figure centrally in a person's well-being, and in the absence of which an agent is very unlikely to experience or enjoy any well-being at all. As set out in chapter one of his book, it is the equal advancement of agents' interests, or their well-being, which provides the foundational moral principle in Christiano's overarching egalitarian theory of justice.

Why Socrates Hated Democracy

The facts of judgment partially characterize the background against which human beings interact with one another, these interactions call for an account of social justice, i. These facts include diversity in people's natural talents and cultural surroundings, cognitive biases in their interpretation of interests and in the value assigned to their own interests relative to the value assigned to the interests of others, and fallibility in both moral and non-moral judgment.

In light of these facts, disagreement as to what justice truly requires will be rife, even amongst those committed to the equal advancement of interests. Finally, the fundamental interests in judgment consist of the interest in correcting for others' cognitive biases, the interest in being at home in the world, and the interest in being treated by one's fellows or at least one's fellow citizens as a person with equal moral standing.

Each of these interests provides a moral basis for a claim against others that one's judgment regarding matters of social justice be given equal weight in the collective task of determining, in Christiano's words, "how the shared aspects of social life ought to be arranged" Moreover, Christiano maintains, should agents be denied the proper recognition of their interests in judgment, they are extremely unlikely to be successful in the pursuit of whatever other interests they may have; hence their inclusion on the list of fundamental human interests.

In short, given the facts of judgment, the fundamental interests in judgment generate a moral demand for publicity in the exercise of political power. That is, against a background constituted by diversity, cognitive bias, and fallibility, and the pervasive disagreement to which they give rise, agents can be sure that their fundamental interests in judgment, and so also their other fundamental interests, will not be unjustifiably set back only if political power is exercised in accordance with principles of public equality, or within institutions that publicly realize equality.

The same holds for agents being certain that they do not unjustifiably set back the fundamental interests of other agents, or at least those with whom they must necessarily interact in order to shape the shared aspects of a common social life. As stated above, Christiano maintains that only a democratic decision procedure provides a procedure for crafting authoritative rules that publicly realizes equality. As he puts the point, "democratic decision-making enables us all to see that we are being treated as equals despite disagreements [e.

Together with the view that under these conditions justice requires that people be treated publicly as equals, this claim entails that democratic procedures are non-instrumentally valuable. Their value is not solely a matter of the value of the outcomes e.

The Constitution of Equality - Hardcover - Thomas Christiano - Oxford University Press

Rather, in circumstances characterized by the moral necessity of adherence to common rules and pervasive disagreement regarding what those rules ought to be, the creation of and submission to the laws enacted by a democratic assembly in which all have a right to participate as equals is itself necessary for the just treatment of others. Of course, such conduct does not exhaust what we owe others as a matter of justice.

As Christiano emphasizes, agents should attempt to realize other aspects of justice, such as the true demands of distributive justice, via democratic processes. In doing so, however, they will inevitably make arguments that do not meet the demands of the principle of publicity, and the same will be true of the laws and policies that result should these arguments secure majority support. This is not problematic, Christiano maintains, because even if an agent who makes a conscientious effort to ascertain whether she is being treated as an equal cannot see that the particular scheme of distributive justice in place does so, she can recognize that the process whereby that scheme was created, and can be modified or eliminated, does treat her as an equal.

No doubt in some cases the reason why an agent will not be able to see that a scheme of distributive justice treats her as an equal is because it does not do so. Paperback , pages.

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Jul 19, Sergei Moska rated it really liked it. Christiano is a philosopher, and this book is primarily written for other philosophers. This means that the writing will necessarily be turgid at times. You will frequently realize that you've read three pages that did nothing but prove a point that you just as easily would have accepted on faith. While that isn't a technical knock on the book - although he probably could have made things more lively at times - the organization of the subsections in the chapters is a problem.

For instance, Chris Christiano is a philosopher, and this book is primarily written for other philosophers. For instance, Christiano will frequently say that "I will proceed in 4 or 5, or whatever steps", proceed to outline them, and then introduce the first step in the following subsection. Then maybe the second step will occur in the next subsection. So far so good. But then the following subsection might elaborate further on the second step.

At this point you might get confused - is this still the second step or has he introduced the third one? If it's the former, why is this a new subsection? And if he wanted to elaborate on a particular step maybe the second step is especially nuanced , why not use sub-subsections? And given that in his outlines he is obsessed with enumerating the elements contained in each subsection, why not number the sections and subsections in such a way as to make it easier to follow? There are many ways of doing this, but any such scheme would have made this dry work much easier to navigate.

Fortunately there is a lot of good in this ambitious book.

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In it you'll find a defense of equality as the basis for both democracy and liberal rights and hence a justification both for the establishment of democracy as well as its limits , an argument against philosophical anarchism, and a critique of strands of deliberative democracy that insist of "reasonableness" as a criterion for political discussion. It's unlikely that you'll agree with everything he says.

Some of the obvious critiques can be addressed by reading his The Rule of the Many , while others are just soft spots in his work.