Review Of "A Brief History Of Justice" By D. Johnston

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According to Johnston (Columbia Univ.), a sensibility for reciprocity among individuals lies at the core of the concept of justice. He traces this thought from the ancient code of Hammurabi through the Old Testament, Homeric poems, and on into Western philosophy beginning with Plato. It is unfortunate, Johnston contends, that the notion of social justice developed in the last 200 years has displaced, rather than complemented, the core idea of justice as reciprocity. While he is sympathetic to Rawls's monumental project, making the "basic structure" of society the subject of justice misses the ways in which justice is sensitive to relations among individuals. Johnston pays special attention to need as opposed to desert. Inevitably, in a brief history of a rich concept such as justice, much must be barely mentioned or skipped over--in particular, the entirety of medieval Western thought--but Johnston does provide solid analyses of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Marx, and Rawls, among others. Unfortunately, he has nothing to say about the capability approach championed by Amartya Sen, which touches on several of his key concerns. That said, this book will be a valuable resource for the general public and college students of all levels. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students; general readers.


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