Volume 12, Issue 1, 2012
Søren Flinch Midtgaard
On the Scope of Justice
In Defence of the Political Conception
The paper defends the so-called political conception of the scope of justice proposed by Thomas Nagel. The argument has three stages: (a) I argue that A. J. Julius’ influential criticism of the political conception can be answered. Pace Julius, actual and (relevant) hypothetical cases of state coercion do in fact involve a claim to the effect that people have a duty to obey, so the problem of justice does arise, according to Nagel’s criterion, in the critical cases scrutinised by Julius. Hence the ‘perverseness’ objection lapses. (b) I argue, against other critics of Nagel’s view, that in central instances of international coercion such as immigration control people are not asked to accept the ongoing coercion. Consequently, the problem of justice does not, on Thomas Nagel’s view, arise internationally. Furthermore, to the extent that political authority is exercised internationally, it does not give rise to justificatory burdens involving principles of distributive justice.
(c) I relate the notion of authority to other aspects of the political conception, including responsibility, and argue that together they constitute an attractive alternative to an influential allocative conception of justice.