Bras. Political Sci. Rev.. 04/Aug/2016;10(2):e0006.

The subject of social justice: a defence of the basic structure of society

Marcos Paulo de Lucca-Silveira

DOI: 10.1590/1981-38212016000200006

In The Idea of Justice (2009), Amartya Sen presents an approach to justice that seeks to make comparisons based on social realizations. This approach focuses attention both on real political-social institutions and on people’s behaviour, as well as other potential influences affecting the degree of justice existing in a given society. The new theoretical proposal advanced by Sen (2009) differs then from the theory of justice formulated by John Rawls (1999a) and other contemporary theorists. In the eyes of the Indian author, the theory formulated by Rawls searches for solutions to questions of perfect justice and suffers from problems of feasibility and redundancy. In this article, I argue, centring attention on the question of the appropriate primary subject of social justice, that the critique and subsequent proposal for change of the subject of justice presented by Sen (2009) can be judged mistaken. From a liberal-egalitarian perspective, the primary subject of social justice should be the basic structure of society as formulated by Rawls. Hence I explore the idea that Rawls’s option to focus on this subject is directly associated with this particular conception of social justice. I also look to show that Sen’s (2009) critique of the redundancy of contemporary theories of justice can be considered implausible. I argue that an ideal theory, such as the one formulated by Rawls, is central to practical guidelines for actions that seek to lessen injustices in real life situations.

The subject of social justice: a defence of the basic structure of society