Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article


Gerald Gausa1

a1 Philosophy, University of Arizona


Justificatory liberalism is liberal in an abstract and foundational sense: it respects each as free and equal, and so insists that coercive laws must be justified to all members of the public. In this essay I consider how this fundamental liberal principle relates to disputes within the liberal tradition on “the extent of the state.” It is widely thought today that this core liberal principle of respect requires that the state regulates the distribution of resources or well-being to conform to principles of fairness, that all citizens be assured of employment and health care, that no one be burdened by mere brute bad luck, and that citizens' economic activities must be regulated to insure that they do not endanger the “fair value” of rights to determine political outcomes. I argue in this essay: (1) a large family of liberal views are consistent with the justificatory liberals project, from classical to egalitarian formulations (but not socialist ones); (2) overall, the justificatory project tilts in the direction of classical formulations.

Gerald Gaus is James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. His essay “On Justifying the Moral Rights of the Moderns,” published in Social Philosophy and Policy, won the 2009 Gregory Kavka Prize. Among his books are On Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (2008), Contemporary Theories of Liberalism (2003), Justificatory Liberalism (1996), and Value and Justification (1990). With Christi Favor and Julian Lamont he edited Essays on Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (forthcoming from Stanford University Press); and with Chandran Kukathas he edited the Handbook of Political Theory (2004). Along with Jonathan Riley, he was a founding editor of the journal Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. He is currently at work on two books: The Order of Public Reason, and Economic Justice (with Julian Lamont).


The ideas explored in this essay derive from discussions at a workshop on public reason, held in Tucson in November 2007, and were further developed at a talk to the Manchester Centre for Political Theory. I would like to thank all the participants, and especially Andrew Lister. His criticisms of my previous work led me to think about a number of matters in a new way. My thanks also to Fred D'Agostino, Tom Christiano, Steve Macedo, Jonathan Quong, Dave Schmidtz, Peter Vallentyne, and Kevin Vallier for their very helpful comments.