Some of us were introduced to political philosophy as an activity of identifying, criticising, and revising the moral basis of existing social institutions. We asked questions about the nature of the good or the just society, and some few of us thought that once we knew and advocated the truth, it would win out. We, or some appropriate revolutionary or reforming group or class, would with reason, truth, and history on our side, bring about the society of our ideals. When we first read John Rawls's A Theory of Justice we read it as continuing the traditional tasks of political philosophy. Justice as Fairness was a moral theory which addressed a political subject matter. From the moral point of view it told us what any just society aiming to realise the values of liberty and equality would be like. This comported nicely with liberal cosmopolitanism, and also with more widely shared philosophical views that the task of political philosophy is to construct a vision of an ideal society, perhaps more sensitive to justice in implementation than would be required in pre-modern, pre-democratic societies, but nevertheless an ideal which in the long run we would hope to see all societies converge on. That kind of liberalism gave those of us who think that Rawlsian justice is the right or true justice a license to go on the offensive in promoting liberal ideals and practices in our own society, and, at the very least, a critical vantage point from which to judge other societies.
Attracta Ingram is Lecturer in Politics at University College Dublin. She is author of A Political Theory of Rights (1994) and co-editor of Justice and Legal Theory in Ireland (1995). She has published recent articles on federalism and constitutional patriotism, and is currently working on normative issues of state and nation.
* The ideas for this paper were first tried out in Stephen Lukes's seminar on pluralism at the European University Institute, Florence, in April 1993. I thank Stephen Lukes for helpful comments and provocative questions. I am also grateful to the other participants in the seminar, especially Véronique Munoz-Darde and Maurice Glasman. The present version has been improved by the responses of participants at the Royal Institute of Philosophy conference on Philosophy and Pluralism in Coleraine in 1995, and especially by Dave Archard and John Baker both of whom gave me written comments that showed me where the argument should be given more work. I thank Ian Cornelius for helping me to clarify some points and for socially necessary labour beyond the requirements of justice as fairness.