Defending Justice as Reciprocity: An Essay on Social Policy and Political Philosophy

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    The book argues that central aspect of establishing reciprocal relations concerns the value of things produced for mutual exchange, but that this value cannot be assessed independently from what the author calls the ‘ontological stance’ of givers and receivers. In other words, it is how people are with others – not just what they produce for others – that defines and shapes reciprocal relations. First, the establishment of reciprocal relations in large part relies upon fostering an attitude of mutual ‘self-worth’ derived from a positive assessment of what the ‘first person’ can offer to ‘the other’, and vice versa. This raises not only political and economic issues concerning the distribution of benefits and burdens across society but also sociological issues regarding how differences between individuals and groups are viewed and defined. For example, ‘social problems’ are defined or socially constructed through policy and institutional practices such that they often exclude disadvantaged groups from participating (and/or being seen to participate) in reciprocal exchange. So, disabled people, lone parents and various unemployed groups are often defined either as feckless ‘dependent non-contributors’ who are ‘undeserving’ of benefits; or as ‘tragic victims’ of circumstances resulting in ‘dependent status’ that is fixed in relation to particular medical conditions. Either way, the argument made in the book is that this social definitional process oversimplifies the character of these groups, and disguises the interdependent nature of social and economic relations between these members and others in society. Moreover, notions of ‘responsible-agency’, ‘contribution’ and ‘desert’ are often defined over-narrowly by policy-makers and political theorists alike, which also has profound implications for any defence of justice as reciprocity. In this context, when defending justice as reciprocity it is crucial to explore the normative implications of how different social construction processes will define, rank and reward ‘talents’ and ‘contribution’ differently.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationLampeter
    PublisherEdward Mellen
    Number of pages304
    ISBN (Print)978-0773469327
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003


    • political philosophy
    • social justice
    • reciprocity
    • disability
    • lone parents
    • social policy


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