My name is Emanuela Ceva and I’m a political philosopher based at the University of Pavia (Italy). The paper I’d like to discuss with you is an attempt to address (and hopefully provide an answer to) a well-known challenge to proceduralism about justice: if procedural theories of justice were genuinely open-ended, they might lead to controversial outcomes which, by definition, could not be disputed, because they had been produced by a just procedure. On the other hand, if they were committed to ruling out some outcomes by virtue of their inherent qualities, their very procedural nature would be jeopardised.
Those who endorse this position also think that it could be used to declare the implausibility of entirely procedural theories of justice.
As someone who has spent a few years trying to argue that proceduralism is at least a plausible (if not necessary, under certain conditions) alternative to substantivism, I have decided to take up this challenge, and devote this paper to showing that a qualified version of proceduralism may be developed, which is equipped to rebut the critique above.
To this aim, I shall unpack the first horn of the dilemma presented above into a twofold challenge, according to which proceduralism risks (i) fostering an “anything-goes” attitude towards justice and (ii) condemning agents to a “deaf and blind” acceptance of any outcome. In order to refute (i), I shall show that it is possible to construct a version of proceduralism that combines open-endedness with cogent prescriptions on justice. Addressing (ii), I shall concede that, for proceduralists, the outcomes of a just procedure cannot be disputed as unjust. However, this does not imply that a genuine procedural theory of justice may not allow some (admittedly limited, but still significant) space for contesting the substance of outcomes on the ground of values other than justice.
I should mention that I shall not offer an argument here explaining why a theory of justice should go procedural in the first place (a task which I’ve tried to carry out elsewhere – see E. Ceva, ‘Plural Values and Heterogeneous Situations. Considerations on the Scope for a Political Theory of Justice‘, European Journal of Political Theory, vol.6 (3), 2007, pp. 359-375). I shall, rather, focus on a more restricted defence of the plausibility of proceduralism against the dilemma outlined above.
For those who cannot cope with my dodgy accent, the pdf of the paper is available here.
David Lefkowitz’s discussion of the paper may be found here. I thank David for his thoughtful comments, to which I shall post replies by Monday at the latest.
In the podcast (below), I read the full paper (and have added a brief commentary on the tables) but not the footnotes – which I have kept to a minumun, anyway.
Last but not least, I’d like to thank Simon for setting up this great virtual venue for seminars. I hope you’ll enjoy the paper and I very much look forward to any comments or suggestions on it.