The Procedural Dimension of Justice

Convenor: Emanuela Ceva (University of Pavia)

Can the procedures through which a society is structured be considered as inherently valuable as just? Or is justice to be thought to reside in their outcomes, to the achievement of which procedures are merely subservient? The workshop is designed to take issue with the widespread wariness of proceduralism as a justice-relevant approach to normativity. It has often been argued that procedure-related considerations are in fact reducible to outcome-related concerns – so procedures only have instrumental value depending on the qualities of the outcomes they produce. Failure to recognize this point would lead proceduralists, so the critique goes, to give no independent standard through which to assess the quality of outcomes, thus condemning agents to a ‘deaf and blind’ acceptance of any outcome and fostering an ‘anything goes’ attitude towards justice.

Interestingly, such a generalized disregard of the inherent value of procedures in matters of justice does not seem to be matched by an equal lack of interest when the normative regard, as it were, moves from the justice of a polity to its legitimacy. Indeed, a number of studies defend procedural approaches to legitimacy, especially when it comes to accounting for the justification of authority in a democracy. The thought underlying such a double attitude towards proceduralism may be summarized as follows: whilst legitimacy has to do with the processes through which coercive political decisions are made, justice is more a ‘substantial’ matter concerning the moral justification of the terms of social cooperation, against which the qualities of the decisions made by those who have the authority to make them are to be evaluated. Accordingly, the argument goes, theorization about procedures seems to be more appropriate for issues of legitimacy than for those of justice.

Is this really the only role that proceduralism may play in a normative theory of the social order? This workshop aims to investigate this general question by addressing such issues as:

– Does it make any sense to theorize about the justice of procedures independently of the qualities of their outcomes?

– Can procedures only have an instrumental value?

– What is the relation between outcome oriented theories of justice and procedural theories of legitimacy?

– Should proceduralism about justice be understood as an alternative to outcome-theories or should  it be viewed as a complement to them?

If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please send a 500-word abstract (or a full paper) to by 15 May 2012. Contributions are welcome from the fields of ethics, political philosophy/theory, history of political thought and legal philosophy.


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