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Cornell University




As truth is the first virtue of belief, so justice is of social institutions. That is John Rawls's view, and it seems true, at any rate, of the law. Official acts, laws, and legal arrangements generally are characterized as just or unjust, while other moral categories are much less frequently invoked. Justice seems inseparable from good law. It is therefore striking and important that justice has recently been regarded by prominent legal theorists as rationally disreputable--as, in Kelsen's words, "an irrational idea." Many divergent conceptions of social justice have been propounded, and it is held that there is no rational basis for selecting among them. At the extreme, it is said that the principles of justice express basic moral convictions which are merely conventional or subjective, a matter of arbitrary commitment or irrational sentiment.

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