New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This paper considers the relation between theories of justice (like John Rawls’s theory) and theories of socio-economic rights. In different ways, these two kinds of theory address much the same subject-matter. But they are quite strikingly different in format and texture. Theories of socio-economic rights defend particular line-item requirements: a right to this or that good or opportunity (e.g., housing, health care, education, social security). Theories of justice tend to involve a more integrated normative account of a society’s basic structure (though they differ considerably among themselves in their structure). So how exactly should we think about their relation? The basic claim of the paper is that we should strive to bring these two into closer relation with one another, since it is only in the context of a theory of justice that we can properly assesses the competition that arises between claims of socio-economic right and other claims on public and private resources.

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