Principles as guides: the action-guiding role of justice in politics

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Although it is widely accepted that a theory of justice ought to be action-guiding, we lack a persuasive account of what this role entails. This omission has allowed a number of misleading narratives to emerge, including the realist claim that justice is of little relevance to citizens in practice because it is not action-guiding in circumstances of non-compliance. This paper seeks to correct this omission in the literature by providing a general account of the action-guiding role of justice. In so doing it makes three contributions to the literature on justice. Firstly, it explains what kind of guidance we should expect a theory of justice to offer citizens. Secondly, it specifies the criteria that a particular theory of justice needs to satisfy to qualify as action-guiding. And thirdly, it demonstrates that, contrary to realist criticisms, justice is action-guiding in circumstances of non-compliance and so is of practical use to citizens.


Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Politics
Early online date20 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Oct 2016


  • Justice, Non-ideal theory, Realism, Politics, Non-compliance , Action-guidance