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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: December 2009

Introduction

Summary

The essays collected here are concerned with the standards by which political, legal, and economic institutions should be assessed. One obvious standard is the degree to which these institutions promote human well-being. But it is also relevant to ask whether institutions are just and whether they respect the rights of individuals. The tension between these two forms of assessment is a central theme in these essays. In order to understand this tension, and decide how to respond to it, several things are required. The first is a better understanding of the idea of well-being and of the ways in which it comes to have moral significance. The second is a deeper understanding of notions such as rights, justice, liberty, and equality, which seem to be, at least potentially, in conflict with the goal of well-being. To what degree are these notions themselves best understood and justified in terms of well-being? Insofar as they are not to be understood in this way, how is their moral force to be explained? The following essays are devoted to these tasks. My aim is not to eliminate this tension – that would be impossible – but to make it less puzzling by placing the notions it involves within a common moral framework. In the case of rights, I believe that the tension is best understood not as arising between rights and well-being, seen as entirely independent and potentially conflicting moral ideas, but rather as a tension that arises within our understanding of rights themselves.