The Problem Stated
Today I’m hoping to make you puzzled about a problem that has puzzled me on and off over the years. Misery loves company, I suppose — though the problem doesn’t actually puzzle me at the moment, because at the moment I think I’ve got a solution to it. But I’ve thought this before, and found myself deceived; so I’m not breaking out the champagne just yet.
The problem is this: why does justice have good consequences?
By “justice” I mean the moral system of rights, or more precisely, the virtue concerned with respecting such rights. By “good consequences” I mean not optimal consequences, nor exceptionlessly good consequences, but at least a reliable tendency to produce good consequences, both for oneself and for others. More precisely, to say that justice has good consequences is to say that a policy of respecting people’s rights will ordinarily promote, or at least not require great sacrifices of, the well-being of three groups: those whose rights are being respected, those doing the respecting, and third parties.
The question is: why should this be so?
There are two simple answers to this question. If either of them were true, there would be no puzzle. But I don’t think either of them is true. …