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Justice and Civic Friendship: An Aristotelian Critique of Modern Citizenry

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Modern moral and political theorists make a sharp separation between justice and civic friendship, arguing that justice deals with the fair terms of co-operation in the social sphere whereas civic friendship is about an individual’s contingent affections in the political domain. In addition, they also argue that the principles of justice must determine the nature and function of civic friendship in modern liberal society. Even though the historical origin of the above view can be traced to the writings of Immanuel Kant (2007), John Rawls provides us with its most cogent formulation in recent times. In his book A Theory of Justice (1971), Rawls argues that the considerations of right are prior to the considerations of good; therefore the principles of justice must determine the limits of civic friendship. Against Rawls, I argue that justice and civic friendship are intrinsically connected and that they cannot be separated in experience. I draw upon Aristotle’s theory of virtue to strengthen my arguments. Following Aristotle, I show that both justice and friendship are virtues and that all virtues hold together. The Aristotelian coherence of virtues, I argue, can be useful in redefining the obligations of justice and civic friendship in contemporary liberal democracies.


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