Book Review: Nicholas Wolterstoff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs

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By:  Ken Jensen

For those interested in developing a clearer understanding of underlying philosophical or even theological basis for justice work, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s work is engaging.  His thesis in Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton University Press, 2010) and the follow-up Justice in Love (Eerdmans, 2015) is that justice is about inherent rights – the giving of what is due to humanity – rather than the development of a “right ordered society”.   The work illuminates fundamental differences in the concept of “justice” and how that thinking leads different positions on the social good.  The linking of justice with human rights is mostly associated with more secular thinking of the Enlightenment.  But what is fascinating in Wolterstorff’s work is that he roots “inherent rights” thinking in ancient texts preceding the Enlightenment and even in the biblical scriptures themselves, particularly the minor prophets of the Old Testament.  He firmly grounds “justice-as-inherent-rights” in the Judeo-Christian tradition and thus provides a good framework for integrity between Christianity and so-called “rights talk.”

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