Although justice- as a virtue rather than a 'value' or a 'vision'- is of great importance to both ethics and politics, it does not have the pivotal significance in relation to public policy that advocates of 'social justice' claim for it. There is more to politics than ethics and more to ethics than justice. Similarly, the rationale behind the rhetorically forceful term 'human rights' is weaker than is commonly supposed.
Among the topics considered in relation to social justice and human rights are: health; health care; education; income and wealth; taxation; discrimination and affirmative action; disability; and poverty. The Report of the Commission on Social Justice, the most comprehensive account of the Welfare State since Beveridge, is analysed and evaluated.
A theory is developed in which justice and rights- as opposed to needs or wants- are conceptually related. Rights are analysed in terms of duties and two sorts or moral and legal rights are considered: rights of action and rights of recipience. The case is made that many so-called 'human rights'- since they cannot be plausibly linked to the performable duties of actual people, states or other agencies- are not rights of any significant sort.
Living in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland, Dr McLachlan, an experienced broadcaster on radio and television, has published numerous articles in social sciences and applied philosophy, particularly in relation to medical ethics- for instance, surrogate motherhood, embryology, human cloning and abortion. He is joint author of A Source-book of Scottish Witchcraft and the editor of Witches of Renfrewshire, (forthcoming). He is currently a Reader in the School of Law and Social Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University.