Social Meanings and the Cultural Theory of Goods in Michael Walzer's Ethical Anthropology
This article provides a reinterpretation of Michael Walzer's argument that theories of justice should interpret the shared understandings of particular societies. It dubs his method 'ethical anthropology' because his most important contribution is to problematize our understanding of goods, treating them as cultural products that acquire whatever meaning they have via social construction and so must be interpreted. This suggests that political theorists must base their arguments for distributive principles on contestable social inquiry into meaning. In demonstrating this, the paper argues that critics have blurred Walzer's claim that societies share an understanding of the meaning of particular goods with the argument that social meaning should determine distribution. It concludes that Walzer's method is a powerful challenge to universalistic theories of justice and to analytic political theory more broadly.
Reiner, J. Toby. "Social Meanings and the Cultural Theory of Goods in Michael Walzer's Ethical Anthropology." Polity 48, no. 3 (2016): 359-386.