Review of Caring for Justice, by Robin West

If the sexes are indeed from different planets, as the title of a recent bestseller informs us, one wonders that those planets were like before their inhabitants made the trek to Earth. Did the citizens of the all-female Venus structure their lives, work, moral commitments, and political systems differently from the males over on Mars? If so, what happened when these cultural worlds collided to form our own? Does our culture represent a synthesis of these two separate systems into a new and better, or perhaps worse, one, or is it the result of one planet’s wholesale conquest of the other? Fanciful as these questions may seem, they raise serious issues relating to the most fundamental aspects of our personal interactions and political institutions. In her latest book, Caring for Justice, Robin West sets herself the task of asking and answering a version of these questions, and exploring the implications of the answers she adopts. Or rather, such is her task in part of the book, for Caring for Justice is not truly a book – in the sense of a single work devoted to a central thesis – but rather a collection of essays whose relation to one another frequently seems tangential. Only the first two chapters explore the work’s stated themes in depth. Later chapters sometimes suggest peripheral elements of prior discussions, but they generally fail to establish explicit connections or to build on the earlier material. The totality of Caring for Justice ultimately is precisely equal to the sum of its parts, as those parts do not interact meaningfully in a way that would enhance their collective impact.