Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral correctness based on law, equity, ethics, rationality, religion, and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of societal justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law.

The concept of justice differs in every culture. An early theory of justice was set out by the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic. Throughout history various theories have been established. Advocates of divine command theory argue that justice issues from God. In the 1600s, theorists like John Locke argued for the theory of natural law. Thinkers in the social contract tradition argued that justice is derived from the mutual agreement of everyone concerned. In the 1800s, utilitarian thinkers including John Stuart Mill argued that justice is what has the best consequences. Theories of distributive justice concern what is distributed, between whom they are to be distributed, and what is the proper distribution. Egalitarians argued that justice can only exist within the coordinates of equality. John Rawls used a social contract argument to show that justice, and especially distributive justice, is a form of fairness. Property rights theorists (like Robert Nozick) also take a consequentialist view of distributive justice and argue that property rights-based justice maximizes the overall wealth of an economic system. Theories of retributive justice are concerned with punishment for wrongdoing. Restorative justice (also sometimes called "reparative justice") is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims and offenders. (Wikipedia)

The term "justice" comes from the Latin jus, meaning "right" or "law." It is linked, both etymologically and conceptually, to the idea of justification: the decisive reasons for one’s beliefs and actions. So, attempts to understand justice are typically attempts to discover the justification—the source or basis—of justice, and therefore to account for (or disprove) its importance. Some may picture justice as a virtue — a property of people, and only derivatively of their actions and the institutions they create — or as social justice - a property of actions or institutions, and only derivatively of the people who bring them about. (New World Encyclopedia)

Justice as a Virtue

When we speak of justice as a virtue, we are usually referring to a trait of individuals, even if we conceive the justice of individuals as having some (grounding) reference to social justice. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It has been noted that justice is distinguished from other ethical standards as required and as overwhelmingly important: Justice can be thought of as distinct from, and more important than, benevolence, charity, mercy, generosity or compassion. All of these things may be valuable, but they are generally understood as being supererogatory rather than required. (New World Encyclopedia)

According to utilitarian thinkers including John Stuart Mill, justice is not as fundamental as we often think. Rather, it is derived from the more basic standard of rightness, consequentialism: what is right is what has the best consequences (usually measured by the total or average welfare caused). So, the proper principles of justice are those that tend to have the best consequences. These rules may turn out to be familiar ones such as keeping contracts; but equally, they may not, depending on the facts about real consequences. Either way, what is important is those consequences, and justice is important, if at all, only as derived from that fundamental standard. Mill tries to explain our mistaken belief that justice is overwhelmingly important by arguing that it derives from two natural human tendencies: our desire to retaliate against those who hurt us, and our ability to put ourselves imaginatively in another's place. So, when we see someone harmed, we project ourselves into her situation and feel a desire to retaliate on her behalf. If this process is the source of our feelings about justice, that ought to undermine our confidence in them. (Wikipedia)

The idea of individual justice seems ambiguous in regard to scope. Plato in the Republic uses the Greek word 'dikaiosynē' (dikaiosune) for justice which closely means 'morality' or 'righteousness'. He treats justice as an overarching virtue of individuals, covers the entire field of the individual's conduct and includes within it the whole duty of man.

But in modern usages justice covers only part of individual morality, and we don't readily think of someone as unjust if they lie or neglect their children--other epithets more readily spring to mind. What individual justice most naturally refers to are moral issues having to do with goods or property. It is, we say, unjust for someone to steal from people or not to give them what he owes them, and it is also unjust if someone called upon to distribute something good (or bad or both) among members of a group uses an arbitrary or unjustified basis for making the distribution. (This last aspect of individual justice obviously has reference to social justice). Discussion of justice as an individual virtue standardly (at least) centers on questions, therefore, about property and other distributable goods. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Cardinal virtues

The cardinal virtues are a set of four virtues recognized in the writings of Classical Antiquity and, along with the theological virtues, also in Christian tradition. They consist of:

Prudence (φρόνησις, phronēsis): also described as wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.
Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē): also considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue.
Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia): also named fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.
Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē): also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation tempering the appetition.

These were derived initially from Plato's scheme, discussed in Republic Book IV, 426-435 (and see Protagoras 330b, which also includes piety (hosiotes)); expanded on by Cicero, and adapted by Saint Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas (see Summa Theologica II(I).61). The term "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; the cardinal virtues are so called because they are the basic virtues, required for a virtuous life.

The cardinal virtues are the four principal moral virtues. The English word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo, which means "hinge." All other virtues hinge on these four: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Plato first discussed the cardinal virtues in the Republic, and they entered into Christian teaching by way of Plato's disciple Aristotle. Unlike the theological virtues, which are the gifts of God through grace, the four cardinal virtues can be practiced by anyone; thus, they represent the foundation of natural morality. ... Read the article at catholicism.about.com   Copy

Justice, a cardinal virtue

Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues in classical European philosophy and Roman Catholicism. It is the moderation or mean between selfishness and selflessness - between having more and having less than one's fair share.

Justice is closely related, in Christianity, to the practice of Charity (virtue) because it regulates the relationships with others. It is a cardinal virtue, which is to say "pivotal" because it regulates all such relationships, and is sometimes deemed the most important of the cardinal virtues.

In Aristotle's wake, Thomas Aquinas developed a theory of proportional reciprocity, whereby the just man renders to each and all what is due to them in due proportion: what it is their moral and legal rights to do, possess, or exact. (Wikipedia)

Justice, according to Saint Thomas, is the second cardinal virtue, because it is concerned with the will. As Fr. John A. Hardon notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, it is "the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due." We say that "justice is blind," because it should not matter what we think of a particular person. If we owe him a debt, we must repay exactly what we owe.

Justice is connected to the idea of rights. While we often use justice in a negative sense ("He got what he deserved"), justice in its proper sense is positive. Injustice occurs when we as individuals or by law deprive someone of that which he is owed. Legal rights can never outweigh natural ones. (catholicism.about.com)


The Tomb of Sir John Hotham, supported by figures of the cardinal virtues.
The Tomb of Sir John Hotham, supported by figures of the cardinal virtues. (In St Mary's Church, South Dalton, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.)
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org  

Statue Of 'Justice', Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London
Statue Of 'Justice', Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, London, England
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org  

The Cardinal Virtues are often depicted as female allegorical figures and were a popular subject for funerary sculpture. The attributes and names of these figures may vary according to local tradition.

In many churches and artwork the Cardinal Virtues are depicted with symbolic items:

Prudence – book, scroll, mirror (occasionally attacked by a serpent)
Justice – sword, balance and scales, and a crown
Fortitude – armor, club, with a lion, palm, tower, yoke, broken column
Temperance – wheel, bridle and reins, vegetables and fish, cup, water and wine in two jugs

Notable depictions include sculptures on the tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and the tomb of John Hotham. They were also depicted in the garden at Edzell Castle.



Statue of allegory of Prudence by Gaetano Susali on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
Statue of allegory of Prudence by Gaetano Susali on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice) upper left
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 Statue of allegory of Justice by Francesco Bonazza on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
Statue of allegory of Justice by Francesco Bonazza on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
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Statue of allegory of Fortitude on the facade of the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
Statue of allegory of Fortitude on the facade of the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice), bottom left
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Statue of allegory of Temperance (virtue) by Alvise Tagliapietra on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
Statue of allegory of Temperance (virtue) by Alvise Tagliapietra on the church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Venice)
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org  


In his dialogue Republic, Plato uses Socrates to argue for justice that covers both the just person and the just City State. Justice is a proper, harmonious relationship between the warring parts of the person or city. Hence, Plato's definition of justice is that justice is the having and doing of what is one's own. A just man is a man in just the right place, doing his best and giving the precise equivalent of what he has received. This applies both at the individual level and at the universal level. A person's soul has three parts – reason, spirit and desire. Similarly, a city has three parts – Socrates uses the parable of the chariot to illustrate his point: a chariot works as a whole because the two horses' power is directed by the charioteer. Lovers of wisdom – philosophers, in one sense of the term – should rule because only they understand what is good. If one is ill, one goes to a medic rather than a farmer, because the medic is expert in the subject of health. Similarly, one should trust one's city to an expert in the subject of the good, not to a mere politician who tries to gain power by giving people what they want, rather than what's good for them. Socrates uses the parable of the ship to illustrate this point: the unjust city is like a ship in open ocean, crewed by a powerful but drunken captain (the common people), a group of untrustworthy advisors who try to manipulate the captain into giving them power over the ship's course (the politicians), and a navigator (the philosopher) who is the only one who knows how to get the ship to port. For Socrates, the only way the ship will reach its destination – the good – is if the navigator takes charge. (Wikipedia: Justice)

Plato’s definition of justice as intrinsic harmony of soul in which the reason governs and the spirit guards the passion is the only way for a person to be virtuous and acts justly. A just city is the order and harmonious one in which the wise and rational philosophers rule and everyone sticks to his or her appropriate tasks.

Both Plato and Aristotle were rationalists as regards both human knowledge and moral reasons, and what they say about the virtue of justice clearly reflects the commitment to rationalism. Much subsequent thinking about justice (especially in the Middle Ages) was influenced by Plato and Aristotle and likewise emphasized the role of reason both in perceiving what is just and in allowing us to act justly rather than give in to contrary impulses or desires. But to the extent Christian writers allied themselves with Plato and Aristotle, they were downplaying another central element in Christian thought and morality, the emphasis on agapic love. Such love seems to be a matter of motivationally active feeling rather than of being rational, and some writers on morality (eventually) allowed this side of Christianity to have a major influence on what they had to say about virtue. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Justice and The Tripartite Soul

In defending justice against this Sophist critique, Plato has Socrates construct his own positive theory. This is set up by means of an analogy comparing justice, on the large scale, as it applies to society, and on a smaller scale, as it applies to an individual soul. Thus justice is seen as an essential virtue of both a good political state and a good personal character.

The strategy hinges on the idea that the state is like the individual writ large—each comprising three main parts such that it is crucial how they are interrelated—and that analyzing justice on the large scale will facilitate our doing so on the smaller one.

They agree that, if they have succeeded in establishing the foundations of a “completely good” society, it would have to comprise four pivotal virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. If they can properly identify the other three of those four, whatever remains that is essential to a completely good society must be justice. Wisdom is held to be prudent judgment among leaders; courage is the quality in defenders or protectors whereby they remain steadfast in their convictions and commitments in the face of fear; and temperance (or moderation) is the virtue to be found in all three classes of citizens, but especially in the producers, allowing them all to agree harmoniously that the leaders should lead and everyone else follow.

So now, by this process-of-elimination analysis, whatever is left that is essential to a “completely good” society will allegedly be justice. It then turns out that “justice is doing one’s own work and not meddling with what isn’t one’s own.” So the positive side of socio-political justice is each person doing the tasks assigned to him or her; the negative side is not interfering with others doing their appointed tasks.

Now we move from this macro-level of political society to the psychological micro-level of an individual soul, pressing the analogy mentioned above. Plato has Socrates present an argument designed to show that reason in the soul, corresponding to the leaders or “guardians” of the state, is different from both the appetites, corresponding to the productive class, and the spirited part of the soul, corresponding to the state’s defenders or “auxiliaries” and that the appetites are different from spirit. Having established the parallel between the three classes of the state and the three parts of the soul, the analogy suggests that a “completely good” soul would also have to have the same four pivotal virtues. A good soul is wise, in having good judgment whereby reason rules; it is courageous in that its spirited part is ready, willing, and able to fight for its convictions in the face of fear; and it is temperate or moderate, harmoniously integrated because all of its parts, especially its dangerous appetitive desires, agree that it should be always under the command of reason. And, again, what is left that is essential is justice, whereby each part of the soul does the work intended by nature, none of them interfering with the functioning of any other parts.

We are also told in passing that, corresponding to these four pivotal virtues of the moral life, there are four pivotal vices, foolishness, cowardice, self-indulgence, and injustice. One crucial question remains unanswered: can we show that justice, thus understood, is better than injustice in itself and not merely for its likely consequences? The answer is that, of course, we can because justice is the health of the soul. Just as health is intrinsically and not just instrumentally good, so is justice; injustice is a disease—bad and to be avoided even if it isn’t yet having any undesirable consequences, even if nobody is aware of it ; it can readily be inferred that this conception of justice is non-egalitarian.
Read the article at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Western Theories of Justice


Aristotle is generally regarded as a virtue ethicist par excellence, but his account of justice as a virtue is less purely virtue ethical than Plato's because it anchors individual justice in situational factors that are largely external to the just individual. Situations and communities are just, according to Aristotle, when individuals receive benefits according to their merits, or virtue: those most virtuous should receive more of whatever goods society is in a position to distribute. This is what we would today call a desert-based conception of social justice; and Aristotle treats the virtue of individual justice as a matter of being disposed to properly respect and promote just social arrangements. An individual who seeks more than her fair share of various goods has the vice of greediness (pleonexia), and a just individual is one who has rational insight into her own merits in various situations and who habitually (and without having to make heroic efforts to control contrary impulses) takes no more than what she merits, no more than her fair share of good things. Since Aristotle treats all individual virtues as (learned dispositions) lying in a mean between extremes (courage, e. g., is between cowardice and foolhardiness), he also doesn't think it is virtuous to take less than one's fair share of things (though the issue is somewhat complicated for him). (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Aristotle’s discussion of the virtue of justice has been the starting point for almost all Western accounts. For him, justice is the concept of a proper proportion between a person’s deserts (what is merited) and the good and bad things that befall or are allotted to him or her. The key element of justice is treating like cases alike, an idea that has set later thinkers the task of working out which similarities (need, desert, talent) are relevant.
Aristotle distinguishes between justice in the distribution of wealth or other goods (distributive justice) and justice in reparation, as, for example, in punishing someone for a wrong he has done (retributive justice). The notion of justice is also essential in that of the just state, a central concept in political philosophy. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Book V of his great Nicomachean Ethics deals in considerable depth with the moral and political virtue of justice in terms of what is lawful and fair. What is in accordance with the law of a state is thought to be conducive to the common good and/or to that of its rulers. In general, citizens should obey such law in order to be just. The problem is that civil law can itself be unjust in the sense of being unfair to some, so that we need to consider special justice as a function of fairness. He analyzes this into two sorts: distributive justice involves dividing benefits and burdens fairly among members of a community, while corrective justice requires us, in some circumstances, to try to restore a fair balance in interpersonal relations where it has been lost. If a member of a community has been unfairly benefited or burdened with more or less than is deserved in the way of social distributions, then corrective justice can be required, as, for example, by a court of law. Notice that Aristotle is no more an egalitarian than Plato was—while a sort of social reciprocity may be needed, it must be of a proportional sort rather than equal. Like all moral virtues, for Aristotle, justice is a rational mean between bad extremes. Proportional equality or equity involves the “intermediate” position between someone’s unfairly getting “less” than is deserved and unfairly getting “more” at another’s expense. The “mean” of justice lies between the vices of getting too much and getting too little, relative to what one deserves, these being two opposite types of injustice, one of “disproportionate excess,” the other of disproportionate “deficiency”. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Another valuable dimension of Aristotle’s discussion here is his treatment of the relationship between justice and decency, for sometimes following the letter of the law would violate fairness or reasonable equity. A decent person might selfishly benefit from being a stickler regarding following the law exactly but decide to take less or give more for the sake of the common good. In this way, decency can correct the limitations of the law and represents a higher form of justice. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In his Politics, Aristotle further considers political justice and its relation to equality. We can admit that the former involves the latter but must carefully specify by maintaining that justice involves equality “not for everyone, only for equals.” He agrees with Plato that political democracy is intrinsically unjust because, by its very nature, it tries to treat unequals as if they were equals. Justice rather requires inequality for people who are unequal. But, then, oligarchy is also intrinsically unjust insofar as it involves treating equals as unequal because of some contingent disparity, of birth, wealth, etc. Rather, those in a just political society who contribute the most to the common good will receive a larger share, because they thus exhibit more political virtue, than those who are inferior in that respect; it would be simply wrong, from the perspective of political justice, for them to receive equal shares. Thus political justice must be viewed as a function of the common good of a community. It is the attempt to specify the equality or inequality among people, he admits, that constitutes a key “problem” of “political philosophy.” He thinks we can all readily agree that political justice requires “proportional” rather than numerical equality. But inferiors have a vested interest in thinking that those who are equal in some respect should be equal in all respects, while superiors are biased, in the opposite direction, to imagine that those who are unequal in some way should be unequal in all ways. Thus, for instance, those who are equally citizens are not necessarily equal in political virtue, and those who are financially richer are not necessarily morally or mentally superior. What is relevant here is “equality according to merit,” though Aristotle cannot precisely specify what, exactly, counts as merit, for how much it must count, who is to measure it, and by what standard. All he can suggest, for example in some of his comments on the desirable aristocratic government, is that it must involve moral and intellectual virtue. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)



Social Justice

Social justice is "justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society". Classically, "justice" (especially corrective justice or distributive justice) ensured that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles and received what was due from society. Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions can include education, health care, social security, labour rights, as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunity, equality of outcome, and no gross social injustice. (Wikipedia)

Manifesto (Mortimer J. Adler's "Mission")
The only standard we have for judging all of our social economic, and political institutions and arrangements as just or unjust, as good or bad, as better or worse, derives from our conception of the good life for man on earth, and from our conviction that, given certain external conditions, it is possible for men to make good lives for themselves by their own efforts.
There must be sufficient truth in moral philosophy to provide a rational basis for the efforts at social reform and improvement in which all men, regardless of their religious beliefs or disbeliefs, can join. Such common action for a better society presupposes that the measure of a good society consists in the degree to which it promotes the general welfare and serves the happiness of its people—this happiness being their earthly and temporal happiness, for there is no other ultimate end that the secular state can serve.

Distributive justice

Distributive justice concerns the nature of a socially just allocation of goods in a society. A society in which incidental inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice. The concept includes the available quantities of goods, the process by which goods are to be distributed, and the resulting allocation of the goods to the members of the society.

Often contrasted with just process, which is concerned with the administration of law, distributive justice concentrates on outcomes. This subject has been given considerable attention in philosophy and the social sciences.

In social psychology, distributive justice is defined as perceived fairness of how rewards and costs are shared by (distributed across) group members. For example, when workers of the same job are paid different salaries, group members may feel that distributive justice has not occurred.

To determine whether distributive justice has taken place, individuals often turn to the distributive norms of their group. A norm is the standard of behaviour that is required, desired, or designated as normal within a particular group. If rewards and costs are allocated according to the designated distributive norms of the group, distributive justice has occurred. (Wikipedia)

According to the egalitarian, goods should be distributed equally. This basic view can be elaborated in many different ways, according to what goods are to be distributed, such as wealth, respect, or opportunity, and what they are to be distributed equally between—individuals, families, nations, races, species. Commonly-held egalitarian positions include demands for equality of opportunity and for equality of outcome.

According to the utilitarian, justice requires the maximization of the total or average welfare across all relevant individuals. This may require sacrifice of some for the good of others, so long as everyone’s good is taken impartially into account. Utilitarianism, in general, argues that the standard of justification for actions, institutions, or the whole world, is impartial welfare consequentialism, and only indirectly, if at all, to do with rights, property, need, or any other non-utilitarian criterion. These other criteria might be indirectly important, to the extent that human welfare involves them. But even then, such demands as human rights would only be elements in the calculation of overall welfare, not uncrossable barriers to action.

Giving people what they deserve
In one sense, all theories of distributive justice claim that everyone should get what he or she deserves. Where they diverge is in disagreeing about the basis of desert. The main distinction is between, on one hand, theories which argue that the basis of just desert is something held equally by everyone and therefore derive egalitarian accounts of distributive justice; and, on the other hand, theories which argue that the basis of just desert is unequally distributed on the basis of, for instance, hard work, and therefore derive accounts of distributive justice according to which some should have more than others. This section deals with some popular theories of the second type.

*According to meritocratic theories, goods, especially wealth and social status, should be distributed to match individual merit, which is usually understood as some combination of talent and hard work.
*According to needs-based theories, goods, especially such basic goods as food, shelter and medical care, should be distributed to meet individuals’ basic needs for them. Marxism can be regarded as a needs-based theory on some readings of Marx’s slogan, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’.
*According to contribution-based theories, goods should be distributed to match an individual's contribution to the overall social good.

In his A Theory of Justice, John Rawls used a social contract argument to show that justice, and especially distributive justice, is a form of fairness: an impartial distribution of goods. Rawls asks us to imagine ourselves behind a veil of ignorance which denies us all knowledge of our personalities, social statuses, moral characters, wealth, talents and life plans, and then asks what theory of justice we would choose to govern our society when the veil is lifted, if we wanted to do the best that we could for ourselves. We don’t know who in particular we are, and therefore can’t bias the decision in our own favour. So, the decision-in-ignorance models fairness, because it excludes selfish bias. Rawls argues that each of us would reject the utilitarian theory of justice that we should maximize welfare because of the risk that we might turn out to be someone whose own good is sacrificed for greater benefits for others. Instead, we would endorse Rawls’s two principles of justice:
1. Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. 2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both
a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and
b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.
This imagined choice justifies these principles as the principles of justice for us, because we would agree to them in a fair decision procedure. Rawls’s theory distinguishes two kinds of goods – (1) liberties and (2) social and economic goods, i.e. wealth, income and power – and applies different distributions to them – equality between citizens for (1), equality unless inequality improves the position of the worst off for (2).

Having the right history
Robert Nozick’s influential libertarian critique of Rawls argues that distributive justice is not a matter of the whole distribution matching an ideal pattern, but of each individual entitlement having been based on rights of ownership—Nozick calls these "Lockean rights." It is just that a person has some good (especially, some property right) if and only if he or she came to have it by a history made up entirely of events of two kinds:
1. Just acquisition, especially by working to create or achieve ownership; and
2. Just transfer, that is free gift, sale or other agreement, but not theft.
If the chain of events leading up to the person having something meets this criterion, then he or she is entitled to it; it is just that he or she possesses it, and what anyone else has, or does not have, or needs, is irrelevant.
On the basis of this theory of distributive justice, Nozick argues that all attempts to redistribute goods according to an ideal pattern, without the consent of the owners of those goods, are theft. In particular, redistributive taxation is theft. (New World Encyclopedia)

Theories of Distributive Justice – by John E. Roemer

Theories of Distributive Justice
Theories of Distributive Justice
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Roemer's work on exploitation led him to believe that the fundamental cause of exploitation was inequality of ownership of productive assets, rather than the kind of oppression that occurs in the labor process at the point of production—the latter view was held by many in the 'New Left' (Braverman 1974).

While writing A General Theory of Exploitation and Class (1982), Roemer met the philosopher Gerald Cohen and the political theorist Jon Elster: they and others had formed a group of like-minded Marxists, young social scientists and philosophers who saw their task as reconstructing Marxism on solid analytical foundations, using modern techniques.

Roemer joined this group in 1981. He was strongly influenced by Cohen, whose work Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978) was to become the gold standard of analytical Marxism.

Having decided that inequality of asset ownership was the key culprit in capitalist inequality, Roemer, under Cohen's influence, began reading philosophical work on equality. He was impressed with Ronald Dworkin's (1981a, 1981b) writings, advocating a kind of resource egalitarianism. But in Roemer (1985), he showed that the hypothetical insurance market which Dworkin postulated to take place behind a veil of ignorance did not suffice to compensate those with a poor endowment of natural talents or bad luck in the birth lottery, as Dworkin had intended. In fact, pathologically, Dworkin's insurance market could transfer wealth from disabled to able persons. Influenced as well by Richard Arneson's (1989) proposal, Roemer (1993) proposed a conception of equality of opportunity, which attempted to carry out Dworkin's and Arneson's program—that is, to compensate persons for bad luck in the birth lottery, but to hold them responsible for their choices, or effort.

He expanded this theory in Roemer (1996, 1998, 2012), where he proposed an algorithm whereby a society could equalize opportunities for a given objective (wage earning capacity, income, health), consonant with its own view of what factors individuals should be held responsible for, and what factors demanded compensation. Roemer and collaborators have produced a number of applications of this approach (Roemer et al. 2001; Llavador and Roemer 2001; Betts and Roemer 2007; Keane and Roemer 2009; Bjorkund, Jantti, and Roemer 2012). The World Bank (2006, 2009) has employed this approach to evaluate inequality of opportunity in developing countries.


In an imperfect world, institutions are required to instantiate ideals of justice, however imperfectly.

These institutions may be justified by their approximate instantiation of justice, or they may be deeply unjust when compared with ideal standards — consider the institution of slavery.

Justice is an ideal which the world fails to live up to, sometimes despite good intentions. The question of institutive justice raises issues of legitimacy, procedure, codification and interpretation, which are considered by legal theorists and by philosophers of law. (New World Encyclopedia)

Read the article on Government


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Redistribution of Wealth is Theft
Redistribution of Wealth is Theft
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Spread the Wealth Around
Spread the Wealth Around
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Dilbert and distributive justice
Dilbert and distributive justice
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Retributive Justice

Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers punishment, if proportionate, to be the best response to crime. When an offender breaks the law, justice requires that they forfeit something in return. Retribution should be distinguished from vengeance. Unlike revenge, retribution is directed only at wrongs, has inherent limits, is not personal, involves no pleasure at the suffering of others, and employs procedural standards.

In ethics and law, the aphorism "Let the punishment fit the crime" is a principle that means that the severity of penalty for a misdeed or wrongdoing should be reasonable and proportionate to the severity of the infraction. The concept is common to most cultures throughout the world and is evident in many ancient texts. Its presence in the ancient Jewish culture is shown by its inclusion in the law of Moses, specifically in Deuteronomy 19:17-21, and Exodus 21:23-21:27, which includes the punishments of "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." That phrasing in turn resembles the older Code of Hammurabi. Many other documents reflect this value in the world's cultures. However, the judgment of whether a punishment is appropriately severe can vary greatly between cultures and individuals.

Proportionality requires that the level of punishment be scaled relative to the severity of the offending behaviour. However, this does not mean that the punishment has to be equivalent to the crime. A retributive system must punish severe crime more harshly than minor crime, but retributivists differ about how harsh or soft the system should be overall.

Traditionally, philosophers of punishment have contrasted retributivism with utilitarianism. For utilitarians, punishment is forward-looking, justified by a purported ability to achieve future social benefits, such as crime reduction. For retributionists, punishment is backward-looking, justified by the crime that has been committed and carried out to atone for the damage already done.

Depending on the retributivist, the crime's level of severity might be determined by the amount of harm, unfair advantage or moral imbalance the crime caused. (Wikipedia)

The concept of retributive justice has been used in a variety of ways, but it is best understood as that form of justice committed to the following three principles: (1) that those who commit certain kinds of wrongful acts, paradigmatically serious crimes, morally deserve to suffer a proportionate punishment; (2) that it is intrinsically morally good—good without reference to any other goods that might arise—if some legitimate punisher gives them the punishment they deserve; and (3) that it is morally impermissible intentionally to punish the innocent or to inflict disproportionately large punishments on wrongdoers. The idea of retributive justice has played a dominant role in theorizing about punishment over the past few decades, but many features of it—especially the notions of desert and proportionality, the normative status of suffering, and the ultimate justification for retribution—remain contested and problematic.
Read the article at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retributive Justice

Retributive Justice

Retributive justice is concerned with the proper response to wrongdoing.

Theories of retributive justice are concerned with punishment for wrongdoing, and need to answer three questions:
1. Why punish?
2. Who should be punished?
3. What punishment should they receive?

This section considers the two major accounts of retributive justice, and their answers to these questions. Utilitarian theories look forward to the future consequences of punishment, while retributive theories look back to particular acts of wrongdoing, and attempt to balance them with deserved punishment.

According to the utilitarian, as already noted, justice requires the maximization of the total or average welfare across all relevant individuals. Punishment is bad treatment of someone, and therefore can’t be good in itself, for the utilitarian. But punishment might be a necessary sacrifice which maximizes the overall good in the long term, in one or more of three ways:
1.Deterrence. The credible threat of punishment might lead people to make different choices; well-designed threats might lead people to make choices which maximize welfare.
2.Rehabilitation. Punishment might make bad people into better ones. For the utilitarian, all that ‘bad person’ can mean is ‘person who’s likely to cause bad things (like suffering)’. So, utilitarianism could recommend punishment which changes someone such that he or she is less likely to cause bad things.
3.Security. Perhaps there are people who are irredeemable causers of bad things. If so, imprisoning them might maximize welfare by limiting their opportunities to cause harm.

So, the reason for punishment is the maximization of welfare, and punishment should be of whomever, and of whatever form and severity, are needed to meet that goal. Worryingly, this may sometimes justify punishing the innocent, or inflicting disproportionately severe punishments, when that will have the best consequences overall (perhaps executing a few suspected shoplifters live on television would be an effective deterrent to shoplifting, for instance). It also suggests that punishment might turn out never to be right, depending on the facts about what actual consequences it has.

The retributivist will think the utilitarian’s argument disastrously mistaken. If someone does something wrong, we must respond to it, and to him or her, as an individual, not as a part of a calculation of overall welfare. To do otherwise is to disrespect him or her as an individual human being. If the crime had victims, it is to disrespect them, too. Wrongdoing must be balanced or made good in some way, and so the criminal deserves to be punished. Retributivism emphasizes retribution – payback – rather than maximization of welfare. Like the theory of distributive justice as giving everyone what she deserves (see above), it links justice with desert. It says that all guilty people, and only guilty people, deserve appropriate punishment. This matches some strong intuitions about just punishment: that it should be proportional to the crime, and that it should be of only and all of the guilty. However, it is sometimes argued that retributivism is merely revenge in disguise.



John Rawls

John Rawls
John Rawls
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John Bordley Rawls (February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American moral and political philosopher. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University and the Fulbright Fellowship at Christ Church, Oxford. Rawls received both the Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy and the National Humanities Medal in 1999, the latter presented by President Bill Clinton, in recognition of how Rawls's work "helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself."

His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971), was said at the time of its publication to be "the most important work in moral philosophy since the end of World War II" and is now regarded as "one of the primary texts in political philosophy". His work in political philosophy, dubbed Rawlsianism, takes as its starting point the argument that "the most reasonable principles of justice are those everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position". Rawls attempts to determine the principles of social justice by employing a number of thought experiments such as the famous original position in which everyone is impartially situated as equals behind a veil of ignorance. He is one of the major thinkers in the tradition of liberal political philosophy. According to English philosopher Jonathan Wolff, while there could be a "dispute about the second most important [American analytic] political philosopher of the 20th century, there could be no dispute about the most important: John Rawls" (Wikipedia)

John Rawls (1921-2002) was an American political philosopher in the liberal tradition. His theory of justice as fairness envisions a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights cooperating within an egalitarian economic system. His account of political liberalism addresses the legitimate use of political power in a democracy, aiming to show how enduring unity may be achieved despite the diversity of worldviews that free institutions allow. His writings on the law of peoples extend these theories to liberal foreign policy, with the goal of imagining how a peaceful and tolerant international order might be possible.
Read the article at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- John Rawls

Rawls's view of justice is concerned primarily with the justice of institutions or (what he calls) the “basic structure” of society: justice as an individual virtue is derivative from justice as a social virtue defined via certain principles of justice. The principles, famously, are derived from an “original position” in which (very roughly) rational contractors under a “veil of ignorance” decide how they wish to commit themselves to being governed in their actual lives. Rawls deliberately invokes Kantian rationalism (or anti-sentimentalism) in explaining the intellectual or theoretical motivation behind his construction, and the two principles of justice that he argues would be agreed upon under the contractual conditions he specifies represent a kind of egalitarian political liberalism. Roughly, those principles stress (equality of) basic liberties and opportunities for self-advancement over considerations of social welfare, and the distribution of goods in society (according to the the so-called difference principle) is then supposed to work to the advantage of all (especially the worst-off members of society). Rawls argues that a utilitarian principle of justice dictating simply the maximization of overall social well-being would not be accepted in his original position and is accordingly less plausible than the conception of justice embodied in his own two principles and the construction that leads to them. He also says that the idea of what people distributively deserve or merit is derivative from social justice rather (as with Aristotle and/or much common-sense thinking) providing the basis for thinking about social justice.
Read the article at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Justice as a Virtue: 2. Rationalism and Justice


Justice as Fairness

Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical is an essay by John Rawls, published in 1985. In it he describes his conception of justice. It comprises two main principles of liberty and equality; the second is subdivided into Fair Equality of Opportunity and the Difference Principle.

Rawls arranges the principles in 'lexical priority', prioritizing in the order of the Liberty Principle, Fair Equality of Opportunity and the Difference Principle. This order determines the priorities of the principles if they conflict in practice. The principles are, however, intended as a single, comprehensive conception of justice—'Justice as Fairness'—and not to function individually. These principles are always applied so as to ensure that the "least advantaged" are benefitted and not hurt or forgotten.

Rawls presented the theory in the famous A Theory of Justice, subsequently revising it in Political Liberalism.

First Principle: The Liberty Principle
The first and most important principle states that every individual has an equal right to basic liberties, Rawls claiming "that certain rights and freedoms are more important or 'basic' than others". For example, Rawls believes that "personal property" – personal belongings, a home – constitutes a basic liberty, but an absolute right to unlimited private property is not. As basic liberties, they are inalienable: no government can amend, infringe or remove them from individuals.

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls articulates the Liberty Principle as the most extensive basic liberty compatible with similar liberty for others; he later amended this in Political Liberalism, stating instead that "each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties".

Second Principle: The Equality Principle
The Equality Principle is the component of Justice as Fairness establishing distributive justice. Rawls awards the Fair Equality of Opportunity Principle lexical priority over the Difference Principle: a society cannot arrange inequalities to maximize the share of the least advantaged whilst not allowing access to certain offices or positions.

Fair Equality of Opportunity
This principle maintains that "offices and positions" should be open to any individual, regardless of his or her social background, ethnicity or sex. It is stronger than 'Formal Equality of Opportunity' in that Rawls argues that an individual should not only have the right to opportunities, but should have an effective equal chance as another of similar natural ability.

Difference Principle
The Difference Principle regulates inequalities: it only permits inequalities that work to the advantage of the worst-off. This is often misinterpreted as trickle-down economics; Rawls' argument is more accurately expressed as a system where wealth "diffuses up". By guaranteeing the worst-off in society a fair deal, Rawls compensates for naturally-occurring inequalities (talents that one is born with, such as a capacity for sport).

Rawls justifies the Difference Principle on the basis that, since Fair Equality of Opportunity has lexical priority, the Just choice from Pareto optimal scenarios which could occur would be that benefiting the worst-off rather than the best-off.

Original Position
A key component of Rawls' argument is his claim that his Principles of Justice would be chosen by parties in the original position. This is a thought experiment in which the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: his or her ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, their conception of The Good. This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.

A Theory of Justice

A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice
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A Theory of Justice is a work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls. It was originally published in 1971 and revised in both 1975 (for the translated editions) and 1999. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to solve the problem of distributive justice (the socially just distribution of goods in a society) by utilising a variant of the familiar device of the social contract. The resultant theory is known as "Justice as Fairness", from which Rawls derives his two principles of justice: the liberty principle and the difference principle.

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls argues for a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality. Central to this effort is an account of the circumstances of justice, inspired by David Hume, and a fair choice situation for parties facing such circumstances, similar to some of Immanuel Kant's views. Principles of justice are sought to guide the conduct of the parties. These parties are recognized to face moderate scarcity, and they are neither naturally altruistic nor purely egoistic. They have ends which they seek to advance, but prefer to advance them through cooperation with others on mutually acceptable terms. Rawls offers a model of a fair choice situation (the original position with its veil of ignorance) within which parties would hypothetically choose mutually acceptable principles of justice. Under such constraints, Rawls believes that parties would find his favoured principles of justice to be especially attractive, winning out over varied alternatives, including utilitarian and right-libertarian accounts.

The “Original Position”
Rawls belongs to the social contract tradition. However, Rawls' social contract takes a different view from that of previous thinkers. Specifically, Rawls develops what he claims are principles of justice through the use of an artificial device he calls the Original position in which everyone decides principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. This "veil" is one that essentially blinds people to all facts about themselves so they cannot tailor principles to their own advantage.
According to Rawls, ignorance of these details about oneself will lead to principles that are fair to all. If an individual does not know how he will end up in his own conceived society, he is likely not going to privilege any one class of people, but rather develop a scheme of justice that treats all fairly. In particular, Rawls claims that those in the Original Position would all adopt a maximin strategy which would maximise the prospects of the least well-off.

The Two Principles of Justice

The First Principle of Justice
"First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others."
The basic liberties of citizens are the political liberty to vote and run for office, freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience, freedom of personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest. However, he says:
"liberties not on the list, for example, the right to own certain kinds of property (e.g. means of production) and freedom of contract as understood by the doctrine of laissez-faire are not basic; and so they are not protected by the priority of the first principle."

The Second Principle of Justice
Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that:
(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle).
(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

Rawls' claim in (a) is that departures from equality of a list of what he calls primary goods—"things which a rational man wants whatever else he wants"—are justified only to the extent that they improve the lot of those who are worst-off under that distribution in comparison with the previous, equal, distribution. His position is at least in some sense egalitarian, with a provison that equality is not to be achieved by worsening the position of the least advantaged. An important consequence here, however, is that inequalities can actually be just on Rawls' view, as long as they are to the benefit of the least well off. His argument for this position rests heavily on the claim that morally arbitrary factors (for example, the family one is born into) shouldn't determine one's life chances or opportunities. Rawls is also keying on an intuition that a person does not morally deserve their inborn talents; thus that one is not entitled to all the benefits they could possibly receive from them; hence, at least one of the criteria which could provide an alternative to equality in assessing the justice of distributions is eliminated.

The stipulation in (b) is lexically prior to that in (a). Fair equality of opportunity requires not merely that offices and positions are distributed on the basis of merit, but that all have reasonable opportunity to acquire the skills on the basis of which merit is assessed. It may be thought that this stipulation, and even the first principle of justice, may require greater equality than the difference principle, because large social and economic inequalities, even when they are to the advantage of the worst-off, will tend to seriously undermine the value of the political liberties and any measures towards fair equality of opportunity.



Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer J. Adler
Mortimer J. Adler
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The Sovereignty of Justice

Scale of justice
Scale of justice
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The three of the six great ideas—liberty, equality, and justice are closely interrelated. This triad of ideas are the ideas we act on in governing our social, political, and economic affairs.

In dealing with this set of ideas, we must note the sovereignty of justice. It regulates our thinking about liberty and equality. Without its guidance, certain errors are unavoidable and certain problems insoluble.

It should also be pointed out that all three of these ideas fall in the domain of the idea of goodness. We rightly regard liberty and equality as highly desirable goods, real goods that we need to lead decent human lives in the pursuit of happiness. Just action with respect to others, as we saw in an earlier chapter, is the good of doing. To act rightly or justly is to do good.

In the popular mind, and even in the opinions of the learned, either liberty, or equality, or both together, is accorded the highest honor as the prime value or values to be sought, secured, and preserved. Much more inflamed rhetoric, as well as much more reasoned argument, has called for liberty above all else, or for equality above all else, or for both together, than there have been appeals for justice first and foremost.

The maxim of the French Revolution still echoes in our ears:
liberte, egalite, fraternite. Justice is not even mentioned in the company of the other two. That might have been justified had the authors of that maxim written it on the basis of Aristotle's insight that if all human beings who are associated in a community were friends with one another, there would be no need for justice. It is doubtful that they had this in mind.

I will try to explain why justice is the supreme value, a greater good than either liberty or equality, and one that must be appealed to for the rectification of errors with regard to liberty and equality.

Only justice is an unlimited good. One can want too much liberty and too much equality—more than it is good for us to have in relation to our fellowmen, and more than we have any right to. Not so with justice. No society can be too just; no individual can act more justly than is good for him or for his fellowmen.

The failure to observe and understand the need for limitations upon liberty and equality leads to serious errors about them and to an irresolvable conflict between them.

On the one hand, there are the libertarians, who not only place the highest value on liberty but also seek to maximize it at the expense of equality. They not only want an unlimited amount of freedom, but they are also willing to try to achieve it even if achieving it results in an irremediable inequality of conditions, under which some portion of a society, usually a majority, suffer serious deprivations.

On the other hand, there are the egalitarians, who not only regard an equality of conditions as the supreme value, but also are set upon trying to achieve it even if that infringes in many ways on individual liberty, and especially upon freedom of enterprise, exercised with the help of equality of opportunity. They seek to maximize an equality of conditions, even if to do so requires many infringements upon individual liberty, which is the lesser value in their view.

The conflict, not between liberty and equality, but between extremist exponents of these values, cannot be resolved without correcting the errors that lead to the extremisms respectively espoused by the libertarian and by the egalitarian. These errors can be corrected only by understanding that neither liberty nor equality is the prime value, that neither is an unlimited good, and that both can be maximized harmoniously only when the maximization is regulated by justice.

Everyone should have only as much liberty as justice allows, and no more than that.
A society should seek to achieve only as much of an equality of conditions as justice requires, and no more than that.
When justice thus regulates the pursuit of liberty and equality, both can be maximized harmoniously within the limits set. The irresolvable conflict between the erroneous extremism of the libertarian and the erroneous extremism of the egalitarian vanishes. The sovereignty of justice has corrected the errors and resolved the conflict.

The following questions have, in various forms, pervaded the thinking of the last hundred and fifty years about liberty and equality. Of these two goods, the circumstantial freedom of individuals in society and the equality of conditions under which individuals may live in society, which is the supreme or sovereign value? Should individual freedom be encroached upon to establish a complete equality of conditions? Should inequalities of condition be allowed to remain if that is necessary to maximize individual freedom? Is there some way of reconciling liberty and equality so that the ideal that each represents can be served without sacrificing the other?

So far as I know, these questions do not appear in ancient or mediaeval thought, certainly not with the clarity and explicitness with which modern thinkers have posed them. I must also say that, so far as I know, sound answers to these questions cannot be found in modern thought. Quite the contrary! Such answers as can be found there are, upon close examination, unsatisfactory — inadequate and untenable. However, recourse to the wisdom of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought provides us with two crucial insights which hold the key that will solve these modern problems. The first is that neither liberty nor equality is a supreme or sovereign value. Justice is sovereign; the pursuit of both liberty and equality must be regulated by criteria of justice. When they are so regulated, there is no irreconcilable conflict between efforts to maximize liberty on the one hand and efforts to maximize equality on the other, for neither should be maximized beyond a limit appointed by justice. We should not seek more liberty than justice allows, for beyond this limit lies not liberty, but license — actions that injure other individuals or the community as a whole. We should not seek more equality than justice requires, an equality with respect to all the external goods or conditions to which every one has a natural and, therefore, an equal right. Within these limits, both equality and liberty can be maximized without conflict.

Liberty and Equality

Liberty and equality have traditionally been thought incompatible. To maximize one, it has been thought, leads to encroachment on the other. Alexis de Tocqueville, John Calhoun, William Sumner, and others feared that the demand for an equality of economic conditions would inevitably result in the sacrifice of political liberty and freedom of enterprise. Others, however, held that unlimited freedom of enterprise in the economic sphere — stressing only an equality of opportunity — must result in a serious inequality of conditions, with many suffering poverty, deprivation, and destitution.

In contemporary writings on the subject, many share the fears of Tocqueville, Calhoun, and Sumner that attempts to establish an egalitarian economy, or to enforce an equality of economic conditions, will require the exercise of despotic or dictatorial political power and lead to the demise of constitutional democracy and the loss of political liberty.

I think these fears are not justified. Liberty and equality are not incompatible. Constitutional democracy and political liberty need not be sacrificed in order to secure economic rights for all.

The solution of the problem is clear in principle, once we recognize that neither liberty nor equality is the sovereign value to be protected. It is justice that is sovereign. When justice regulates our attempt to maximize liberty and equality, both can be achieved as fully as they should be.

Men should have only as much liberty as justice allows, only as much as the individual can use without injuring others or the community itself. Likewise, men should have only as much equality as justice requires, only as much equality in the conditions of their lives as they need in order to lead decent human lives. As much liberty as justice allows is a limited liberty that does no injury to others. As much equality as justice requires is a limited equality, an equality only in the things to which all men have an equal right. When liberty and equality are thus limited by justice, they cease to be incompatible with one another.

There is no difficulty about understanding a limited as opposed to an unlimited liberty. But what is meant by a limited equality?

Since political equality is easier to think about than economic equality, let us begin with that. Men are politically equal when they enjoy an equality of political status — the equality of citizenship with suffrage — even though this is accompanied by an inequality of political power, as, for example, between citizens out of public office and citizens in public office. Political equality exists when all are haves in the sense of having basic political powers and rights, even though among these haves, some have more and some have less power. Men enfranchised and women disfranchised are politically unequal, as haves and have-nots are unequal. But when both men and women are enfranchised, those in office and those out of office are unequal only in the degree of political power that all of them have.

Now how much economic equality does justice require? It does not require that all have the same amount of money or income. That would not only be more equality than justice requires, it would also be an equality that could never be established; or, if ever established, it could not be preserved for more than a single day.

Neither does justice require that all must be equal in getting whatever they want in the form of economic goods. Justice requires the satisfaction of needs, not wants.

A just economic equality, like a just political equality, consists in securing rights — in this case, rights to the economic goods that men need to lead decent human lives. There is a just economic equality when all human beings have what they need, when all are haves and no one is deprived or a have-not. A just economic equality exists in a society — or in the world — when all citizens, or all peoples, are above the line of deprivation with regard to things needed for a decent human life.

The establishment of a society in which all are haves and none are have-nots does not preclude differences in degrees among the haves. Just as in the political order, all have political liberty and power when all are citizens with suffrage, even though citizens in public office may have more political power than citizens out of office, so in the economic order, when all are haves, some may have more economic goods than they need to lead decent lives. Some may have more than others, but all have enough.

It is possible to achieve as much liberty and as much equality as men should have without sacrificing either one to the other.
It is possible to realize the ideals of liberty and equality in both the political and the economic sphere.
Only by meeting the demands of people everywhere for both equality and liberty in both the political and the economic sphere can the promise of a good life and a good society for all human beings be fully realized.

All men are created equal, or as an equivalent statement — that all men are by nature equal. What is being asserted here is that no human being is more or less human than another. They are equal in their humanity. However, they are also unequal in their natural endowments and individual differences as human beings. So, there is no incompatibility between the assertion that all men are by nature equal amid the assertion that they are also by nature unequal.

The equality they possess through their common humanity establishes their equal dignity as persons. More important still is the fact that from their equality as human beings flows their equal possession of the unalienable rights that are inherent in their common human nature and that constitute their dignity as persons.

The Declaration’s assertion about unalienable rights enumerates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The enumeration is not to be taken as complete or exhaustive. The Declaration uses the phrase “among these rights.” Other rights exist even though they are not mentioned here. And even rights not recognized at the time of the Declaration may, in the course of time, come to be recognized as unalienable or inherent human rights.

A second point that requires close attention is the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” In John Locke’s enumeration of natural rights, the basic triad was life, liberty, and property; or life, liberty, and estates. Thomas Jefferson substituted “the pursuit of happiness” for property and estates. In so doing, he raised a question about the relation of the third element in the triad to the other two. The right to property or estates is coordinate with the right to life and liberty. But the pursuit of happiness is not coordinate or on the same level with the other two. George Mason, a fellow Virginian, had spoken of “the pursuit and attainment of happiness.” Jefferson wisely dropped the words “and attainment.”


GOOD vs RIGHT -- The Mistake of Giving Primacy of the Right Over the Good

> Good and Right
Good and Right
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The domain of justice is divided into two main spheres of interest. One is concerned with the justice of the individual in relation to other human beings and to the organized community itself–the state. The other is concerned with the justice of the state–its form of government and its laws, its political institutions and economic arrangements–in relation to the human beings that constitute its population.

An error that affects our understanding of justice is the mistake of giving primacy or precedence to the right over the good
This mistake had its origin in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and was given currency in this century in a book, “The Right and the Good”, published by an Oxford philosopher, Professor W. D. Ross, in the early thirties. This mistake could have been repaired by a more perceptive reading of Aristotle’s “Ethics.”

It is a mistake to give primacy to right over the good; it stems from ignorance of the distinction between real and apparent goods -- goods needed and goods wanted.

It is impossible to know what is right and wrong in the conduct of one individual toward another until and unless one knows what is really good for each of them and for everyone else as well.

Real goods, based on natural needs, are convertible into natural rights based on those same needs.

To wrong another person is to violate his natural right to some real good, thereby depriving him of its possession and consequently impeding or interfering with his pursuit of happiness. To wrong or injure him in this way is the paradigm of one individual’s injustice to another

In short, one cannot do good and avoid injuring or doing evil to others without knowing what is really good for them. The only goods anyone has a natural right to are real, not apparent, goods. We do not have a natural right to the things we want; only to those we need.

If, as Professor Ross maintained, the right had primacy over the good, we should be able to determine what is right or just in our conduct toward others without any consideration of what is really good for them. But that is impossible.

To each according to his wants, far from being a maxim of justice, makes no practical sense at all; for, if put into practice, it would result in what Thomas Hobbes called "the war of each against all," a state of affairs he also described as "nasty, brutish, and short."

The denial of natural rights, the natural moral law, and natural justice leads not only to the positivist conclusion that man made law alone determines what is just and unjust. It also leads to a corollary that inexorably attaches itself to that conclusion -- that might makes right. This is the very essence of absolute or despotic government.

Adler on Fairness

Another error that affects our understanding of justice made its appearance more recently in a widely discussed and overpraised book, A Theory of Justice, written by Harvard professor John Rawls. The error consists in identifying justice with fairness in the dealings of individuals with one another as well as in actions taken by society in dealing with its members.

Fairness, consists in treating equals equally and unequals unequally in proportion to their inequality. And that is only one of several principles of justice, by no means the only principle and certainly not the primary one.

If, as Professor Rawls maintained, justice consists solely in fairness, murdering someone, committing mayhem, breaching a promise, falsely imprisoning another, enslaving him, libeling him, maliciously deceiving him, and rendering him destitute, would not be unjust, for there is no unfairness in any of these acts. They are all violations of rights, not violations of the precept that equals should be treated equally.

Only when the facts of human equality and inequality in personal respects and in the functions or services that persons perform provide the basis for determining what is just and unjust can justice and injustice be identified with fairness and unfairness.

When, on the contrary, the determination of what is just and unjust rests on the needs and rights inherent in human nature, then justice and injustice are based on what is really good and evil for human beings, not upon their personal equality or inequality or upon the equality and inequality of their performances.

The fact that all human beings, by nature equal, are also equally endowed with natural rights does not make their equality or their equal possession of rights the basis of a just treatment of them. If only two human beings existed, one could be unjust to the other by maliciously deceiving or falsely imprisoning him. That wrongful act can be seen as unjust with out any reference to equality or inequality. It is unjust because it violates a right.

Murder, mayhem, rape, abduction, libel, breach of promise, false imprisonment, enslavement, subjection to despotic power, perjury, theft–these and many other violations of the moral or civil law are all unjust without being in any way unfair. They are all violations of natural or legal rights. That is what their injustice consists in, not unfairness.

Murder wrongfully deprives an individual of his right to life. Mayhem, torture, assault and battery wrongfully impair the health of an individual, which is a real good to which he has a natural right. False imprisonment, enslavement, subjection to despotic power transgress the individual’s right to liberty. Libel, perjury, theft take away from individuals what is right fully theirs–their good name, the truth they have a right to, property that is theirs by natural or legal right. Rendering others destitute, leaving them without enough wealth to lead decent human lives, deprives them of the economic goods to which they have a natural right.

In all these instances of injustice, which consist in the violation of rights, the ultimate injury done the unjustly treated individual lies in the effect it has upon his or her pursuit of happiness. The circumstances under which individuals live and the treatment they receive from other individuals or from the state are just to the extent that they facilitate his pursuit of happiness, unjust to the extent that they impair, impede, or frustrate that pursuit.


Conflicting Theories of Justice

With regard to the idea of justice, there are three conflicting theories.

1. The view that might makes right. This, in the course of centuries, became the legalist or positivist theory of justice, which holds that nothing is either just or unjust; unjust acts are those prohibited by the positive law and just acts are those prescribed by it.

2. The view that natural justice is antecedent to legal justice — that the precepts of the natural moral law and the existence of natural rights determine what is just and unjust. This being the case, states, constitutions, governments, and their laws can be judged just or unjust by reference to natural rights and the principles of natural justice.

3. According to the utilitarian or pragmatic theory of justice, the criteria of what is just or unjust in human actions as well as in the acts or policies of governments derive from the consideration of the ultimate end to be served — called the “general happiness” or “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Acts, policies, and laws are just to the extent that they serve and promote “the general welfare” or “the common good”; unjust to the extent that they injure it or detract from it.

In my view of the matter, each of these three theories of justice is false when it claims to be the whole truth, excluding what is sound in the other two theories. Though I favor the naturalist theory, I must concede that when it claims to be able to answer all questions about justice by reference to natural rights, it goes too far. The questions it can answer are of prime importance, but they fall short of being all the questions that call for answers.

Similarly, the claim that all questions of justice can be answered by reference to criteria of fairness in exchanges or distributions is excessive. Some, but only some, certainly can be, and these are of secondary importance. (See John Rawls’ theory of Justice as Fairness)

There are questions about justice that cannot be answered by reference to natural rights or criteria of fairness. These questions can be answered by the consideration of what is expedient or inexpedient in relation to the general welfare or the common good.

Many determinations of what serves or disserves the general welfare or the common good turn out upon examination to be identical with determinations of the just and the unjust by reference to natural rights or to criteria of fairness. On the other hand, the social policies that protect natural rights and require fairness generally promote the general welfare or the common good as well.

Finally, the claim made by the legalists or positivists that all questions of justice can be answered by reference to laws enacted by the state and enforced by a government in power can be embraced only by those who are unashamed to espouse the extreme doctrine that might makes right. Nevertheless, a retreat from that extreme must admit that some determinations of what is just or unjust stem solely from the enactment of ordinances that decide which of several alternative policies should be adopted as expedient in the service of the public interest. If none is superior to the others as being more expedient in the service of the general welfare, then it is only the enactment of a positive law embodying that alternative which determines what is just.

The reconciliation of the three conflicting theories of justice can be accomplished by avoiding the excessive claim each makes and by putting what is true in each of them together in a well-ordered manner. This can be briefly set forth as follows.

Everything that is just by reference to natural rights or just by reference to criteria of fairness is also just through being expedient in the service of the common good or general welfare. What is just by reference to natural rights takes priority over what is just by reference to criteria of fairness because the latter is based on the personal equalities and inequalities of individuals — their endowments and attainments and how they put them to use — whereas the former is based on the natural needs common to all persons as members of the human race.

Everything that is expedient in the service of the common good or general welfare is just because it serves that end, but it may not always be just also by reference to natural rights or to criteria of fairness. Herein lies the special truth contributed by the pragmatic or utilitarian theory of justice. All of the foregoing determinations of what is just or unjust can be made antecedent to the enactment of positive laws by the state. In fact, the enactment of positive laws that are just embodies the foregoing determinations of what is just.

However, some things cannot be thus determined to be either just or unjust. They are morally indifferent in the sense that they are neither for nor against natural rights, neither fair nor unfair, neither more nor less expedient in the public interest. Nevertheless, in the public interest, one or another alternative course of action must be decided upon. When this decision is made by legislative enactment, a course of action prescribed by positive law becomes just, and one prohibited by positive law becomes unjust. Herein lies the special truth contributed by the legalist or positivist theory of justice.

If the formulation I have just presented is correct (which readdress must decide for themselves), the reconciliation of the three conflicting theories has been accomplished by rejecting the extravagant claims made by each of them and by recognizing that each makes an indispensable contribution to the whole truth that is not made by the others. It is also necessary to put these partial contributions together in a way that recognizes the inherent priority of the naturalist theory over the pragmatic or utilitarian theory, and of both over the legalist or positivist theory. When this is done, we end up with a sound and adequate rendering of the idea of justice, and one that, in my judgment, cannot be achieved in any other way.

Adler on Justice & Expediency

Only Aristotle uses the word "justice" in two radically different senses. He distinguishes between general and special justice. By justice in general he means justice as one of the four cardinal aspects of virtue, the other three being courage, temperance, and prudence. The morally virtuous man is a just man, an as such he is a temperate man and one who is also courageous and prudent.

By special justice, Aristotle means fairness in exchange and fairness in the distribution of goods. Fairness in exchange is commutative justice, and the other aspect of fairness is distributive justice. Fairness is the special justice that is be found in just laws; and it is in connection with the justice of human-made or positive law that Aristotle introduces the notion of equitable dispensation from a strict application of law to difficult cases.

Machiavelli tells us that the prince should be just in the use of power, but if a just use of his power is not expedient, then he should be expedient in his effort to be a successful prince. The ideal use of power occurs when ruling justly is also expedient. But when that is not possible, Machiavelli says, then the prince or anyone else with ruling power must be unscrupulous and use what ever means will succeed in getting or keeping power even if the means employed are unjust.

Two most difficult questions about justice

Both were raised by Plato at the very beginning of our Western thinking about justice. One, I think, can be answered; but the other may be unanswerable.

1. Why should anyone be just in his or her action toward others or in relation to the community in which he or she lives?

This question was raised by Plato in the first two books of his Republic, in the context of inquiring whether the individual who acts justly profits from it in terms of his own happiness.

To make what is ultimately a whole good life, the individual must, of course, make the right choices concerning the goods he needs and wants. Moral virtue is the firm habit that disposes the individual to make such choices.

The habitually intemperate individual, who wrongly chooses to indulge in excessive desires for merely apparent goods that afford immediate pleasure, in preference to the real goods he or she in the long run needs, moves in a direction that departs from the route to his or her ultimate good. The same thing can be said of the habitual coward, who, lacking fortitude, turns away from the real goods he should seek because of the pains to be endured or the difficulties to be overcome in acquiring them.

So far it is clear that being morally virtuous (at least to the extent of being temperate and courageous) is not only worthy in itself but also expedient as an indispensable means to achieving a good human life.

But what about that aspect of moral virtue that is called justice?

As I see it, the only answer must lie in a truth that is difficult to explain and that is seldom understood. If the moral virtues I have named — temperance, courage, and justice — were three separate habits any one of which a person might possess without having the others, then I, for one, would not know how to argue for the expediency of being just toward others as a means to my own happiness. However, if, on the contrary, the three habits named are distinct but not separable aspects of moral virtue as an integral and indivisible whole, then the answer sought is in sight.

The argument runs as follows. I cannot achieve the happiness of a good human life without being morally virtuous — without having the firm habit of making right choices. I cannot be morally virtuous in one respect without being morally virtuous in all respects, because the three aspects of moral virtue that I have named are inseparable from one another.

I cannot be temperate without being courageous and just. I cannot be courageous without being temperate and just. If I am unjust, I cannot be either temperate or courageous. But intemperance on my part and lack of fortitude will defeat my pursuit of happiness. Hence injustice on my part will defeat it also.

Therefore, in order to succeed in my effort to achieve my own ultimate good, which is a good human life as a whole, I must be just in my actions toward others and in relation to the community in which I live.

Moral virtue being one integral whole, with a diversity of distinct but inseparable aspects, it always points us in one and the same direction whether we are considering our own happiness or the happiness of others. That is why my being just to others is also expedient as a means toward the attainment of my own happiness.

2. Is it better to suffer injustice at the hands of others or to be unjust toward them?

The question presupposes that we are confronted with this difficult choice: We must either act unjustly toward others or suffer unjust treatment by them. Faced with these alternatives, which should we choose?

Plato himself was persuaded that the choice should always be to suffer injustice rather than do it. In his view, no injury that we can suffer at the hands of others can possibly be as destructive of our well-being as taking unto ourselves the moral evil of being unjust toward others. That view rests on an inadequate understanding of human happiness or well-being.

Toward the end of the trial of Socrates, Plato has him say that no harm can come to a good man in this life or the next. If this is interpreted to mean that the morally good or virtuous man cannot be seriously harmed by any external injury inflicted upon him by others; if, in other words, the only serious injury that an individual can suffer is one he inflicts upon himself by conduct that is not morally right or virtuous, then we can see why Plato thought that it is always much better to suffer injustice than to do it.

My rejection of Plato’s view of the matter turns on a conception of human happiness that involves the possession of all the things that are really good for a person. A morally good or virtuous will is only one of the really goods. Life and liberty, knowledge and friends, health and a modicum of wealth and other goods of fortune — all these are also real goods and the possession of which is indispensable to a good human life.

Therefore, my pursuit of happiness can be seriously impaired by the injuries I suffer if I am enslaved, if my health is maimed, if I am deprived of sufficient wealth, if I am kept in ignorance, and so on. These are injuries I can suffer at the hands of others or from the injustice of the society in which I live.

I, therefore, think that there is no general answer to Plato’s question about doing and suffering injustice. In particular cases, it may be possible to decide that, confronted with certain alternatives, it is better to suffer injustice than to do it, because the injury suffered results only in a slight impediment to my pursuit of happiness, whereas the injury I inflict upon myself by being unjust may have much more serious consequences for my moral character.

The choice between doing and suffering injustice becomes a difficult and onerous one only when the external injury that threatens us would result in a total deprivation of one or another real good that we need in order to live well. If, in order to avoid the serious injury that threatens our happiness, we have to commit one act of injustice and one that does not lead to the loss of moral virtue on our part (because one act neither makes nor breaks a habit), then it may be clearly preferable to do injustice in this one instance rather than to suffer it.


Adler on Punishment

The word "punishment" is used in the criminal law to stand for whatever treatment the state recommends for convicted offenders. That treatment may be either utilitarian or retributive, but it cannot be both.

The treatment is retributive when the punishment fits the crime, not the criminal. Retributive punishment may or may not have a salutary effect upon the criminal, but the severity of the punishment must be measured by the seriousness of the crime. What was once called the lex talionis required a just proportion between the injury done to the victim of the crime and the injury tone suffered by the criminal -- an eye for and eye, a life for a life.

Punishment is utilitarian or pragmatic when its aim is not to do strict justice, but rather to deter or reform criminals. Here the treatment accorded offenders judged guilty of committing the same offense may not be the same. The treatment may vary with the age and the character of the offender.

It is in this context that the question of capital punishment must be considered by those who think the aim of punishment should be to prevent crime, and particularly recidivism, which is the recurrent criminality of offenders who are paroled.

Some states have now abolished capital punishment on the grounds that it is unjust, a violation of the right to life. While the offender is alive, errors that may have occurred in his or her trial can be rectified. The right to life is not violated by the incarceration of the offender for life with no parole allowed. Nor is the right to liberty violated, for the offender incarcerated for life even though his exercise of liberty is severely curtailed.

The offender's right to liberty would be violated only if the warden treated the incarcerated offender as his personal slave. That would be unjust because it would be a violation of the offender's right to be treated as a free human being rather than as a slave.

Current recommendations that criminals found guilty of three offenses should be incarcerated for life with no parole allowed is not a violation of human rights. They do not deprive the repeat offender's life or liberty, but they may be pragmatically sound measures aimed at reducing recidivism and thus preventing crime.

Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice

Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice
Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice
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The Arts of Justice

Lady Justice

Lady Justice
Lady Justice
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Lady Justice, a symbol of justice. She is depicted as a goddess equipped with three items: a sword, symbolising the coercive power of a court; scales, representing an objective standard by which competing claims are weighed; and a blindfold indicating that justice should be impartial and meted out objectively, without fear or favor and regardless of money, wealth, power or identity.

Justice by Luca Giordano

Justice by Luca Giordano
Justice by Luca Giordano
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Justice by Luca Giordano, fresco i684-1686, in der Galerie des Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florenz, Szene
In many churches and artwork, justice, one of the cardinal virtues, is depicted with symbolic items: sword, balance and scales, and a crown.


The Triumph of Justice by Hans von Aachen

The Triumph of Justice, by Hans von Aachen
Allegory (aka The Triumph of Justice) by Hans von Aachen (1598) Oil on copper, 56 x 47 cm Alte Pinakothek, Munich
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Injustice by Giotto di Bondone

Injustice by Giotto di Bondone
Injustice by Giotto di Bondone (1306) Fresco, 120 x 60 cm, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
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The figures of Justice and Injustice are larger than those of the other Virtues and Vices, and occupy a central position on the dado. Injustice {Injusticia) is personified by a man who rules in an impenetrable fastness. The consequences of the rule of injustice are abuses, which can be seen in the foreground.


Poverty is no justice

Poverty is no justice   Poverty is no justice
Poverty is no justice - No Justice, No Peace
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The Rich versus The Poor

The Rich versus the Poor
The Rich versus The Poor - The Injustice
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A riot is the language of the unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard
A riot is the language of the unheard
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The people will rise up

The people will rise up
The people will rise up
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Neither Persons nor Property will be Safe

Neither Persons nor Property will be Safe.
When justice is denied, don't forget to burn down your neighbourhood.
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No justice, no peace

No justice, no peace
Burn down your own neighbourhood - What a feeling!.
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Lincoln's Justice

Lincoln's Justice
Lincoln's Justice
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Martin Luther King, Jr's Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr's Justice
Martin Luther King, Jr's Justice
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