Principles of justice


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Principles of justice

  1. 1. RS: A2: Ethics: Justice The underlying principles of justiceJustice is about treating people equally and fairly. It is an important aspect of socialdemocracy, where the legal and moral system of a society is the result of a negotiationbetween the needs of the people as a whole and the freedom of the individual.In The Republic Plato argued that justice was the way to the happiest life. He believed thatall the elements should work together for the health of society as a whole and that justice isthe expression of that health. In contrast, injustice is a sickness, resulting in suffering for all.Plato believed that both the state and the individual should be ruled by reason. He acceptedthat in a natural state each individual is concerned with his/her own self-interest and thatthe strong tend to impose their notions of justice on the weak. However, if there is only self-interest then society breaks down. Plato claimed that society has to create a sense of order,so that all citizens can benefit and live together in harmony. This is achieved throughreason- people use rationality to control their selfish desires and choose to obey the laws asa matter of social acceptance. For Plato, justice is achieved within the state when everyoneis able to live and work in harmony with others.EqualityJustice is concerned with equality. But equality itself is a difficult concept to define.Augustine observed that ‘Equality must be something different other than treating everyonein the same way since everyone is different.’There are four main notions of equality: 1. Fundamental equality- all citizens are treated as equals by the government and the legal systems. 2. Social equality- citizens have the right to vote and stand for public office. 3. Equal treatment for equals- people of the same group are treated in the same way. It is an elitist principle that does not regard equality as a human right for all. 4. Treating people unequally in special circumstances- equals are people in the same situation and the same circumstances. Someone in a different situation is an unequal, who may need special treatment. Treating people equally does not imply treating them the same.Justice is difficult to achieve because life is full of inequalities. David Hume suggested thatone could never achieve a justice system based on what people deserve, since it isimpossible to agree about what each person deserves. Nor could there be a ‘justice ofequality’ since people are unequal in what they have. By birth or genetics people are rich orpoor, intelligent or unintelligent. People therefore are unequal in ability and so some willprosper and come wont. Thomas Nagel noted that despite our concern for equality, manyinequalities are deliberately imposed, for example racial and sexual discrimination. Whilesocial democracy may seek equality of opportunity, inequality of result is usually the
  2. 2. RS: A2: Ethics: Justiceoutcome. To overcome such inequalities a radical overhaul of the political system wouldprobably be necessary. It would mean limiting human freedom and society would be actingto prevent its citizens from making the most of their abilities, talents and opportunities. Key question: why might wealth bring greater opportunity?Marx argued that a greater measure of justice could be achieved if the state attempted tobalance the inequalities for example by taxing the wealthy more heavily and using themoney to provide better educational facilities for the less well-off. This may be ethicallyjustified as although higher taxation limits the freedom of the rich to spend their money asthey choose, it does not remove that freedom completely. Redistributive taxation allows thegovernment to interfere in what people do but within reasonable limits. It contributes tooverall equality.Charles Colson argues that justice is characterised by the society it is part of. It is the systemof political and social structures that enables citizens of that state to live together inharmony and scrutiny: ‘A society has a foundation for justice when it observes a rule of lawgrounded in objective truth.’ In Colson’s view if the law loses its authority within a society,then the notion of justice also suffers and can be abused by pressure groups. He argues thatthe law gains its moral authority not only by reflecting the moral traditions of that societybut also by encompassing an objective standard of justice applicable to all humanity. In hisview, the ultimate authority was God: ‘For justice is impossible without the rule of law; andthe rule of law is impossible without transcendent authority’.Colson argues that the only true justice is restorative justice whilst for the utilitariandistributive justice should ensure the greatest good of the greatest number. For Bentham,that ‘good’ is pleasure; later versions of utilitarianism have other more sophisticatedversions of what the ‘good’ is. Utilitarians would see the empirical and measurable ‘good’ asa better criterion for deciding who should get what than the view of human nature putforward by natural law which cannot be proved and which if e.g. it leads to a view thathuman life must be preserved whatever the financial implications could lead to great anduseless suffering for others who are waiting for treatment. Supporters of distributive justicebased on natural law on the other hand would see utilitarians risking obvious injustice in forexample accepting a certain amount of poverty as inevitable if the happiness of the greatmajority is served.