What is Justice?



Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due

Domitus Ulpian



The answer to this question depends on your perspective.

One suggested answer might be that Justice is the right and fair distribution of things we prize as a society – wealth, income, rights and responsibilities, powers and accountability, opportunities, punishment and redress for wrongs, honours and representative office.

But what is the ‘right’ and ‘fair’ distribution?

And are the so-called prizes listed above the true prizes that deserve to be under consideration when talking about Justice in terms of distributing what’s important?

A variety of definitions of Justice have emerged since history has been recorded.

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that Justice means maximising the greatest good and happiness for the greatest number.  He considered the idea of natural rights to be ‘nonsense upon stilts’. The utility of this view makes determinations of Justice a calculation rather than a principle. Human goods and behaviour is translated into a unit of value with no qualitative differences among them.

The libertarian view of Justice, as argued by various philosophers, economists and historical figures including Milton Friedman, the economist-philosopher Friedrich A. Hayek, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, provides that freedom of choice is paramount to determining whether Justice has been done or not.  Freedom of choice of the individual made in a free market or hypothetical choices a person would make in a position of equality are of paramount importance. Rights are taken seriously and Justice is considered to be more than a calculation because some rights outweigh others.  Individual preferences are respected and encouraged.  The moral worth of the goals we aspire to and the meaning or significance of our individual lives are considered to lie beyond the boundaries of Justice.

By way of contrast, Aristotle considered that Justice involved cultivating virtue and reasoning about the common good. Justice viewed from this perspective means giving people what they deserve and this is ascertained by determining what virtues are worthy of honour and reward.

Defining Justice is inescapably judgemental. Arguments about where the boundaries of the definition should rest are difficult to avoid. Determinations about Justice are inevitably combined with competing ideas about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to value things (tangible and intangible), distribute them and how, when and to whom they ought to be distributed.



Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are

  Benjamin Franklin



Be Engaged. Be Informed. Be Curious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s