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- the general principle that individuals should receive what they deserve. The definition, a common-sense one, has also received many philosophical formulations, including classical philosophers from ARISTOTLE to KANT. More recently the ideas of the US philosopher John RAWLS (A Theory of Justice, 1971) have been highly influential.
- legal justice, sometimes called ‘corrective justice’, the application of the law, and the administration of the legal institutions, which in modern societies are mainly operated by trained legal professionals. Here conceptions of formal or procedural fairness are uppermost, i.e. the operation of the law according to prescribed principles or ‘due process’ (e.g. ‘the rule of law’). see also CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.
- social justice, general conceptions of ‘social fairness’, which may or may not be at odds with conceptions of ‘individual justice’, or with conceptions of justice in sense 2 . Competing conceptions of social justice also exist. For example, Utilitarian conceptions of justice, which emphasize an assessment of collective benefit as the overriding consideration, are at odds with conceptions which emphasize a balance of individual and collective rights.
It is as an example of a philosophical approach which combines formal and substantive concerns that Rawls’ discussion has attracted particular attention. Defining justice as ‘fairness’, Rawls asks what people would be likely to regard as fair in a hypothetical ‘original position’ in which a ‘veil of ignorance’ prevents them having knowledge of their own possession of social characteristics. Rawls’ suggestion is that inequalities are acceptable only if they leave all people better off. Thus Rawls also supports state interference. A contrary view (e.g. Robert Nozick's (1974) elegant defence of the ‘minimalist state’) is that justice consists in the recognition and protection of individual rights, including PROPERTY rights.
Although the differences between conceptions of justice may appear sharp, and often overlain with ideology, empirical resolutions should not be ruled out. For example, theories as apparently divergent as those of Rawls, Nozick, or Hayek (1944) all involve arguments about aggregate economic benefits and their distribution which potentially at least are empirically resolvable, however difficult in practice this may be to achieve (compare ESSENTIALLY CONTESTED CONCEPT, HABERMAS). One route, for example, taken by Barrington MOORE (1972,1978) is to focus on ‘injustice’, his assumption being that agreements on this will be more easily reached. See also BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, EQUALITY, EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY, NATURAL RIGHTS AND NATURAL LAW, EXPLOITATION, DISCRIMINATION, SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY.
a concept about what should be, a concept that is consistent with certain notions about the essence of man and man’s inalienable rights. Justice is a category of the moral-legal and sociopolitical consciousness. The concept of justice necessarily requires that individuals’ (social groups’) social status correspond to their actual role in society, that their duties correspond to their rights, that retribution correspond to deed, pay to work, punishment to crime, and social recognition to merit. Any noncorre-spondence in these relationships is considered injustice.
In the history of social consciousness, the first conception of justice was associated with the acknowledgment that the norms of the primitive order were undisputed. Justice here was simple conformity to the accepted order. In social practice this conception of justice was negative in sense—it demanded punishment for violation of the general norm. One practical expression of this conception was clan retaliation against an offender. A more refined, affirmative conception of justice, one that included the allotment of benefits to people, emerged as individuals gained an identity distinct from that of the clan. Originally, this conception meant primarily the equality of all in the enjoyment of rights and the means of life.
With the appearance of private property and social inequality, justice came increasingly to be distinguished from equality, embracing a differentiation among people according to merit. Aristotle was the first to distinguish between corrective (or retributive) and distributive justice; in his view, a special form of justice was retribution, which should originate in the principle of proportionality. This differentiation between the justice of equality and the justice of proportionality (according to merit) was subsequently preserved throughout the history of class society. At the same time, the popular consciousness always kept alive, side by side with the concept of justice that reflected the structure of existing class relations, an idea of justice that expressed a protest against exploitation, inequality, and national oppression.
From the point of view of Marxism, the concept of justice is always historical, always the result of the conditions in which people (classes) find themselves. The founders of Marxism-Leninism repeatedly emphasized that evaluating social reality from the standpoint of justice “does not move us one step forward scientifically” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 153). Human social relations can be called just only in the sense that they correspond to historical necessity with respect to the practical possibility of creating conditions of human life that answer to a given historical epoch.
The socialist conception of justice includes equality with respect to the means of production and with respect to real political and legal rights. Under socialism, differences in the character of labor and in the distribution of consumer goods still remain. As V. I. Lenin wrote, “Marx shows the course of development of communist society, which is compelled to abolish at first only the ’injustice’ of the means of production seized by individuals, and which is unable at once to eliminate the other injustice, which consists in the distribution of consumer goods ’according to the amount of labor performed’ (and not according to needs)” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 93). In communist society, full congruence of justice and social equality is achieved.