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1. Ethics
a. the principle of fairness that like cases should be treated alike
b. a particular distribution of benefits and burdens fairly in accordance with a particular conception of what are to count as like cases
c. the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offence
2. the administration of law according to prescribed and accepted principles
3. conformity to the law; legal validity
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
While influenced by philosophical conceptions, sociologists have generally attempted to avoid the abstractions and definitional debates which have characterized philosophical works on justice. The major location of sociological work has been in discussions of political and CIVIL RIGHTS and particularly welfare and social policy. The central focus has been on distributive justice, i.e. the substantive allocation of benefits, rather than merely formal or procedural conceptions of justice.

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.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


personified as a blindfolded goddess, token of impartiality. [Rom. Tradition: Jobes II, 898]


See also Lawgiving.
Kidnapping (See ABDUCTION.)
a judge of the dead. [Rom. Lit.: Aeneid]
(519–465 B.C.) Persian king rectifies wrongs done to Jews. [O.T.: Esther 8:7–8]
Arthur, King
trained by Merlin to become a just ruler, he endeavors all his life to establish a realm where justice prevails. [Br. Lit.: Malory Le Mort d’Arthur]
in moral sphere, presides over righteousness. [Zoroastrianism: Jobes, 138]
goddess of justice. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 59]
island-city where Sancho Panza, as governor, settles disputes equitably. [Span. Lit.: Cervantes Don Quixote]
worn by personification of justice. [Art: Hall, 183]
in American flag, symbolizes justice. [Color Symbolism: Leach, 242; Jobes, 356]
Brown vs. Board of Education
landmark Supreme Court decision barring segregation of schools (1954). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 544]
Cambyses, Judgment
of corrupt judge’s flayed flesh provides judicial throne. [Gk. Hist.: Herodotus]
Carlos, Don
conscience piqued, tries to lift Spanish yoke from Flemish. [Ger. Lit.: Don Carlos]
Cauchon, Bishop
presided impartially over the ecclesiastical trial of Joan of Arc. [Fr. Hist.: EB, (1963) V, 60]
one of Horae; personification of natural law and justice. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 85]
Gideon v. Wainwright
established right of all defendants to counsel (1963). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 585]
during a famine he saves food for the rich by burning the poor, whom he compares to mice; mice invade his tower and devour him. [Ger. Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 439]
Henry VII
(1457–1509) deliverer of Richard III’s just deserts. [Br. Lit.: Richard III]
International Court of Justice
main judicial organ of U.N. [World Hist.: NCE, 1351]
sign of the balance, weighing of right and wrong. [Zodiac: Brewer Dictionary, 640]
his justice approved even by the gods; became one of the three judges of the dead. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 168]
equitable councillor to King Feredach. [Irish Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 728]
Moran’s collar
strangled wearer if he judged unfairly. [Irish Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 728]
Nuremberg Trials
surviving Nazi leaders put on trial (1946). [Eur. Hist.: Van Doren, 512]
as a lawyer, ingeniously interprets to Shylock the terms of Antonio’s bond. [Br. Drama: Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice]
Prince Po
settles dispute over a stolen child by asking the two claimants to pull it out of a circle of chalk by its arms. [Chin. Drama: The Circle of Chalk in Magill III, 193; cf. Brecht The Caucasian Chalk Circle in Weiss, 74]
made judge in lower world for earthly impartiality. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Handbook, 911]
indicates fairness. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 177]
signify impartiality. [Art: Hall, 183]
denotes fairness and righteousness. [Heraldry: Halberts, 37]
perspicaciously resolves dilemma of baby’s ownership. [O.T.: I Kings 16–28]
stars, garland of
emblem of equity. [Western Folklore: Jobes, 374]
sword and scales
attributes of St. Michael as devil-fighter and judge. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 98]
Tale of Two Cities, A
barrister London Stryver gets Charles Darnay acquitted by showing his resemblance to Sydney Carton. [Br. Lit.: Dickens A Tale of Two Cities]
Valley of Jehoshaphat
where men will be ultimately tried before God. [O.T.: Joel 3:2]
World Court
popular name for International Court of Justice which assumed functions of the World Court. [World Hist.: NCE, 3006–3007]
Yves, St.
equitable and incorruptible priest-lawyer. [Christian Hagiog.: Attwater, 347
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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