The word justice is associated with many aspects of society today; social justice, criminal justice and environmental justice just to name a few. However, all of these subsections have one thing in common, a societal outlook past individual gratification or concern. All of these groups or movements seek changes within their communities to reach a state of justice from a societal standpoint. Justice may only be achieved when all aspects of society are in fact made to be just. As a broad concept often misused in daily life, many do not know the true meaning and definition of justice. Justice is the quality of equity in a society, where individuals are given fair consequences for actions and behaviour. A just society rewards individuals for their actions in a fair way, no matter what race, religon, sex, disability or appearance. Justice in society based on equity gives consistent treatment to citizens, allowing all a chance to succeed if they work hard enough. In today’s capitalist society, the rich get richer and the poor remain poor because the system allows varying consequences for like actions. Authentic justice may only be achieved in society when equity is implemented.
Those who embody morality in the society in question and work hard to contribute, should be entitled to more because it is earned or deserved. A just society must rely on the principle of equity more than anything else. Equity is not synonymous with equality, the two terms possess key differences. Equity is the concept of fair treatment through varying aid or assistance while equality constitutes sameness among all people (Merriam-Webster). Equity gives people what they need on a case to case basis, while equality provides one general solution for an entire group (Merriam-Webster). Equality is not a reasonable structure to obtain justice in society because the contribution of individuals varies largely and failing to acknowledge many’s right to superiority, which humans naturally seek, is flawed and unjust in itself. Canada’s common law system requires judges to consider precedent during an accused’s trial and sentencing. Precedent is the reference to similar cases or issues and their outcome to help judges reach a reasonable conclusion regarding sentencing. This system serves as a prime example of equity based justice. Today, precedent is used in legal proceedings and many other disputes, though is not concrete necessary in most cases. A truly just system would give equal sentences or rewards for equal crimes or achievements, thus achieving equity. Every individual must receive what they deserve in accordance with their value to society.
Esteemed ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, concurs with the theory of justice as equity in his Book of Nicomachean Ethics where he writes that justice is “not for everyone, only for equals” (Aristotle, 79). This quote acknowledges inequality among individuals while addressing the importance of equitable treatment among valid equals. He also theorizes “inequality is required for those who are unequal” (Pomerleau) meaning two people of vastly different circumstances are not entitled to the same rights, privileges and luxuries. Proof of the validity of this statement is a comparison between serial killer Ted Bundy to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and humanitarian. While Ted Bundy confessed to murdering dozens of young girls, Bill Gates made significant advances in technology and has saved the lives of millions of children through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (B.Gates and M.Gates). Clearly, Bill Gates deserves to be in the position of power and influence he is currently in while Ted Bundy deserved criminal intervention because their actions warranted consequences, be they good or bad. Aristotle’s theory of distributive justice, which deals with how to distribute assets in a fair way, states that benefits and burdens should be distributed in proportion to one’s contributions to a society (Lamont). Clear imbalances may be seen among every individual’s contributions, therefore they do not deserve equal distribution of privelleges. Justice is reached in society when equity allows people to succeed or fail, completely equally to their equals. Justice propels the advancement of society in search of individual success when people see clear rewards for their good behaviour.
Some may argue that in order to achieve justice in society everyone should be considered completely equal. This is known as an egalitarian approach to justice. Egalitarianism argues that all people are equal and therefore are entitled to the same rights and opportunities (Arneson). In this theory of justice, fairness is achieved because if everyone is equal, nobody is oppressed or deprived of success. In fact, the destructive hierarchies may no longer unjustly impact anybody. The deprivation of basic human rights and simultaneous existence of billionaires is a glaring example of injustice. This equality based social system would bring justice to the majority of the world’s population while only negatively impacting the rich.
John Rawls, an American philosopher and Harvard University professor, outlines a very egalitarian based view of justice in his 1971 book; A Theory of Justice. Rawls uses the concept of the “Veil of Ignorance” to convey his beliefs, stating that if an individual were unaware of their position in society and possessed basic knowledge about the structure of society and human nature then they would determine two ideal principles of justice (Rawls, 118). He states that the two general principles would be the principle of equal liberty and the difference principle (Rawls, 52). The principle of equal liberty states that everyone has the equal right to the “most extensive liberties” (Garrett) and the difference principle describes that inequalities should be “to the benefit of the greatest number and that it’s attached offices be open to all” (Garrett). These principles ensure that any person may have equal treatment resulting in societal justice.
However, not being rewarded for greater work or effort is un-just, therefore privileges must vary in order to provide justice to all equally. Any given society will never reach the point at which every member is exerting a uniform amount of effort in a day. Rawls’ theory of justice is ill-conceived because the power dynamic present in society is what allows it to grow and flourish. Hard work, intelligence and ambition must always be rewarded in society because such individuals earned benefits and it would be unjust not to reward exceptional contributors for thier efforts. Despite Rawls’ beliefs, all humans are not equal from a societal standpoint because while one may contribute nothing, another may find the cure to cancer and make a revolutionary change. These two individuals are a prime example of an unequal contribution to society from an objective standpoint. Furthermore, under Rawls’ system, hard working, educated citizens would be forced to part with hard earned resources, such as money, to support criminals and lazy people who abuse the system (Garrett). It would be like if one child did an entire project for her group and on the day of the presentation, the other members took the information and presented separately without giving credit. If one person does all the work, unrelated persons should not benefit, this directly translates to the concept of justice as equity, not equality.
Desert based distributive justice is a theory of justice distribution pioneered by Aristotle that rewards people based on certain criteria (Lamont). This concept was adapted and modernised by John Locke, who stated that people have the right to keep the fruits of their labour, or the monetary equivalent, as compensation for their efforts (Lamont). Over hundreds of years, the concept of most desert based distributive justice has been narrowed down to three important categories; contribution, effort and compensation (Lamont). The most relevant of the three, however, is Miller and Riley’s category of contribution (Lamont). Miller and Riley theorised “people should be rewarded for their work activity according to the value of their contribution to the social product”, essentially believing in the importance of individuals earning what they are or are not given (Lamont). The accordance of society with what an indivudual has worked to earn is equity, which brings justice.
In conclusion, justice is a quality that is acheived by society through equitable treatment of equal persons. This means individuals are entitled to profit off of hard work and those unequal to them do not benefit an equal amount. Complete equality in a society, as Rawls advocates for, is not justice because it undermines individual contribution and one’s right to suceed. Justice is the earning of one’s position in life completely, the concept of “you get what you deserve” through equity of treatment. Aristotle and other desert based distributive justice philosophers such as Locke, Miller and Riley agree with this assessment. Equity truly is the only means of achieveing justice in every society.
- Aristotle, and H. Rackham. The Nicomachean Ethics. Vol. 5, Harvard University Press, 1990.
- Arneson, Richard. “Egalitarianism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 24 Apr. 2013, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/#PreDis
- “Definition of Equality.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equality.
- “Definition of Equity.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equity.
- Garrett, Jan. “John Rawls on Justice.” Rawls on Justice, 3 Sept. 2002, https://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/ethics/johnrawl.htm#prin.
- Gates, Bill, and Melinda Gates. “Warren Buffett’s Best Investment.” Gatesnotes.com, Bill Gates, 14 Feb. 2017, https://www.gatesnotes.com/2017-Annual-Letter.
- Lamont, Julian, and Christi Favor. “Distributive Justice.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 26 Sept. 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-distributive/#Desert.
- Pomerleau, Wayne P. “Western Theories of Justice.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Gonzaga Univeristy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/justwest/.
- Rawl, John. A Theory of Justi ;lk vce. Harvard University Press, 1971.