Study Notes on Political Science: Concept of Justice

By Rohit Singh|Updated : June 11th, 2022


Concept of Justice

The concept of Justice in Modern philosophy has been associated with John Rawl's work. However, the concern for justice existed since the Greek period of philosophy. One of the earliest accounts of justice was found in Plato's Republic in which justice was one the fourth principle of Virtue with other temperance, wisdom, and courage. Plato sought to construct an Ideal state by finding the true nature of justice, where every individual would be true to his nature and fulfil their duty diligently. In commonsensical understanding, we understood justice as an attribute of law or impartiality and fairness are understood to be aspects of justice.

Two Strands of Concept of Justice

1. Distributive justice 

In a limited resource world, the distribution of resources depends upon needs. That is why the question of who should get what and why will always remain an important one. For example, a construction worker with his family of eight children gets a four-bedroom flat, and a doctor of heart with his family of two children get two-bedroom flat based on need. 

2. Procedural Justice

Procedural Justice Theory does not make a distinction between production and distribution that means each individual has entitlements that are individual in character and depend on any abstract principle of distribution. It also implies that the state would have no authority to interfere in the matter of individual entitlements. 

Most of the theories of justice revolve around these two strands of justice.

Liberal View of Justice   

Liberals see a tight connection between justice and the basic idea of moral equality. Liberals promote the moral equality of people by formulating a theory of juridical equality, which articulates each individual's claims to the conditions which promote their well-being.

John Rawls on Justice

John Rawls, in his A Theory of Justice, presents a liberal theory of justice. Rawls presents a view of justice against criticism that despite following rules under the procedural theory, unjust conditions might be created. Rawls contends that justice prevails only when every departure from equality can be rationally justified. 

Rawl's theory of justice is based on equality. He set out his theory by placing the individual in a 'veil of ignorance' in which individuals are unaware of who they are, their interests, skill, and needs. Rawls did this because individuals usually have selfish interests. So, people would not know their fault lines. Rawls saw a hypothetical situation called the 'original position' in which people would have knowledge of economics and psychology, which Rawls termed a 'sense of justice.' Rawls contends these people have no vision of what constitutes the good life but would only maximizing their primary good- liberty, opportunity, income, wealth, and self-respect. Hence, they would choose those principles which would maximize their position of worst-off.

Rawl's argues they would choose from these two principles of justice:

  1. Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with the liberty to others 
  2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both:
  • To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged
  • Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality and opportunity.

C.B Macpherson, in his book Democratic Theory: Essays in retrieval, argues that Rawl's theory of justice is actually a defence of a liberal-democratic capitalist welfare state. Macpherson argues that Rawls does not present a universal account of justice but an account that rationalizes liberal beliefs and values. Rawl's theory depends on the existence of a particular kind of individual who is free and equal living in a plural society. Hence, Rawl's theory is cultural-specific and appropriates only for liberal democratic societies. 

Libertarian View of Justice

Libertarians relate justice to the market. Robert Nozick's 'Entitlement theory' articulates that if we assume that everyone is entitled to the goods they currently possess (their 'holdings'), then a just distribution is whatever distribution results from people's free exchanges. Any distribution that arises by free transfers from a just situation is itself just. In his book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he makes a distinction between the historical and end-state principles of justice. Historical principles hold that an individual's past actions decide that what he deserves and since actions are different, so what he deserves. The end-State principle demands that there would be a set of goals to which the distribution patterns conform.

Feminist View of Justice

The feminist theory revolves around the question of female moral reasoning different from the universal ethics of justice. Carol Gilligan articulate the ethic based on 'care' should place female morality characterized by care, nurture, love, values and peace, an impartial, objective, and universal framework as the male ethic of justice. Susan Moller Okin, in her book Justice, Gender and Family, presents philosophical work, working of the family to the account of justice. The family is considered to be 'private,' and justice as an idea has a bearing on the 'public sphere.' Susan argues that the public has a direct bearing on the private. People's lives in public shape and also shaped by their ways of participating in family life. For example, an unequal division of labor within a family creates obstacles for women in their lives outside the family, and social traditions support these inequalities. Okin argues any theory of justice, which is silent about the inequalities within the family, is an incomplete one. 

Marxist View of Justice

Marxists emphasize the idea that communism is based on a principle of justice. In this regard, they are following Marx, who attacked the ideas of 'equal right' and 'fair distribution' as 'obsolete verbal rubbish.'

Marx presents a detailed discussion of the concept of justice in his book, 'Critique of the Gotha Programme.' In a transitional socialist society, justice would mean that each individual should receive labour according to his contribution to the social product. Marx emphasized the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." People would produce goods and services without the need for differential rewards and unaffected by what others get. But it would not be possible in the condition of conflict and scarcity. Marx advocates the abolition of private property as an essential step towards the creation of a cooperative and harmonious community. 

Capability approach of justice

Amartya Sen is the chief proponents of the capability approach of justice. According to Sen, Rawl's conception of justice concentrates only on the means to freedom rather than on the extent of the freedom that a person actually has. Sen describes a capability approach of justice, where it is not just the access to primary goods but the extent of capabilities that each individual converts these primary goods into lives, they value living, which would determine freedom and uphold justice.

The concept of justice is interconnected with the concept of liberty and equality. From the above discussion on justice, it is evident that there is no one uniform or universally accepted definition of justice. Greeks classics, liberals, libertarian, Marxist, and feminist sees justice from a different point of view. Our understanding of justice depends on our opinion and understanding of the world around us and how it structured.



write a comment


UGC NETKSETTNSET ExamGSET ExamMH SETWB SETMP SETSyllabusQuestion PapersPreparation
tags :UGC NET & SETPaper IIUGC NET OverviewUGC NET Admit CardUGC NET SyllabusUGC NET Preparation TipsUGC NET Books

Follow us for latest updates