Tom R. Tyler, (Ed.). Social Justice in A Diverse Society

Article excerpt

Tom R. Tyler, (ed.). Social Justice in A Diverse Society.

Consuelo Preti is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at The College of New Jersey.

Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. Paperback. 298 pages. $28.00.

The authors of this book defend the claim that an important, even dominant, feature of social interaction is the role of justice in the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals within social groups. The key claim these studies make is that "how people feel and behave in social settings is strongly shaped by justice and injustice," and that "judgments about what is just, fair, or deserved are at the heart of people's feelings, attitudes and behaviors in their interaction with others" (6).

Social Justice in A Diverse Society summarizes much of the empirical research done in social psychology over the past 25 years and is divided into five parts. Part one is an introduction to the topic of social justice; part two provides an analysis of three concepts of justice and their role in thoughts, feelings, and attitudes; part three shows how people respond to justice and injustice (collectively and individually); part four considers motivation (why people care about justice, particularly as members of groups); and part five considers the external factors that impact on and modify justice concerns -- factors like moral exclusion, scarcity of resources, societal hierarchies, social roles, and culture.

The final chapters contain the most interesting consequence of the wide-ranging research presented in this book: the suggestion that culturally diverse social groups appear to agree on certain aspects of procedural justice. This result is important, as the authors claim, for it may point to a way of instituting and ensuring social harmony among disparate social groups despite varying normative concepts of right and wrong.

Whatever else may be theoretically true about moral judgments -- say, for example, that moral relativity is false or self-contradictory -- there are a staggering number of moral criteria in play at any given time across individuals, groups, and cultures. Of particular interest to social psychology is what happens when all this moral diversity comes together into one culture. If various subgroups, each with their own normative standards of right and wrong, find themselves in close proximity, is there any way for them to live peaceful, moral lives? Is there some moral concept that these groups possess in common and from which practical standards can be derived to the approval of all (or most)?

The research presented here supports the finding that the concept of justice plays such a role, revealing that fairness is a moral concept that is at the foundation of how we characterize our social interactions. Since fairness differs according to issues of resource allocation, decision-making, and punishment of rule-breakers, the bulk of the book is given over to an analysis, respectively, of distributive, procedural and retributive justice. These subconcepts of justice are highly relevant to social interactions as they involve both outcomes and the processes by which outcomes are determined.

The authors consider research that shows that equity (rather than self-interest) is at the heart of distributive justice, and contend that this provides evidence for the dominant role of justice-concerns in social interactions. Equity concerns appear to characterize people's views about rewards -- not just in professional settings, but also in personal ones. Hence, there is reason to believe that equity is a generally applicable concept.

The role of fairness in procedural justice concerns is demonstrated by research that has an interesting and significant implication. It appears that people are more likely to accept outcomes which they consider as unfavorable so long as they perceive the processes by which the unfavorable outcome was generated to have been fair. This implication becomes the basis of the authors' closing remarks on achieving social justice in a society characterized by diversity. …