CLASSICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE: A Philosophical Exploration of the Roots of Social and Economic Inequities

By Lucey, Thomas A.; Agnello, Mary Frances et al. | Multicultural Education, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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CLASSICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE: A Philosophical Exploration of the Roots of Social and Economic Inequities

Lucey, Thomas A., Agnello, Mary Frances, Hawkins, Jeffrey M., Multicultural Education

The gods do not think it right people should succeed unless they understand their duties and are concerned that they are accomplished, but grant their favor to some who are prudent and careful while denying it to others.


(as translated in Pomeroy, 1994, p. 165)

The Kingdom of God comes not at some future time

You cannot point out the sign of its coming

The Kingdom of God comes not at some special site

You cannot point out the place of its coming

The Kingdom of God is already here, among you now.

-Jesus of Nazareth

(Matthew 24:23-26) (as interpreted in Crossan, 1994, p. 39)


As the United States witnesses a widening gap between rich and poor (U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, 2004), it also faces systemic moral challenges (MacIntyre 1984). Whereas MacIntyre (1988) observes that three ethical traditions challenge moral discourse, Lucey (2008) speculates that various economic classes possess different interpretations of ethics, morality, and spirituality.

Knowledge and power relations define morality for society. Yet the dominant discourse of morality does not discount or destroy discourses of other groups (Foucault, 1972). What becomes difficult to overcome about the practice of the elites to define morality is their access to the media that reaches the public at large and their abilities to exercise power in many social networks (Fiske, 1993).

According to Bobbitt (2002), security, welfare, and multiculturalism contribute to a market-state social identity that relies heavily upon financial exchange among cultural groups and upon increasing business transactions among distant nations. While this awareness has developed over centuries, the early 21st century realizes the consequences of its recent intensification. A social manifestation of the ongoing struggle between economic classes (Zinn, 2003) is a curriculum differentiated along lines of social class defined by economic knowledge and power relations (Oakes & Lipton, 2007).

The challenge by dominant discourses intensified during the 1980s and extends into the early 21st century, as official policy decisions appear to redefine the importance of human interactions in terms of economic relationships (National Center on Education and the Economy 2007; Spring, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 1983; U.S. Department of Labor, 1987). Societies appear to define themselves more through economic relationships and less on geographic proximity. Their economic interdependencies became more apparent during the October 2008 meltdown of global financial markets.

This redefinition prompts moral challenges on a global scale. Ruiz and Mínguez (2001) observe that such environments prompt immoralities such as "poverty, inequality, and exclusion" (p. 159), exacerbating economic dependencies and poverty of South hemispheric populations and economic disadvantage in rich nations (United Nations Children's Defense Fund, 2002).

Similar ethical challenges occur within societies. Sparks (1994) points out the moral challenges experienced in urban settings, associating high degrees of violence with low-income areas. She attributes these circumstances to patterns of "institutional racism and the gross terms of income, employment, health care, education, and political oppression." (p. 318). As society redefines itself, economic influences and disparities prompt moral challenges that require multicultural focus and a social transformative perspective if any improvements are to occur.

Our thesis is that economic contexts influence patterns of educational practice and decision-making. The philosophers/ prophets described in this article illustrate this theory through their philosophical ideals/preaching. If education is to be an equitable process, then all stakeholders need an awareness of these differences to commence a respectful dialogue about meaning and direction of education.

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CLASSICAL SOCIAL JUSTICE: A Philosophical Exploration of the Roots of Social and Economic Inequities


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