Social Justice: Theories, Issues, and Movements

By Loretta Capeheart; Dragan Milovanovic | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13

Conclusion

JUSTICE IS NOT STATIC, nor does it exist outside of human construction. Pets may appear to act justly (or, in the case of some crankier sorts, unjustly) toward each other, but our judgment of their behavior is based on our own understandings of justice and not theirs. Justice is defined, sought, and attained through our social understandings and expressions.

As illustrated in the first part of the text, definitions of justice have historically been devised by and/or for the elite. Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers of old were beholden to elite rulers and their own interests. Women and slaves were not engaged in the process of justice defining, nor were they invited to seek or attain justice by those espousing classical definitions. However, the ideas and the democratic process of debate have held sway over time and continue to inform current notions of justice.

By the time that classical social theories of justice developed, the world had changed significantly and voices beyond the elite were emerging. These voices were not always welcomed or heeded, but nonetheless they have had a great impact on the understandings of justice. Our first approximation of justice includes the following elements: distributive principles (fair allocation of rewards and burdens) and retributive principles (appropriate responses to harm); how they relate to political economy and historical conditions; their local and global manifestations; the struggle for their institutionalization; how human well-being and development at the social and individual levels is enhanced by their institutionalization; and developing evaluative criteria or processes by which their enhancement or denial result.

We have addressed these elements throughout the text, with specific chapters dealing with distributive justice (chapter 3) and retributive justice (chapter 4). As illustrated, the classical thinkers are especially important to an understanding of distributive justice. The theorists concerned with distributive justice looked to the organization of society to explain justice and just relationships within that structure. Distributive justice and social organization continue within the discourse of justice.

Retributive justice is also important to current justice understandings. Defining crime, deciding upon punishment, and invoking just procedures

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