The Controversy Surrounding the Definition of Justice
It has always been difficult to work out a universal definition of justice. The notion of justice has been disturbing people throughout the centuries. At first sight, it seams that the definition of justice should not be a problem, but if we try to think about it, we will see that it is not as simple as it may seem.
The question “What is justice?” was raised by many famous philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel. Each of them gave their own definition of this concept, but still, nobody could give the precise and ultimate answer.
From the legal point of view, justice is “the quality of being just; fairness”. But what does it mean? And who can say what is fair and what is not? It is obvious that different people have different opinions on this matter. For instance, one person may think that the death penalty is the most just way to deal with criminals, while another person may believe that it is always wrong to kill somebody no matter what he or she has done. That is why it is so hard to find the common ground when we are trying to achieve universal justice.
There are many different approaches to the problem of defining justice. In this essay, I will try to analyze some of them and to find out whether it is possible to reach universal agreement on this matter.
2. The definition of universal justice
In order to find out whether there can be such a thing as universal justice, we need to understand what exactly this concept means.
First of all, it is important to differentiate between two different types of justice: distributive and retributive. Distributive justice deals with the allocation of resources in the society, while retributive justice is concerned with the punishment of those who have committed a crime. In this essay, I will mainly focus on retributive justice as it is usually considered to be more controversial than distributive one.
There are different ways of understanding retributive justice. The most common approach is based on the principle “to each according to his deserts” which means that people should be punished in accordance with their deeds (Dworkin 2004). That is why this approach is often called “desert-based” (Dworkin 2004). However, there are also other ways of thinking about retributive justice which are not necessarily connected with desert principle. One of them is utilitarianism which says that we should choose such punishment which would lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people (Bentham 1789).
It seems that these two approaches – desert-based and utilitarian – are quite different from each other and it might be difficult to find any common ground between them. However, some scholars believe that they are actually not so different as they may seem at first sight (Dworkin 2004). According to Ronald Dworkin who advocates “integrity theory” of punishment, both desert-based and utilitarian approaches are based on the same idea that people should be treated according to their merits (Dworkin 2004). The only difference between them is in the way these merits are understood: while desert-based approach focuses on moral merits, utilitarianism takes into account social utility which may or may not coincide with morality.
Still, even if we accept that there is some similarity between these two approaches, it does not necessarily mean that they can be considered as different interpretations of the same thing. It is also possible that they are just two different ways of thinking about justice which cannot be reconciled with each other. In order to find out whether this is the case, we need to take a closer look at these approaches and see how they can be applied in practice.
3. The trial and the juror
Let us imagine that somebody has been accused of a crime and he is going to stand trial. In order to find out whether he is guilty or not, the jury will have to evaluate the evidence and decide whether it is enough to convict him.
There are different ways in which the jury can go about its task. One way is to simply apply the principle “to each according to his deserts” and convict the person if they think that he deserves it. This approach is often criticized as being too subjective and biased as it may lead to different decisions in similar cases (Dworkin 2004).
Another way is to try to maximize social utility and convict the person only if there is a strong reason to believe that it would make society better off. This approach may seem to be more objective, but it still has its own problems. First of all, it is very difficult to predict what will happen in the future and how different actions will affect the welfare of society. Secondly, even if we could accurately predict the consequences of our actions, we would still have to make a value judgment about what is good for society and what is not.
4. The notion of justice
As we can see from the above discussion, it is very hard to find any agreement on what justice actually means. Different people have different opinions on this matter and it seems that there is no way to reconcile them.
One reason why it is so difficult to reach any agreement on the definition of justice is that this concept is closely connected with moral values. And as we know, different people have different moral values which makes it almost impossible to find any common ground between them.
Another reason why the definition of justice is so controversial is that it is often used in political debate. For example, when politicians are arguing about law enforcement or punishment for criminals, they often appeal to notions of justice in order to support their point of view. However, as we have seen before, there are different ways of understanding justice and it is very hard to say who is right and who is wrong in such debates.
5. The conclusion
In this essay, I have tried to analyze some different approaches to the problem of defining justice. I have also argued that it is very difficult to reach any agreement on this matter due to its connection with moral values and its use in political debate.
Even though it might be impossible to find any universally accepted definition of justice, this does not mean that we should stop trying to achieve it. Justice is one of the most important values which we should strive for even if we will never be able fully understand it.
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