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At this juncture the new point of view is stated by Glaucon and he put Forward a form of what was later to be known as a social contract theory, arguing we are only moral because, it pays us or we have to be. Glaucon describes the historical evolution of the society where justice as a necessity had become the shield of the weaker. In the primitive stage of society without law and government, man was free to do whatever he likes.

So the stronger few enjoyed the life at the sufferance of the weaker many.

Western Theories of Justice

The weaker, however, realised that they suffered more injustice. Faced with this situation they came to an agreement and instituted law and government through a sort of social contract and preached the philosophy of just. Therefore, justice in this way something artificial and unnatural. It is the "product of convention". It is through this artificial rule of justice and law that the natural selfishness of man is chained. A dictate of the weaker many, for the interest of the weaker many, as against the natural and superior power of the stronger few. Plato realises that all theories propounded by Cephalus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon, contained one common element.

That one common element was that all the them treated justice as something external "an accomplishment, an importation, or a convention, they have, none of them carried it into the soul or considered it in the place of its habitation. It is the right condition of the human soul by the very nature of man when seen in the fullness of his environment. It is in this way that Plato condemned the position taken by Glaucon that justice is something which is external.

According to Plato, it is internal as it resides in the human soul. It is therefore, not born of fear of the weak but of the longing of the human soul to do a duty according to its nature. Thus, after criticising the conventional ideas of justice presented differently by Cephalus, Polymarchus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon, Plato now gives us his own theory of justice.

Ancient Concepts of "Justice"

Plato strikes an analogy between the human organism on the one hand and social organism on the other. Human organism according to Plato contains three elements-Reason, Spirit and Appetite. An individual is just when each part of his or her soul performs its functions without interfering with those of other elements. For example, the reason should rule on behalf of the entire soul with wisdom and forethought. The element of spirit will sub-ordinate itself to the rule of reason.

Those two elements are brought into harmony by combination of mental and bodily training. They are set in command over the appetites which form the greater part of man's soul. Therefore, the reason and spirit have to control these appetites which are likely to grow on the bodily pleasures. These appetites should not be allowed, to enslave the other elements and usurp the dominion to which they have no right.

When all the three agree that among them the reason alone should rule, there is justice within the individual. Corresponding to these three elements in human nature there are three classes in the social organism-Philosopher class or the ruling class which is the representative of reason; auxiliaries, a class of warriors and defenders of the country is the representative of spirit; and the appetite instinct of the community which consists of farmers, artisans and are the lowest rung of the ladder.

Thus, weaving a web between the human organism and the social organism, Plato asserts that functional specialization demands from every social class to specialize itself in the station of life allotted to it. Justice, therefore to Plato is like a manuscript which exists in two copies, and one of these is larger than the other. It exists both in the individual and the society. But it exists on a larger scale and in more visible form in the society.

Individually "justice is a 'human virtue' that makes a man self consistent and good: Socially, justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good. Justice is thus a sort of specialization. It is simply the will to fulfill the duties of one's station and not to meddle with the duties of another station, and its habitation is, therefore, in the mind of every citizen who does his duties in his appointed place. It is the original principle, laid down at the foundation of the State, "that one man should practice one thing only and that the thing to which his nature was best adopted".

To both Heraclitus and Protagoras, justice was relevant to individuals and societies. Protagoras proclaimed that leaders needed to define justice for their own city-states. This is very similar to the modern notion of the United States and the Soviet Union. Whereas American leaders built their society around the principles of democracy and a free-market economy, the Soviets declared their society to be a workers paradise under the curtain of communism.

According to sophists, laws served as a means to quench violence, which was equated to being similar to a fire: Violence, in essence, is able to spread easily and get out of control very quickly. Thus, laws were like a wall of a city, as they protect humans from one another Steinberger, Obedience to law justice is supreme, in regards to violence, and will overcome its fury. Whereas sophists believed that individual societies needed to determine laws for their particular forms of government, Socrates believed that only one form of justice existed.

Bringing out these truths, however, is extremely difficult and can be compared to the difficulty of giving birth. When placed on trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates refused to use rhetoric as advised by the sophists as a means of avoiding execution.


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Socrates believed that he needed to maintain truth in all situations and proclaimed that justice requires great courage to uphold. In the Apology, Socrates equates this courage to the bravery of a soldier in battle:. Facing the ever-present threat of violence and death, each pressed forward through perseverance and courageousness so that justice could be achieved.

In his book the Republic , Plato uses Socrates as the main character in order to define his own version of justice and morality. Much like Socrates, Plato believed in absolute truths. Within the Republic, Plato consistently rejects ideas proposed by the sophists like Heraclitus and Protagoras that proclaimed justice is relative to individuals and societies. According to Plato, humans possess a tripartite soul that is divided into appetites pleasures , spirit ideals , and the mind rationality.

Comparing the soul to a chariot pulled by two horses, Plato concludes that one must keep the two horses appetites and spirit under control in order to continue moving forward. Instead, Plato argued that people are born with innate ideas of knowledge and wisdom.

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Was Plato successful in defining justice? To a certain degree, he is. Additionally, Plato tends to switch back and forth between ideas and, at times, seemingly contradicts himself on numerous occasions. For instance, Plato did not like fictional stories. Since he did not like these types of stories, it is interesting that Plato chose to express his ideas of justice and morality within a fictitious form.

If truths are absolute, as he proclaims, a lie should either be right or wrong. Is a lie ever truly good? In a sense, his argument in favor of absolutes, therefore, does not seem to be adequately addressed. In a realistic world, this type of society does not sound possible. Instead, it sounds more like an oligarchy or single-party government like the Soviet Union. As experienced throughout history, these forms of government usually have negative consequences especially in regard to the common people.

Accessed July 03, Readings in Classical Political Thought.

20th WCP: Plato's Concept Of Justice: An Analysis

Hackett Publishing Company, Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites. That justice is a matter of how each separate person is treated appears to create problems for theories such as utilitarianism that judge actions and policies on the basis of their overall consequences aggregated across people — assuming that these theories wish to incorporate rather than discard the idea of justice.

In Section 4 below we examine how utilitarians have attempted to respond to this challenge. Although justice is centrally a matter of how individuals are treated, it is also possible to speak of justice for groups — for example when the state is allocating resources between different categories of citizens. Here each group is being treated as though it were a separate individual for purposes of the allocation. Here there is a contrast with other virtues: This also means that justice is a matter of obligation for the agent dispensing it, and that the agent wrongs the recipient if the latter is denied what is due to her.

It is a characteristic mark of justice that the obligations it creates should be enforceable: However it overstates the position to make the enforceability of its requirements a defining feature of justice see Buchanan On the one hand, there are some claims of justice that seem not to be enforceable by anyone. When we dispense gifts to our children or our friends, we ought to treat each recipient fairly, but neither the beneficiaries themselves nor anyone else can rightfully force the giver to do so.

On the other hand, in cases of extreme emergency, it may sometimes be justifiable to force people to do more than justice requires them to do — there may exist enforceable duties of humanity. But these are rare exceptions. The obligatory nature of justice generally goes hand-in-hand with enforceability. Justice is the opposite of arbitrariness. It requires that where two cases are relevantly alike, they should be treated in the same way We discuss below the special case of justice and lotteries. Following a rule that specifies what is due to a person who has features X , Y , Z whenever such a person is encountered ensures this.

And although the rule need not be unchangeable — perpetual in the literal sense — it must be relatively stable. This explains why justice is exemplified in the rule of law, where laws are understood as general rules impartially applied over time. Outside of the law itself, individuals and institutions that want to behave justly must mimic the law in certain ways for instance, gathering reliable information about individual claimants, allowing for appeals against decisions. Finally, the definition reminds us that justice requires an agent whose will alters the circumstances of its objects.

The agent might be an individual person, or it might be a group of people, or an institution such as the state. So we cannot, except metaphorically, describe as unjust states of affairs that no agent has contributed to bringing about — unless we think that there is a Divine Being who has ordered the universe in such a way that every outcome is a manifestation of His will. To say that for injustice or injustice to occur, there must be some agent who has acted in a certain way, or produced some outcome, is less restrictive than might at first appear.

For agents can create injustice by omission. It is not unjust — though it is undoubtedly regrettable — that some children are born with a cleft lip. But it may well be unjust, once remedial surgery becomes feasible, to deny this to children whose lives would otherwise be blighted by the condition. We have so far looked at four elements that are present in every use of the concept of justice. Now it is time to consider some equally important contrasts. Conceptions of justice vary according to the weight they attach to each of these faces.

At one extreme, some conceptions interpret justice as wholly concerned with what individuals can claim under existing laws and social conventions: Thus claims deriving from existing law or practice are dismissed unless they happen to coincide with what the principle requires.

More often, however, ideal justice is seen as proposing principles by which existing institutions and practices can be assessed, with a view to reforming them, or in the extreme case abolishing them entirely, while the claims that people already have under those practices are given some weight. It applies to the announced system of public law and statutes and not to particular transactions or distributions, nor to the decisions of individuals and associations, but rather to the institutional background against which these transactions and decisions take place.

Entitlements are earned and honored as the public system of rules declares. Here we see Rawls attempting to reconcile the demands of conservative and ideal justice. Yet he does not directly address the question of what should happen when changing circumstances mean that the difference principle requires new laws or policies to be enacted: We could call this the question of transitional justice though this phrase is often used now in a more specific sense to refer to the process of reconciliation that may occur following civil war or other armed conflicts: Corrective justice, then, essentially concerns a bilateral relationship between a wrongdoer and his victim, and demands that the fault be cancelled by restoring the victim to the position she would have been in had the wrongful behaviour not occurred; it may also require that the wrongdoer not benefit from his faulty behaviour.

Distributive justice, on the other hand, is multilateral: Justice here requires that the resources available to the distributor be shared according to some relevant criterion, such as equality, desert, or need. In modern debates, principles of distributive justice are applied to social institutions such as property and tax systems, which are understood as producing distributive outcomes across large societies, or even the world as a whole.

The conceptual distinction between distributive and corrective justice seems clear, but their normative relationship is more difficult to pin down see Perry , Ripstein , Coleman , chs. Some have claimed that corrective justice is merely instrumental to distributive justice: But this view runs into a number of objections. One is that so long as Alice has a legitimate title to her computer, her claim of corrective justice against Bill does not depend on her having had, prior to the theft, the share of resources that distributive justice ideally demands.

She might be richer than she deserves to be, yet corrective justice still require that the computer be returned to her. In other words, corrective justice may serve to promote conservative rather than ideal justice, to use the distinction introduced in 2. If Alice loses her computer in a boating accident, she might, under an insurance scheme, have a claim of distributive justice to a new machine, but she has no claim of corrective justice.

If corrective justice cannot be subsumed normatively under distributive justice, we need to explain its value. What is achieved when we make Bill return the computer to Alice? Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics , Book V, ch. But this assumes that the computer can be returned intact. Corrective justice requires that Alice be made no worse off than she was before the theft, even if that means Bill suffering an absolute loss e. It seems, then, that the value of corrective justice must lie in the principle that each person must take responsibility for his own conduct, and if he fails to respect the legitimate interests of others by causing injury, he must make good the harm.

In that way, each person can plan her life secure in the knowledge that she will be protected against certain kinds of external setbacks. Philosophers and lawyers writing on corrective justice disagree about what standard of responsibility should apply — for example whether compensation is required only when one person wilfully or negligently causes another to suffer loss, or whether it can also be demanded when the perpetrator displays no such fault but is nevertheless causally responsible for the injury. A third distinction that must be drawn is between the justice of the procedures that might be used to determine how benefits and burdens of various kinds are allocated to people, and the justice of the final allocation itself.

It might initially seem as though the justice of a procedure can be reduced to the justice of the results produced by applying it, but this is not so. For one thing, there are cases in which the idea of an independently just outcome makes no sense. A coin toss is a fair way of deciding who starts a game, but neither the Blues nor the Reds have a claim of justice to bat first or kick off. But even where a procedure has been shaped by a concern that it should produce substantively just outcomes, it may still have special properties that make it intrinsically just.

In that case, using a different procedure to produce the same result might be objectionable. Theories of justice can then be distinguished according to the relative weight they attach to procedures and substantive outcomes. Some theories are purely procedural in form. Robert Nozick distinguished between historical theories of justice, end-state theories, and patterned theories in order to defend the first against the second and third Nozick An end-state theory defines justice in terms of some overall property of a distribution of resources, welfare, etc.

A patterned theory looks at whether what each receives as part of a distribution matches some individual feature such as their desert or their need. By contrast, an historical theory asks about the process by which the final outcome has arisen. The shape of the final distribution is irrelevant: For most philosophers, however, the justice of a procedure is to a large extent a function of the justice of the outcomes that it tends to produce when applied.

For instance, the procedures that together make up a fair trial are justified on the grounds that for the most part they produce outcomes in which the guilty are punished and the innocent are acquitted.


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  8. Yet even in these cases, we should be wary of assuming that the procedure itself has no independent value. We can ask of a procedure whether it treats the people to whom it is applied justly, for example by giving them adequate opportunities to advance their claims, not requiring them to provide personal information that they find humiliating to reveal, and so forth. Justice takes a comparative form when to determine what is due to one person we need to look at what others can also claim: Justice takes a non-comparative form when we can determine what is due to a person merely by knowing relevant facts about that particular person: Some theories of justice seem to imply that justice is always a comparative notion — for example when it is said that justice consists in the absence of arbitrary inequality — whereas others imply that it is always non-comparative.

    But conceptually, at least, both forms seem admissible; indeed we can find cases in which it appears we have to choose between doing justice comparatively and doing it non-comparatively see Feinberg ; for a critical response, see Montague For example, we might have several candidates all of whom are roughly equally deserving of an academic honour, but the number of honours we are permitted to award is smaller than the number of candidates.

    If we honour some but not others, we perpetrate a comparative injustice, but if to avoid doing so we honour no-one at all, then each is treated less well than they deserve, and so unjustly from a non-comparative perspective. Theories of justice can then be categorised according to whether they are comparative, non-comparative, or neither. Principles of equality — principles requiring the equal distribution of some kind of benefit — are plainly comparative in form, since what is due to each person is simply an equal share of the benefit in question rather than any fixed amount.

    In the case of principles of desert, the position is less straightforward. In the case of both X and P , we can ask whether they are to be identified comparatively or non-comparatively. Turning to P , or what is often called the desert basis, this may be a feature of A that we can identify without reference to anyone else, or it may be a comparative feature, such as being the best student in a graduating class. Such principles, however, need to be supplemented by other principles, not only to tell us what to do with the surplus assuming there is one once everyone has sufficient resources, but also to guide us in situations where there are too few resources to bring everyone up to the sufficiency threshold.

    Should we, for example, maximise the number of people who achieve sufficiency, or minimise the aggregate shortfall suffered by those in the relevant group? Unless we are prepared to say that these are not matters of justice, a theory of justice that contains only the sufficiency principle and nothing else looks incomplete. Some theories of justice cannot readily be classified either as comparative or as non-comparative. Under this principle, ideally just shares are calculated by determining what each person would receive under the set of social institutions whose economic effect is to raise the worst off person to the highest possible level.

    This is neither a fixed amount, nor one that depends in any direct sense on what other individuals are receiving, or should receive. Applying the difference principle does require making comparisons, but these are comparisons between the effects of different social institutions — say different tax laws, or different ways of defining property rights — not between individual people and the amounts of benefit they are receiving.

    When we raise questions about the scope of justice, we are asking about when principles of justice take effect and among whom. We have already, when discussing Hume, encountered the idea that there might be circumstances in which justice becomes irrelevant — circumstances in which resources are so abundant that it is pointless to allocate individual shares, or, as Hume also believed, in which resources are so scarce that everyone is permitted to grab what he can in the name of self-preservation.

    But even in circumstances that are less extreme than these, questions about scope arise. Who can make claims of justice, and who might have the corresponding obligation to meet them? Does this depend on the kind of thing that is being claimed? If comparative principles are being applied, who should be counted as part of the comparison group? Do some principles of justice have universal scope — they apply whenever agent A acts towards recipient B , regardless of the relationship between them — while others are contextual in character, applying only within social or political relationships of a certain kind?

    The present section examines some of these questions in greater detail. What does a creature have to do, or be like, to be included within the scope of at least some principles of justice? How could this claim be justified? We can focus our attention either on individual features that humans possess and animals lack, and that might be thought relevant to their inclusion within the scope of justice, or on asymmetries in the relationship between humans and other animals.

    Critics of this view have pointed to cases of human-animal co-operation Donaldson and Kymlicka , Valentini ; however these arguments focus mainly or entirely on the special case of dogs , and it seems implausible to generalise from them in an attempt to show that human-animal relationships generally have a co-operative character.

    But the claim that justice only applies to participants in co-operative practices is anyway vulnerable to the objection that it risks excluding seriously disabled people, people living in isolated communities, and future generations from the scope of justice, so it does not seem compelling as a claim about justice in general see further below. Might there be other reasons why animals cannot make claims of justice on us?

    Another Rawls-inspired suggestion is that animals lack the necessary moral powers, in particular the capacity to act on principles of justice themselves. They cannot distinguish what is justly owed to them from what is not; and they cannot determine what they owe to others — whether to humans or to other non-human animals — as a matter of justice. This suggestion interprets justice as involving a kind of reciprocity: If this suggestion is rejected, and we allow that some animals, at least, should be included within the scope of justice, we can then ask about the form that justice should take in their cases.

    Using the distinction drawn in 2. For example, we might attribute rights to the animals over whom we exercise power — rights against cruel treatment, and rights to food and shelter, for instance. This would involve using a sufficiency principle to determine what animals are owed as a matter of justice. It is much less plausible to think that comparative principles might apply, such that giving special treats to one cat but not another could count as an injustice.

    The Rawlsian view introduced in the previous section, which holds that principles of social justice apply among people who are engaged together in a co-operative practice, is a leading example of a relational theory of justice. Other theories offer different accounts of the relevant justice-generating feature: In both cases, the claim being made is that when people stand in a certain relationship to one another, they become subject to principles of justice whose scope is limited to those within the relationship. In particular, comparative principles apply within the relationship, but not beyond it.

    Total Philosophy: Plato's Republic Book I Part I: Justice

    If A stands in a relationship of the right kind to B , then it becomes a matter of justice how A is treated relative to B , but it does not matter in the same way how A is treated relative to C who stands outside of the relationship.