Defining Justice

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Research paper: Defining Justice
The definition of justice, at least according to various dictionaries and encyclopedias, is the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness. The more colloquial meaning of the word can be assumed to be considered what is fair, or right. The real debate on this word is what fits into the definition; what is justice? What is righteous, just, or fair? There is a theory Jerald Greenburg argues, supported by decades of research that, although most trains of thought in regard to justice flow in the same direction, people’s perceptions of fairness, or right and wrong, are largely based on norms and values. “Specifically, what people believe to be fair depends on their exposure to consensually validated opinions regarding appropriate ways to distribute outcomes and treat others. Repeated exposure to these standards breeds expectations that serve as the basis for assessment of fairness.” To comply with these expectations is then interpreted as acts of fairness, whereas to violate these expectations is to commit an act of unfairness (365). For instance, in the criminal justice system there are currently several different forms of justice. Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice, and Distributive Justice are all theories of justice that can be applied to crime with a large amount of people supporting either that particular belief of justice, or multiple beliefs. Each of these ideas has its own merits and pitfalls but all fit someone’s idea of how things should be done, or is at least close. However, depending on the situation due to severity of a crime, damage inflicted, how it affects an individual or group personally, etc… a person, or group, can either change their ideas about which form of justice they support, or simply be harsh or more lenient towards an offender (Gromet, Darley 51). Through a contrast of several forms of justice, what is perceived to be the definition of justice will be shown to be subject to one’s own perspective and influenced by the situation, and expectations based on norms and values. First, there is Retributive Justice, which is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society. “In a mainstream Retributive Justice model, crime is seen as a violation of the state defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between offender and the state directed by systematic rules” (qtd. in Framework). There are two slightly different forms to this theory that are currently in debate with one another, the first is the classic definition of Retributive Justice; that the punishment must be comparative to the amount of harm caused by the offence. The origins of this theory can be traced back to several ancient civilizations or texts; a better known reference for this form of justice can be found in the Bible from the Book of Exodus, which states “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt[sic] give life for life, Eye[sic] for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning[sic] for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (The Bible, Exodus. 21.22-25).” The second form was put forth by a modern philosopher, Michael Davis. The theory that replaced the classic concept of retributive justice was; the amount of punishment must be proportional to the amount of unfair advantage gained by the wrongdoer. This theory, instead of focusing the crime and amount of harm caused, focuses on the reason the crime was committed and what was gained by the offender. Next, there is Restorative Justice, which is a theory and method in criminal justice in which it is arranged that the victim and the community receive restitution from the offender. Restorative Justice emphasizes, through more active participation in the justice process,...
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