A socially just and equal society is arguably one of the most important things a community can hope to establish for itself, as every human being has a set of basic rights that demand to be valued and understood. However, the way those rights are interpreted is theoretically an objective concept which varies from religion to religion, from government to government, and from philosopher to philosopher. A select number of societies have either subverted, or in some instances, completely ignored, the practice altogether. As a result of this, the “true” meaning of social justice has become incredibly blurred. While a general understanding of the idea has been established in the minds of most individuals, a specific definition has yet been coined, with each definition perceived as being either too vague or leaving too much room for interpretation, allowing it to become misconstrued. Despite the term’s controverted nature, I can firmly say that the truest definition of social justice is the promotion of freedom, tolerance, and equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, handicap, sexual orientation, social status, or the like.
As stated in the paragraph above, it should be made clear that most institutions approach social justice in a similar fashion, which can be generalized as a common understanding of human rights and valuing human dignity. Despite this, a vast number of advocacy groups have emerged in recent years in response to political discourse and human rights concerns. Their primary focus is not just in economically depressed parts of the world, but within their own borders as well. These groups actively promote innovative solutions to social challenges and new ways of thinking about such issues. The RSA, or the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, is currently one of the more popular social advocacy groups in the United Kingdom. Since their inception over 260 years ago, they have sought to bring awareness to the consequences of irresponsibly practiced capitalism (“Action and Research”). The RSA defines the concept of social justice as being the implication of fairness and a sense of mutual obligation within a society (“Our Impact and Influence”). The Center for Economic and Social Justice’s definition is not too far off from the former as stated in an article published by socialjusticesolutions.org. The article entitled simply enough, “Defining Economic and Social Justice”, states that “…social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development” (Kelso, Adler, Miller).
Various religious groups have also touched on the idea of social justice, its application according to their respective scriptures being a key difference. In regards to Christianity, a Jesuit priest named Luigi Taparelli first coined the term “social justice” in 1840, basing the concept almost entirely on the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (“Social Justice”). Taparelli described social justice as being a distinctive blend of communitive and distributive justice, which placed great emphasis on the redistribution of wealth and charity (Zeigler). Christians perceive social justice as being a prime example of “Christ-like” behavior, treating it as a necessity of their faith. Those of the Jewish faith apply a similar approach. According to Proverbs 31:9, the Torah commands that not only must one give to the poor, but one must advocate for them on their behalf as well (“Jewish Views On Economic Justice”). However, the role that politics play in this matter tends to contradict religions indoctrination. While the key ideas of social justice behind Libertarianism and Egalitarianism are fairly similar in comparison to those of Christianity and Judaism, they possess multiple flaws. For instance, while Christianity places strong emphasis on charity and the redistribution of wealth, Richard Nozick claims in his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, that the state may not legally engage in the legislation of morals or the redistribution of income and wealth (Purest Café). Nozick, an outspoken Libertarian and American philosopher whose field of study was primarily utilitarianism, was concerned that an overwhelming focus on the least fortunate encouraged the downfall and weakening of the rest of a populace. While ethically well intentioned, the incorporation of these sorts of politics tends to greatly muddy the waters in regards to the application of social justice if there is constant clash between religious leaders and legislators.
All in all, it comes down to a strictly humanistic approach. To take influence from everything and work for betterment of all (this practice being out of the goodness of one’s heart), one must think of a life they would like to live and then place themselves into the shadow of the oppressed. Is a life absent of absolute freedom and the value of basic rights worth living? Under those circumstances, I believe the answer is quite clear.
"Action and Research." Thersa.org. n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.
Cafe, Purest. "Social Justice: Two Very Different Views." Web log post. Meetup.com. N.p., 20 May 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. "Jewish Views On Economic Justice." Reformjudaism.org. n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. Kelso, Louis O., Mortimer J. Adler, and John H. Miller. "Defining Economic and Social Justice." Cesj.org. n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. . "Our Impact and Influence." Thersa.org. n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. "Social Justice." Princeton.edu. n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.
Zeigler, J.J. "What Is Social Justice?" Catholicworldreport.com. 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.