Social Justice: Ambiguous term for a necessary virtue
“Social Justice” is often considered a vague or indefinite term. The ambiguous nature of the term lends itself to be interpreted in many ways. Philosophers and theologians, both past and present, have given their interpretations of what social justice means and though they may argue over the “true” meaning of social justice, there is always the undertone of a certain fairness across humanity with regard to human rights. The arguments over what is fair and who determines fairness is often the dividing line amongst intellectuals attempting to define social justice. In the end, all interpretations agree that social injustice is often more likely than social justice and active participation by everyone is necessary to effectively establish a society where social justice is the norm.
The broadest definition of social justice, as provided by Google, is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” The most important part in that definition is the delineation that social justice is determined by a society. Societal demands, needs, wants, and rights vary considerably around the globe and therefore so does their understanding of social justice. Some have argued that because social justice is dependent on each society that it cannot be measured or valued, even so that has not stopped several researchers from utilizing statistical data to support their views of what social justice is and how nations, for example, measure up to their standard. Once again, the problem of measuring social justice lies in the debate as to what is fair or equitable in a given society. Is there a universal level of justice humanity should be striving for? This question has been answered by many individuals over the course of human history, and by combining the shared fundamentals of various discourses it is possible to create a grander definition of “social justice as a state of affairs (either actual or ideal) in which (a) benefits and burdens in society are dispersed in accordance with some allocation principle; (b) procedures, norms, and rules that govern political and other forms of decision making preserve the basic rights, liberties, and entitlements of individuals and groups; and (c) human beings (and perhaps other species) are treated with dignity and respect not only by authorities but also by other relevant social actors, including fellow citizens.” This particular definition looks at three distinct aspects of social justice, distributive, procedural, and interactional justice (Jost and Kay, 2010). These aspects sometimes work in conjunction with one another or can stand alone, in the opinion of some writers. One of the more popular descriptions of social justice is that meeting an individual’s needs is a claim of justice and not charity and therefore requires that any given distribution of resources must be conducted by the government (Jackson, 2005).
The earliest philosophers, such as Aristotle and Socrates, spoke at length of justice and how governments and individuals were mutually responsible for maintaining standards, but the first known usage of “social justice” comes from Italy and a Catholic priest in the 1800’s (Novak, 2009). It was around this time that opinions of the poor and destitute shifted considerably. Many intellectuals of the day considered that maybe no one “deserved” to be poor, and that given the right opportunities could also achieve a standard of living that was more than their original lot in life. It must be mentioned that the original meaning of social justice is quite different from the contemporary understanding and political undertones it now has. The historical usage didn’t involve equitable redistribution of resources or the government at all. In fact, Pope Leo XIII supported this priest’s writings with his own testament that the new world order...
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