What is justice? Is it what it is fair? Or is it what is merely appropriate in a specific situation? This is a question that has been pondered for millennia; certainly what is clear is that justice is needed to keep the society stable and safe. Justice is like the equilibrium stage of a chemical equation. A little deviation can cause a dramatic reaction for better or worse. Justice is associated with many words, but the essence is always what is fair.
Justice, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the administration of what is just by the law; it is the exercise of authority in the maintenance of right; it is the moral principle determining just conduct. The term justice is often used to describe the law. Justice is achieved through law; law is the delivery system of justice. In general, a just law can be proved constantly to ensure the rightfulness within the society. This is not to say that the law itself is just. Unjust laws happen, and people are entitled to disobey them.
Those who obey the unjust law without questions are as guilty as those who create an unjust law. According to Henry David Thoreau, in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” those people who obey the law without reason or conscience are no better than horses or dogs. They put themselves on the same level as dirt (Thoreau 139). Only their bodies are human; they do what is commanded with out thinking. People should understand what kind of law is inappropriate and what makes the law just or unjust. According to Martin Luther King Jr.
, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a just law squares with the moral law or the law of God, uplifts the human personality, and is sameness made legal; an unjust law degrades the human personality; is just on the surface but unjust in the application; and is difference made legal (King 179). Laws can only be called just when they are applied to everyone. No privileges should be given to anyone. Justice applied to everyone is fairness. According to John Rawls, in his essay “A theory of Justice,” one often develops a social contract with prejudices and personal biases.
Rawls suggests that one should imagine oneself to be placed behind a veil of ignorance. Behind this veil, one knows nothing of oneself. Without the knowledge of one’s social rank, race, sex, and culture, one can make fair choices since everyone is in an equal state. This original condition provides the safest way to obtain the standards of justice in society. Each person has the same amount of rights, and the social and economic inequality is tolerated only if there are systems in place to compensate for the inequality.
Rawls says “for example inequalities of wealth and authority, are just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of society. ” (Rawls 202). In determining whether an act is just or unjust, morality needs to be considered. A right conduct is more likely to be accepted by people. Thus, morality needs to be defined. Martin Luther King Jr. says that a just law squares with God’s law. In other words, laws are just or morally right if the actions are in harmony with God’s commands.
According to “Moses and the Ten Commandment” in the Torah, “When a man sells his daughter into slavery, she shall not go free as a male slave may. ” (The Torah 639). God here approves slavery, which is unjust in our society. We can see that the God’s law is insufficient in defining morality. First, how do we determine what God’s laws are? We rely on the testimony of the religious leaders. But many religions have there own interpretation of what God wants us to do.
The Jews and the Muslims believe that God does not want them to eat pork; Hindus eat no beef because they believe the cow is sacred; Christians however, can eat all kinds of meat. Second, what if the God is arbitrary? If our God commands us to burn the children, does this become morally right because God commands it? God’s Law, at least as described in the bible, does not provide a satisfactory account for what moral codes are. If an act is morally right, then it will seldom make people feel bad. It is supposed to make people happy.
According to Aristotle, in his essay “The Aim of Man,” happiness is the final end in oneself; all men pursue happiness. Then anything that generates happiness is a right conduct. The term “statecraft” Aristotle mentions serve as a system to manage public affairs since happiness is the highest end of one’s life. We can assume that statecraft is to generate the maximum happiness in society. So, an action is morally right if it maximizes the total happiness in the society. “…pleasure is something belonging to the soul…” (Aristotle 660).
Certain properties are associated with the mind that in order for individual to generate happiness, he must do what is morally right. “For a state of character may be present without yielding any good result…not true in its active expression, which must show itself in action…” (Aristotle 661). The action is morally right if the person who does it has all the virtues to perform the action. If one is to examine whether an act is morally right or wrong, one must consult our own cultural mores.
Justice is a system that is perpetrated to create a satisfactory environment for the people. It guarantees that everyone has the same amount of rights, whether born with them or not. Also, some inequalities in the society are beneficial to everyone. It is something that is just and equal. It aims for men’s happiness, some laws that are based on justice generate happiness in the society in which the morally right action is encoded for all. Works CitedThoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience. ” A World of Ideas.
Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 137-157. King Jr, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ” A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 173-189. Rawls, John. “A Theory of Justice. ” A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s,2006. 199-204. The Torah. “Moses ans the Ten Commandments. ” A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 636-644. Aristotle. “The Aim of Men. ” A World of Ideas. Lee A. Jacobus. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 652-667.