Justice, Introduction Political Science YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Justice Political Science

Title: Justice


  • Justice is one of the most important moral and political concepts. The word comes from the Latin jus, meaning right or law.
  • The “just” person as one who typically “does what is morally right” and is disposed to “giving everyone his or her due,” offering the word “fair” as a synonym.
  • Philosophers want to get beyond etymology and dictionary definitions to consider, for example, the nature of justice as both a moral virtue of character and a desirable quality of political society, as well as how it applies to ethical and social decision-making.

Western Philosophies of Justice

  • Plato conveys the idea that justice is the ultimate virtue: that justice is a supreme “rightness” (the Greek is “dikaiosune,” the same word that is translated “righteousness” in the New Testament) wherein all parts of a society are in perfect balance and aimed at the ‘Good’ (Plato՚s “Form of forms” ) .
  • For Aristotle, justice is distinctive for its social dimension: “justice is the only virtue that seems to be another person՚s good, because it is related to another; for it does what benefits another, either the ruler or the fellow member of the community”
  • Like Aristotle, Aquinas defines justice as a rendering-to-each-his-due: “Now each man՚s own is that which is due to him according to equality of proportion. Therefore, the proper act of justice is nothing else than to render to each one his own” .
  • British Empiricist David Hume held, like Aristotle, to a virtue theory — that justice is rooted in the passions or sentiments. However, he argues in A Treatise on Human Nature (1739) that the concept of “justice” only arises when we are faced with scarcity and we must answer the question of who will get what limited goods/resources are available, and on what basis.

Justice as Fairness: Justice Within a Liberal Society

  • Justice as fairness is Rawls՚s theory of justice for a liberal society. As a member of the family of liberal political conceptions of justice it provides a framework for the legitimate use of political power.
  • Yet legitimacy is only the minimal standard of moral acceptability; a political order can be legitimate without being just. Justice sets the maximal standard: the arrangement of social institutions that is morally best.

Indian Concept of Justice- “Nyaya”

  • Nyaya (Sanskrit meaning “rational argument” ) is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy that focuses on logic. Based on texts known as the Nyaya Sutras, written by Aksapada Gautama (ca. sixth century B. C. E.) , this school made a very significant contribution to the study of logic and epistemology in Indian thought. In particular, it was renowned for its rigor of philosophical discourse, and the majority of the other Indian schools adopted its logical methodology, whether orthodox or heterodox.
  • The British while justifying their colonial rule in India claimed Indians lacked civilized system of self-rule and their presence in this country gave India a sense of justice and Rule of law. Many Indians today held these views in their heart. These views are not only incorrect but they are blatant lies. In fact, there was no match for Rule of law that existed in ancient India; even Englishman՚s Rule of Law looks too conservative before that lofty ideal of ancient Indian rule of law. In the Mahabharata, it was laid down “A King who after having sworn that he shall protect his subjects fails to protect them should be executed like a mad dog.”
  • “The people should execute a king who does not protect them, but deprives them of their property and assets and who takes no advice or guidance from anyone. Such a king is not a king but misfortune.” Kautilya describes the duties of a king in the Arthashastra
  • In Aggannasutta the Institution of Kingship was also devised to ensure justice and equal distribution of resources among the people and also to acquit the person who fail to comply the social order.

A king should:

  • He should be wrathful when indignation is right.
  • He should censure that which should rightly be censured.
  • He should banish him who deserves to be banished.


1. What terms of cooperation would free and equal citizens agree to under fair conditions?

2. Why would a citizen willingly obey a law that is imposed on him by a collective body whose members have beliefs and values so different to his own?

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