Notes of Ch 4 Social Justice| Class 11th Political Science

What is Justice?

• All cultures and traditions have interpreted the concept of justice in different ways.

• In ancient Indian society, justice was associated with dharma and maintaining dharma or a just social order, was considered to be a primary duty of kings.

• In China, Confucius, the famous philosopher argued that kings should maintain justice by punishing wrong doers and rewarding the virtuous.

• In fourth century B.C. Athens (Greece), Plato discussed issues of justice in his book The Republic.

• The idea that justice involves giving each person his due continues to be an important part of our present day understanding of justice.

• According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, human beings possess dignity. If all persons are granted dignity then what is due to each of them is that they have the opportunity to develop their talents and pursue their chosen goals.

• Justice requires that we give due and equal consideration to all individuals.

Equal Treatment for Equals

• One of the principles regarding equal importance of all people is the principle of treating equals equally. It is considered that all individuals share certain characteristics as human beings. Therefore they deserve equal rights and equal treatment.

• Some of the important rights which are granted in most liberal democracies today include civil rights such as the rights of life, liberty and property, political rights like the right to vote, which enable people to participate in political processes, and certain social rights which would include the right to enjoy equal opportunities with other members of the society.

• The principle of treating equals equally would require that people should not be discriminated against on grounds of class, caste, race or gender.

Proportionate Justice

• Equal treatment is not the only principle of justice.

• There could be circumstances in which we might feel that treating everybody equally would be unjust.

• If everybody starts from the same base line of equal rights, justice in such cases would mean rewarding people in proportion to the scale and quality of their effort.

• However, it would be fair and just to reward different kinds of work differently if we take into account factors such as the effort required, the skills required, the possible dangers involved in that work, and so on.

• For justice in society, the principle of equal treatment needs to be balanced with the principle of proportionality.

Recognition of Special Needs

• A third principle of justice which we recognise is for a society to take into account special needs of people while distributing rewards or duties.

• The principle of taking account of the special needs of people does not necessarily contradict the principle of equal treatment so much as extend it because the principle of treating equals equally could imply that people who are not equal in certain important respects could be treated differently.

• People with special needs or disabilities could be considered unequal in some particular respect and deserving of special help.

• Physical disabilities, age or lack of access to good education or health care, are some of the factors which are considered grounds for special treatment in many countries.

• In India, the Constitution allowed for reservations of government jobs and quotas for admissions to educational institutions for people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes due to social discrimination on the grounds of caste.

• Different groups in the country might favour different policies depending upon which principle of justice they emphasise.

Just Distribution

• Social justice also concerns the just distribution of goods and services, whether it is between nations or between different groups and individuals within a society.

• If there are serious economic or social inequalities in a society, it might become necessary to try and redistribute some of the important resources of the society to provide something like a level playing field for citizens.

• Therefore, within a country social justice would require not only that people be treated equally in terms of the laws and policies of the society but also that they enjoy some basic equality of life conditions and opportunities.

• Differences of opinion on matters such whether, and how, to distribute resources and ensure equal access to education and jobs arouse fierce passions in society and even sometimes provoke violence.

• A well-known political philosopher, John Rawls has argued that there could indeed be a rational justification for acknowledging the need to provide help to the least privileged members of a society.

John Rawls: theory of Justice

• John Rawls argues that the only way we can arrive at a fair and just rule is if we imagine ourselves to be in a situation in which we have to make decisions about how society should be organised although we do not know which position we would ourselves occupy in that society.

• Rawls describes this as thinking under a ‘veil of ignorance’. He expects that in such a situation of complete ignorance about our possible position and status in society, each person would decide in the way they generally do, that is, in terms of their own interests.

• But since no one knows who he would be, and what is going to benefit him, each will predict the future society from the point of view of the worst-off.

• This would not help those who are born in a disadvantaged section of society.

• It is of course not easy to erase our identities and to imagine oneself under a veil of ignorance. But then it is equally difficult for most people to be self-sacrificing and share their good fortune with strangers.

• The merit of the ‘veil of ignorance’ position is that it expects people to just be their usual rational selves: they are expected to think for themselves and choose what they regard to be in their interest.

• Rawls therefore argues that rational thinking, not morality, could lead us to be fair and judge impartially regarding how to distribute the benefits and burdens of a society.

Pursuing Social Justice

• If in a society deep and persistent divisions exist between those who enjoy greater wealth and property, and the power which goes with such ownership, and those who are excluded and deprived, we would say that social justice is lacking there.

• Justice does not require absolute equality and sameness in the way in which people live.

• Various methods of calculating the basic needs of people have been devised by different governments and by international organisations like the World Health Organisation.

• Providing people with their basic needs is considered to be one of the responsibilities of a democratic government. However, providing such basic conditions of life to all citizens may pose a heavy burden on governments, particularly in countries like India which have a large number of poor people.

• In India, different approaches are being supported by different political groups who debate the relative merits of different schemes for helping marginalised sections of the population such as the rural or urban poor.

Free Markets versus State Intervention

• Supporters of the free market believe that if markets are left free of state interference the sum of market transactions would ensure overall a just distribution of benefits and duties in society.

• However, not all free market supporters today would support absolutely unregulated markets. Many would now be willing to accept certain restrictions, for instance, states could step in to ensure a basic minimum standard of living to all people so that they are able to compete on equal terms.

• One of the arguments put forward in favour of market distribution is that it gives us more choices.

• Another argument often heard in defence of free markets and private enterprise is that the quality of services they provide is often superior to that provided in government institutions. But the cost of
such services may put them out of the reach of the poor.

• Arguments can be put forward on both sides of the debate but free markets often exhibit a tendency to work in favour of the already privileged.

• In a democratic society disagreements about issues of distribution and justice are inevitable and even healthy because they force us to examine different points of view and rationally defend our own views.

• Politics is about the negotiation of such disagreements through debate.
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