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What Is Justice? Essay

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2020

A number of countries including the United States have adopted the term “justice” in their constitutions, as well as other legal documents such as the pledge of allegiance (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 162). It must be recognized that although this word has been adopted by many countries, its definition and understanding is a subject of discussion for not just theologians and philosophers, but also law makers (Jackson 26). In an attempt to explicate this issue, the paper will use the arguments of Luther Martin King’s view and Hobbes’ to bring the issue into light. Their divergent views show that the idea of justice is still not clearly explained (Jackson 28). This paper discusses the subject of justice and specifically holds the view that justice is to follow one’s consciousness, and not to obey the unjust law.

Justice and the word “fairness” are used interchangeably cases in most. In any place or situation, people want to be treated in a just or fair way. They feel they deserve to be treated not just equally, but also impartially (Jackson 26). Given that they have a strong desire for fairness and equality, the guarantee of justice, in most cases, is a factor that defines a society that is good. Accordingly, for any leader, whether appointed or elected, to have support and legitimacy amongst his constituents, he must make sure that the laws or policies designed are not only just, but are also enforced in a just way.

Criminal activities as well as other kinds of social ills require a morally just punishment. Even though the specifics of each offense vary, ultimately real justice is“equal” to the wrongdoing committed (Jackson 27). Contrary to this, it will not be justice in any measure. In order to achieve equality or equal justice, universal laws are required. Certainly, universal laws do not just occur or emerge just like that. Universal laws, and as such equal or fair justice, come from God. These laws are just as everyone including the wrongdoer is also subjected to fair judgment.

Supporting this argument, Martin Luther King held the view that there exist two types of laws: laws that are just and those that are unjust (Jackson 25). In the view of Martin Luther King, people should only obey laws that are just. Accordingly, he argued that people have both a legal and a moral duty to comply with laws that are just. He also asserted that people have a moral duty to disobey laws that are unjust. He detested unjust laws terming them as ‘no laws in all respects’ (Jackson 27).

According to him, unjust laws were the laws set to be violated or broken. He adopted this definition of just and unjust law when discrimination between blacks and whites was the order of the day (Jackson 24). Having come face to face with discrimination, Martin Luther King saw that discrimination was not just derived or rooted in laws that were unjust, but from law makers and people who imposed such discriminative laws on minorities for compliance (Jackson 26). However, the groups that set laws never followed them thereby making them null and void or simply unjust. With this, King felt beyond reasonable doubt or recourse that people should never in any way conform or abide by laws that are unjust or laws that are segregating in nature.

However, respecting or disobeying unjust laws was to be done in a discipline way and not in violent ways (Jackson 26). According to him, for people to gain civil rights, they were to respect unjust laws in ways that do not cause harm to others. He also argued that the supreme courts as they were constituted were not the best ways or approaches to solving discrimination in society. King dealt with this issue when visiting Birmingham. He believed that for justice to be served there was need for direct action or negotiation. Particularly, he understood that direct actions that are peaceful seek to foster or appeal to parties that have previously failed to prosecute an issue to a conclusive end (Jackson 30).

In cases where segregation or unjust laws are upheld by courts like in the Birmingham case, King claimed that the only solution is direct actions that are not violent in nature (Jackson 27). In general, according to King, just laws elevate human personality and enhance his position in the society whilst unjust laws degrade human personality reducing people into mere subjects that serve the dominant or law enforcers.

The concept of justice espoused by Hobbes is set in his laws of nature. According to Hobbes, peace should be sought, and in case it cannot be achieved, they should use force to get it (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 154). Accordingly, he argues that people should only be willing to compromise their rights of nature to form social contracts, only if others are willing to do so. In other words, the basis for moral responsibility is in the willingness of people to compromise or transfer rights of nature between themselves (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 160).

In order to fully form the concept of justice, Hobbes indicates that a law is required to help or prevent people from turning against each other. The law states that people must always perform or execute their valid covenants (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 156). This in fact forms the definition justice according to Hobbes. Based on this, injustice according to Hobbes is the failure to perform covenants that are valid. In other words, according to Hobbes, justice or injustice are social constructs that are nonexistent in a state of nature.

From Hobbes perspective, there is no justice without agreement or covenant. For a valid covenant to exist there should be a reasonable cause for all parties privy to the covenant to trust each other (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 160). Without it, justice would have been frustrated automatically and therefore would become null and void. Another key prerequisite based on Hobbes view is that some sovereigns should not only enforce the covenants, but also determine and hand out punishments to those that fail to meet or fulfill their part of the bargain (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 158). In other words, the sovereign has the absolute right to making laws, passing judgments, declaring war, choosing counselors as well as determining punishments and rewards.

Upon putting the Hobbes idea of justice into perspective, I support his position. Hobbes seems to hold the view that place of humans in society or nature is characterized by disorder and that every person has absolute right to everything. Hobbes point of view is misleading in that the society does not in anyway require agreements or covenants as well as sovereigns to produce justice (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 159). Because, since they came into being, people have naturally worked together. In fact, justice is a relationship that exists amongst humans and is associated with an invariable cooperative seeking for mutual or shared interest. Depending on the political aspects of life, justice is an ideal to be sought for and can be sought with varying degrees of success. This therefore brings into perspective the idea of politics and equality.

Based on the fact that equality is a vital element of justice, a political system that best achieves justice is one that practices distributive justice. In other words, it allocates goods and wealth among its citizens equally (Plamenatz, Philp and Pelczynski 155). It should invest in local community spaces for various arts, libraries, sports associations, and political meeting halls without discrimination. However, this idea has not attracted the attention of people who hold the view that a good government or political system is one that has a controlled or limited responsibility in the economy.

In other words, nations that have welfare systems, though, are enforcing a form of distributive justice should be committed to providing or ensuring equality in terms of fundamental rights and well-being. As such, for them to be fully committed to provision of universal justice, such countries need to dismantle the nation-state system and create a worldwide institution that will be a parliament of the global commons to solve disputes, international environmental issues, and violations of basic human rights.

In conclusion, justice is all about fairness and equality. It is ones consciousness not to obey unjust laws. Justice is simply the awareness of what is ethical and drives to choose right over wrong. Justice creates a world that is humane, with spaces for common care and a world for people to coexist. Laws are just when they are meant to serve people without discrimination or without unfairness of any nature. However, whenever the laws are unjust, people should use nonviolent ways to reach an agreement with the law enforcers.

Works Cited

Jackson, Thomas. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King and the struggle for economic justice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Print.

Plamenatz, John, Mark Philp and Zbigniew Pelczynski. Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

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