Short essay on Social Justice

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Social Justice. Justice may be procedural as well as substantive, or ‘social’. Procedural justice is more straight-forward, involving relatively technical questions of due process, fair trial, equality before the law and so on. Substantive justice is concerned with “the overall fairness of a society in its division of rewards and burdens” (Penguin Dictionary of Political Science).

Aristotle makes a distinction between ‘distributive’ and ‘commutative’ justice, the first being concerned with the distribution of goods among a class, the second with the treatment of the individual in particular transactions, i.e., when punishing him.

Robert Nozick, for instance, is not in favour of ‘distributive justice’, which concentrates not on just transfer, but on the end state of a distribution, and is bound to do violence to the far surer and more philosophically defensible ideas of the just transaction, and should be rejected as a covert justification of injustice.

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In this way he argues against many (e.g. socialist ideas of redistribution, and in favour of certain kinds of private property.

Nozick’s arguments reformulate a debate that has long existed between those who think of justice in terms of patterns of distribution, and those who think of it in terms of transaction. His views have been criticized (a) because they do not take into account the difficulties posed by the idea of a ‘just original acquisition’; (b) because they are based on an unaged individualism concerning human nature and human rights, which attempts to detach the individual from the history and social arrangement which has formed him; and (c) because Nozick seems not to attend to the many functions that a state may fulfil besides that of policing the rights of its members.

Two principles supposedly emerge from the thought experiment involved in the postulation of an original position. An arrangement is just if and only if (a) each person has an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for all; (b) social and economic inequalities may exist only if they are reasonably expected to better the position of the least advantages, and are attached to offices and positions open to all. Conditions (b) is not supposed to apply until (a) is satisfied, and is itself an application of the ‘difference principle’, which will be chosen in the original position because, by virtue of the element of abstraction, rational choice must concern itself with the position of the worst off, whoever he might be.

Equal Opportunity:

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It is often supposed that both the state and social conditions exert control either positively or negatively, over access to institutions which confer social or political power, and over the distribution of legal rights. The advocates of ‘equal opportunity’ hold that all citizens should be equally well placed to obtain such social or political benefits.

In its usual form, this thesis holds that only ‘relevant’ considerations should be held to impede or influence the advance of any particular person. That criterion might recommend itself on grounds of natural justice; nevertheless it is not always easy to apply. For example, is intelligence a relevant feature whereby to distinguish applicants to a university? If so, is it not a power already possessed, independently of the one sued for?

Protective Discrimination :

The physical surroundings under which the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been constrained to live, is one of the special reasons of the special claims made for them. More specifically, these two categories were mostly placed beyond the bounds of the larger society, the scheduled tribes on account of their isolation in particular ecological riches, and the scheduled castes on account of the segregation imposed on them by the rules of pollution.

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It is necessary to provide special facilities to those who have been kept out of the mainstream society. Special care has to be taken to ensure that they are able to exercise their rights as full citizens in the new legal order.

And if it ensures widest diffusion of literacy and education among them, no cost should be counted too high. Since disabilities have been imposed on entire communities, those measures should have the highest priorities which directly benefit the largest number of individual members of these communities. The reason why caste is taken as criteria for equalization is that in order to bring about equality between individuals, we should first bring about equality between groups.

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