- 1. just behavior or treatment: "a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people" Similar Opposite
- 2. a judge or magistrate, in particular a judge of the Supreme Court of a country or state. Similar
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Definition of justice. 1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments meting out justice social justice.
Justice definition, the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause. See more.
n. 1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness. 2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim: to complain with justice. 3. justness of ground or reason. 4. the quality of being true or correct. 5. the moral principle determining just conduct.
justice noun (LAW) B2 [ U ] the system of laws in a country that judges and punishes people: the justice system in this country consists of a series of law courts at different levels. The police are doing all they can to bring those responsible for the bombing to justice.
Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, with the interpretation of what then constitutes "deserving" being impacted upon by numerous fields, with many differing viewpoints and perspectives, including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness.
The definition of justice is the use of power as appointed by law, honor or standards to support fair treatment and due reward.
The idea of justice occupies centre stage both in ethics, and in legal and political philosophy. We apply it to individual actions, to laws, and to public policies, and we think in each case that if they are unjust this is a strong, maybe even conclusive, reason to reject them. Classically, justice was counted as one of the four cardinal virtues (and sometimes as the most important of the four); in modern times John Rawls famously described it as the first virtue of social institutions (Rawls 1971, p.3; Rawls, 1999, p.3). We might debate which of these realms of practical philosophy has first claim on justice: is it first and foremost a property of the law, for example, and only derivatively a property of individuals and other institutions? But it is probably more enlightening to accept that the idea has over time sunk deep roots in each of these domains, and to try to make sense of such a wide-ranging concept by identifying elements that are present whenever justice is invoked, but also examining the different forms it takes in various practical contexts. This article aims to provide a general map of the ways in which justice has been understood by philosophers, past and present. Justice has sometimes been used in a way that makes it virtually indistinguishable from rightness in general. Aristotle, for example, distinguished between universal justice that corresponded to virtue as a whole and particular justice which had a narrower scope (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, chs. 12). The wide sense may have been more evident in classical Greek than in modern English. But Aristotle also noted that when justice was identified with complete virtue, this was always in relation to another person. In other words, if justice is to be identified with morality as such, it must be morality in the sense of what we owe to each other (see Scanlon 1998). But it is anyway questionable whether justice should be understood so widely. At the level of individual ethics, justice is often contrasted with charity on the one hand, and mercy on the other, and these too are other-regarding virtues. At the level of public policy, reasons of justice are distinct from, and often compete with, reasons of other kinds, for example economic efficiency or environmental value. Philosophers writing on justice have observed that it has two different faces, one conservative of existing norms and practices, the other demanding reform of these norms and practices (see Sidgwick 1874/1907, Raphael 2001). Thus on the one hand it is a matter of justice to respect peoples rights under existing law or moral rules, or more generally to fulfil the legitimate expectations they have acquired as a result of past practice, social conventions, and so forth; on the other hand, justice often gives us reason to change laws, practices and conventions quite radically, thereby creating new entitlements and expectations. This exposes an ambiguity in what it means to render each his due. What is due might be what a person can reasonably expect to have given existing law, policy, or social practice, or it might be what the person should get under a regime of ideal justice: this could mean what the person deserves, or needs, or is entitled to on grounds of equality, depending on which ideal principle is being invoked. Conceptions of justice vary according to the weight they attach to each of these faces. At one extreme, some conceptions interpret justice as wholly concerned with what individuals can claim under existing laws and social conventions: thus for Hume, justice was to be understood as adherence to a set of rules that assign physical objects to individuals (such as being the first possessor of such an object) (Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part II). These rules can be explained by reference to the natural associations that form in peoples minds between persons and external objects, and although the system of justice as a whole can be shown to be socially useful, there are no relevant independent standards by which its principles can be assessed (Hume briskly dismissed equality and merit as principles for allocating property to persons). In similar vein, Hayek argued that justice was a property of individual behaviour, understood as compliance with the rules of just conduct that had evolved to enable a market economy to function effectively. For Hayek, to speak of social justice as an ideal standard of distribution was as meaningless as to speak of a moral stone (Hayek 1976, p. 78) For most philosophers, however, the justice of a procedure is to a large extent a function of the justice of the outcomes that it tends to produce when applied. For instance, the procedures that together make up a fair trial are justified on the grounds that for the most part they produce outcomes in which the guilty are punished and the innocent are acquitted. Yet even in these cases, we should be wary of assuming that the procedure itself has no independent value. We can ask of a procedure whether it treats the people to whom it is applied justly, for example by giving them adequate opportunities to advance their claims, not requiring them to provide personal information that they find humiliating to reveal, and so forth. Studies by social psychologists have shown that in many cases people care more about being treated fairly by the institutions they have to deal with than about how they fare when the procedures final result is known (Lind and Tyler 1988). The shortcomings of utilitarianism have prompted several recent philosophers to revive the old idea of the social contract as a better way of bringing coherence to our thinking about justice. The idea here is not that people actually have entered a contract to establish justice, or that they should proceed to do so, but that we can understand justice better by asking the question: what principles to govern their institutions, practices and personal behaviour would people choose to adopt if they all had to agree on them in advance? The contract, in other words, is hypothetical; but the search for agreement is meant to ensure that the principles chosen would, when implemented, not lead to outcomes that people could not accept. Thus whereas a utilitarian might, under some circumstances, be prepared to support slavery if the misery of the slaves were outweighed by the heightened pleasures of the slave-owners contractarians claims that no-one could accept a principle permitting slavery, lest they themselves were destined to be slaves when the principle was applied. The problem that contractarians face is to show how such an agreement is possible. If we were to ask people, in the real world, what principles they would prefer to live under, they are likely to start from a position of quite radical disagreement, given their interests and their beliefs. Some might even be willing to endorse slavery, if they were fairly certain that they would not end up as slaves themselves, or if they were sado-masochists who viewed the humiliations inflicted on slaves in a positive light. So in order to show how agreement could be achieved, contractarians have to model the contracting parties in a particular way, either by limiting what they are allowed to know about themselves or about the future, or by attributing to them certain motivations while excluding others. Since the modelling can be done differently, we have a family of contractarian theories of justice, three of whose most important members are the theories of Gauthier, Rawls and Scanlon.
We begin by identifying four core features that distinguish justice from other moral and political ideas. We then examine some major conceptual contrasts: between conservative and ideal justice, between corrective and distributive justice, between procedural and substantive justice, and between comparative and non-comparative justice. Next we turn to questions of scope: to who or what do principles of justice apply? We ask whether non-human animals can be subjects of justice, whether justice applies only between people who already stand in a particular kind of relationship to one another, and whether individual people continue to have duties of justice once justice-based institutions have been created. We then examine three overarching theories that might serve to unify the different forms of justice: utilitarianism, contractarianism, and egalitarianism. But it seems, in conclusion, that no such theory is likely be successful. It applies to the announced system of public law and statutes and not to particular transactions or distributions, nor to the decisions of individuals and associations, but rather to the institutional background against which these transactions and decisions take place. There are no unannounced and unpredictable interferences with citizens expectations and acquisitions. Entitlements are earned and honored as the public system of rules declares. (Rawls 1993, p. 283) When we raise questions about the scope of justice, we are asking about when principles of justice take effect and among whom. We have already, when discussing Hume, encountered the idea that there might be circumstances in which justice becomes irrelevant circumstances in which resources are so abundant that it is pointless to allocate individual shares, or, as Hume also believed, in which resources are so scarce that everyone is permitted to grab what he can in the name of self-preservation. But even in circumstances that are less extreme than these, questions about scope arise. Who can make claims of justice, and who might have the corresponding obligation to meet them? Does this depend on the kind of thing that is being claimed? If comparative principles are being applied, who should be counted as part of the comparison group? Do some principles of justice have universal scope they apply whenever agent A acts towards recipient B, regardless of the relationship between them while others are contextual in character, applying only within social or political relationships of a certain kind? The present section examines some of these questions in greater detail. What does a creature have to do, or be like, to be included within the scope of (at least some) principles of justice? Most past philosophers have assumed that the line should be drawn so as to exclude all non-human animals, but more recently some have been prepared to defend justice for animals (Nussbaum 2006, ch. 6; Garner 2013). Against this, Rawls asserts that although we have duties of compassion and humanity towards animals and should refrain from treating them cruelly, nonetheless they are outside the scope of the theory of justice (Rawls 1971, p. 512; Rawls 1999, p. 448). How could this claim be justified? We can focus our attention either on individual features that humans possess and animals lack, and that might be thought relevant to their inclusion within the scope of justice, or on asymmetries in the relationship between humans and other animals. To begin with the latter, Hume claimed that the domination humans exercised over animals such that an animal could only possess something by virtue of our permission meant that we were bound by the laws of humanity to give gentle usage to these creatures, but should not, properly speaking, lie under any restraint of justice with regard to them (Hume, Enquiry, p. 190). For Rawls and those influenced by him, principles of distributive justice apply among agents who are related to one another as participants in a cooperative venture for mutual advantage, and this might seem to exclude animals from the scope of such principles. Critics of this view have pointed to cases of human-animal co-operation (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011, Valentini 2014); however these arguments focus mainly or entirely on the special case of dogs, and it seems implausible to generalise from them in an attempt to show that human-animal relationships generally have a co-operative character. If this suggestion is rejected, and we allow that some animals, at least, should be included within the scope of justice, we can then ask about the form that justice should take in their cases. Using the distinction drawn in 2.4 above, it appears that justice for animals must be non-comparative. For example, we might attribute rights to the animals over whom we exercise power rights against cruel treatment, and rights to food and shelter, for instance. This would involve using a sufficiency principle to determine what animals are owed as a matter of justice. It is much less plausible to think that comparative principles might apply, such that giving special treats to one cat but not another could count as an injustice. Debates about the scope of justice then become debates about whether different forms of human association are of the right kind to create agency in the relevant sense. Take the question of whether principles of social justice should apply to market transactions. If we see the market as a neutral arena in which many individual people freely pursue their own purposes, then the answer will be No. The only form of justice that arises will be justice in the conduct of each agent, who must avoid inflicting harm on others, must fulfil her contracts, and so forth. Whereas if we see the market as governed by a humanly-constructed system of rules that the participants collectively have the power to change by legislation, for example then we cannot avoid asking whether the outcomes it currently produces meet relevant standards of distributive justice, whatever we take these to be. A similar issue arises in the debate about over principles of global justice referred to above: is the current world order such that it makes sense to regard humanity as a whole as a collective agent responsible for the distributive outcomes it allows to occur?
As this article will endeavour to show, justice takes on different meanings in different practical contexts, and to understand it fully we have to grapple with this diversity. But it is nevertheless worth asking whether we find a core concept that runs through all these various uses, or whether it is better regarded as a family resemblance idea according to which different combinations of features are expected to appear on each occasion of use. The most plausible candidate for a core definition comes from the Institutes of Justinian, a codification of Roman Law from the sixth century AD, where justice is defined as the constant and perpetual will to render to each his due. This is of course quite abstract until further specified, but it does throw light upon four important aspects of justice.
Second, Justinians definition underlines that just treatment is something due to each person, in other words that justice is a matter of claims that can be rightfully made against the agent dispensing justice, whether a person or an institution. Here there is a contrast with other virtues: we demand justice, but we beg for charity or forgiveness. This also means that justice is a matter of obligation for the agent dispensing it, and that the agent wrongs the recipient if the latter is denied what is due to her. It is a characteristic mark of justice that the obligations it creates should be enforceable: we can be made to deliver what is due to others as a matter of justice, either by the recipients themselves or by third parties. However it overstates the position to make the enforceability of its requirements a defining feature of justice (see Buchanan 1987). On the one hand, there are some claims of justice that seem not to be enforceable (by anyone). When we dispense gifts to our children or our friends, we ought to treat each recipient fairly, but neither the beneficiaries themselves nor anyone else can rightfully force the giver to do so. On the other hand, in cases of extreme emergency, it may sometimes be justifiable to force people to do more than justice requires them to do there may exist enforceable duties of humanity. But these are rare exceptions. The obligatory nature of justice generally goes hand-in-hand with enforceability. The third aspect of justice to which Justinians definition draws our attention is the connection between justice and the impartial and consistent application of rules that is what the constant and perpetual will part of the definition conveys. Justice is the opposite of arbitrariness. It requires that where two cases are relevantly alike, they should be treated in the same way (We discuss below the special case of justice and lotteries). Following a rule that specifies what is due to a person who has features X, Y, Z whenever such a person is encountered ensures this. And although the rule need not be unchangeable perpetual in the literal sense it must be relatively stable. This explains why justice is exemplified in the rule of law, where laws are understood as general rules impartially applied over time. Outside of the law itself, individuals and institutions that want to behave justly must mimic the law in certain ways (for instance, gathering reliable information about individual claimants, allowing for appeals against decisions). Justice takes a comparative form when to determine what is due to one person we need to look at what others can also claim: to determine how large a slice of pie is rightfully Johns, we have to know how many others have a claim to the pie, and also what the principle for sharing it should be equality, or something else. Justice takes a non-comparative form when we can determine what is due to a person merely by knowing relevant facts about that particular person: if John has already been promised the whole of the pie, then that is what he can rightfully claim for himself. Some theories of justice seem to imply that justice is always a comparative notion for example when it is said that justice consists in the absence of arbitrary inequality whereas others imply that it is always non-comparative. But conceptually, at least, both forms seem admissible; indeed we can find cases in which it appears we have to choose between doing justice comparatively and doing it non-comparatively (see Feinberg 1974; for a critical response, see Montague 1980). For example, we might have several candidates all of whom are roughly equally deserving of an academic honour, but the number of honours we are permitted to award is smaller than the number of candidates. If we honour some but not others, we perpetrate a comparative injustice, but if to avoid doing so we honour no-one at all, then each is treated less well than they deserve, and so unjustly from a non-comparative perspective.
Finally, the definition reminds us that justice requires an agent whose will alters the circumstances of its objects. The agent might be an individual person, or it might be a group of people, or an institution such as the state. So we cannot, except metaphorically, describe as unjust states of affairs that no agent has contributed to bringing about unless we think that there is a Divine Being who has ordered the universe in such a way that every outcome is a manifestation of His will. Admittedly we are tempted to make judgements of what is sometimes called cosmic injustice say when a talented persons life is cut cruelly short by cancer, or our favourite football team is eliminated from the competition by a freak goal but this is a temptation we should resist. To say that for injustice or injustice to occur, there must be some agent who has acted in a certain way, or produced some outcome, is less restrictive than might at first appear. For agents can create injustice by omission. It is not unjust though it is undoubtedly regrettable that some children are born with a cleft lip. But it may well be unjust, once remedial surgery becomes feasible, to deny this to children whose lives would otherwise be blighted by the condition.
A second important contrast, whose pedigree reaches back at least as far as Aristotle, is between justice as a principle for assigning distributable goods of various kinds to individual people, and justice as a remedial principle that applies when one person wrongly interferes with anothers legitimate holdings. Thus suppose Bill steals Alices computer, or sells Alice faulty goods which he claims to be in perfect order: then Alice suffers a loss, which justice demands that Bill should remedy by returning the computer or fulfilling his contract honestly. Corrective justice, then, essentially concerns a bilateral relationship between a wrongdoer and his victim, and demands that the fault be cancelled by restoring the victim to the position she would have been in had the wrongful behaviour not occurred; it may also require that the wrongdoer not benefit from his faulty behaviour. Distributive justice, on the other hand, is multilateral: it assumes a distributing agent, and a number of persons who have claims on what is being distributed. Justice here requires that the resources available to the distributor be shared according to some relevant criterion, such as equality, desert, or need. In Aristotles example, if there are fewer flutes available than people who want to play them, they should be given to the best performers (Aristotle, The Politics, p. 128). In modern debates, principles of distributive justice are applied to social institutions such as property and tax systems, which are understood as producing distributive outcomes across large societies, or even the world as a whole. Consider two cases: the first concerns parents who confer advantages on their children in ways that undermine fair equality of opportunity. If the latter principle of justice requires, to cite Rawls, that those who have the same level of talent and ability and the same willingness to use these gifts should have the same prospects of success regardless of their social class of origin (Rawls 2001, p. 44) then there are myriad ways in which some parents can bestow advantages on their children that other parents cannot financial benefits, educational opportunities, social contacts, and so forth that are likely to bring greater success in later life. Are parents therefore constrained as a matter of justice to avoid conferring at least some of these advantages, or are they free to benefit their children as they choose, leaving the pursuit of equal opportunities entirely in the hands of the state (for a careful analysis, see Brighouse and Swift 2014)? The second example concerns wage differentials. Might individuals whose talents can bring them high rewards in the labour market have a duty not to make use of their bargaining power, but instead be willing to work for a fair wage which if fairness is understood in egalitarian terms might mean the same wage as everyone else (perhaps with extra compensation for those whose labour is unusually burdensome)? Rawls, as we saw above, argued that economic justice meant arranging social and economic inequalities to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, and in formulating the principle in this way he assumed that some inequalities might serve as incentives to greater production that would also raise the position of the worst-off group in society. But if individuals were willing to forego incentives, and so economic inequalities served no useful purpose, then the arrangement that worked to the greatest benefit of the (otherwise) least advantaged would be one of strict equality. Cohen (2008) argues that Rawls position is internally inconsistent. As citizens designing our institutions we are supposed to be guided by the difference principle, but as private actors in the marketplace, we are permitted to ignore that principle and bargain for higher wages, even though doing so will work to the disadvantage of the worst-off group. Justice, according to Cohen, requires us to embrace an ethos of service that disdains material incentives.
The conceptual distinction between distributive and corrective justice seems clear, but their normative relationship is more difficult to pin down (see Perry 2000, Ripstein 2004, Coleman 1992, chs. 1617). Some have claimed that corrective justice is merely instrumental to distributive justice: its aim is to move from a situation of distributive injustice brought about by the faulty behaviour to one that is more nearly (if not perfectly) distributively just. But this view runs into a number of objections. One is that so long as Alice has a legitimate title to her computer, her claim of corrective justice against Bill does not depend on her having had, prior to the theft, the share of resources that distributive justice ideally demands. She might be richer than she deserves to be, yet corrective justice still require that the computer be returned to her. In other words, corrective justice may serve to promote conservative rather than ideal justice, to use the distinction introduced in 2.1. Another objection is that corrective justice requires the wrongdoer himself to restore or compensate the person he has wronged, even if the cause of distributive justice could be better served by transferring resources from a third party giving Alice one of even-more-undeservedly-rich Charless computers, for example. This underlines the bilateral nature of corrective justice, and also the fact that it comes into play in response to faulty behaviour on someones part. Its primary demand is that people should not lose out because others have behaved wrongfully or carelessly, but it also encompasses the idea that no man should profit by his own wrong. If Alice loses her computer in a boating accident, she might, under an insurance scheme, have a claim of distributive justice to a new machine, but she has no claim of corrective justice. The second obstacle is that utilitarianism judges outcomes by totalling up utility levels, and has no independent concern for how that utility is distributed between persons. So even if we set aside the currency issue, utilitarian theory seems unable to capture justices demand that each should receive what is due to her regardless of the total amount of benefit this generates. Defenders of utilitarianism will argue that when the conduct-guiding rules are being formulated, attention will be paid to distributive questions. In particular, when resources are being distributed among people we know little about individually, there are good reasons to favour equality, since in most cases resources have diminishing marginal utility the more of them you have, the less satisfaction you derive from additional instalments. Yet this is only a contingent matter. If some people are very adept at turning resources into well-being they are so-called utility monsters then a utilitarian should support a rule that privileges them. This seems repugnant to justice. As Rawls famously put the general point, each member of society is thought to have an inviolability founded on justice which.even the welfare of every one else cannot override (Rawls 1971, p. 28; Rawls 1999, pp. 2425). The third and final difficulty stems from utilitarianisms thoroughgoing consequentialism. Rules are assessed strictly in the light of the consequences of adopting then, not in terms of their intrinsic properties. Of course, when agents follow rules, they are meant to do what the rule requires rather than to calculate consequences directly. But for a utilitarian, it is never going to be a good reason for adopting a rule that it will give people what they deserve or what they are entitled to, when desert or entitlement are created by events in the past, such as a persons having performed a worthwhile action or entered an agreement. Backward-looking reasons have to be transmuted into forward-looking reasons in order to count. If a rule such as pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept) is going to be adopted on utilitarian grounds, this is not because there is any inherent wrongness in defaulting on a compact one has made, but because a rule that compacts must be kept is a useful one, since it allows people to co-ordinate their behaviour knowing that their expectations about the future are likely to be met. But justice, although not always backward-looking in the sense explained, often is. What is due to a person is in many cases what they deserve for what they have done, or what they are entitled to by virtue of past transactions. So even if it were possible to construct a forward-looking rationale for having rules that closely tracked desert or entitlement as these are normally understood, the utilitarian still cannot capture the sense of justice why it matters that people should get what is due to then that informs our common-sense judgements. Utilitarians might reply that their reconstruction preserves what is rationally defensible in common sense beliefs while what it discards are elements that cannot survive sustained critical reflection. But this would bring them closer to Benthams view that justice, as commonly understood, is nothing but a phantom. But the claim that justice only applies to participants in co-operative practices is anyway vulnerable to the objection that it risks excluding seriously disabled people, people living in isolated communities, and future generations from the scope of justice, so it does not seem compelling as a claim about justice in general (see further below). Might there be other reasons why animals cannot make claims of justice on us? Another Rawls-inspired suggestion is that animals lack the necessary moral powers, in particular the capacity to act on principles of justice themselves. They cannot distinguish what is justly owed to them from what is not; and they cannot determine what they owe to others whether to humans or to other non-human animals as a matter of justice. This suggestion interprets justice as involving a kind of reciprocity: an agent to whom justice is due must also in principle be an agent who could dispense justice to others, by virtue of having the relevant capacity, even if for physical reasons such as suffering from severe disability they cannot do so in practice.
If corrective justice cannot be subsumed normatively under distributive justice, we need to explain its value. What is achieved when we make Bill return the computer to Alice? Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, ch. 4) suggested that corrective justice aims to restore the two parties to a position of equality; by returning the computer we cancel both Bills unjustified gain and Alices unjustified loss. But this assumes that the computer can be returned intact. Corrective justice requires that Alice be made no worse off than she was before the theft, even if that means Bill suffering an absolute loss (e.g. by paying for a new computer if he has damaged Alices). Aristotle himself recognized that the idea of evening out gain and loss made no literal sense in a case where one person assaults another and has to compensate him for his injury there is no gain to be redistributed. It seems, then, that the value of corrective justice must lie in the principle that each person must take responsibility for his own conduct, and if he fails to respect the legitimate interests of others by causing injury, he must make good the harm. In that way, each person can plan her life secure in the knowledge that she will be protected against certain kinds of external setbacks. Philosophers and lawyers writing on corrective justice disagree about what standard of responsibility should apply for example whether compensation is required only when one person wilfully or negligently causes another to suffer loss, or whether it can also be demanded when the perpetrator displays no such fault but is nevertheless causally responsible for the injury.
Theories of justice can then be distinguished according to the relative weight they attach to procedures and substantive outcomes. Some theories are purely procedural in form. Robert Nozick distinguished between historical theories of justice, end-state theories, and patterned theories in order to defend the first against the second and third (Nozick 1974). An end-state theory defines justice in terms of some overall property of a distribution (of resources, welfare, etc.) for example whether it is egalitarian, or whether the lowest position in the distribution is as high as it can be, as Rawls difference principle requires. A patterned theory looks at whether what each receives as part of a distribution matches some individual feature such as their desert or their need. By contrast, an historical theory asks about the process by which the final outcome has arisen. In Nozicks particular case, a distribution of resources is said to be just if everyone within its scope is entitled to what they now own, having acquired it by legitimate means such as voluntary contract or gift from someone who was also entitled to have it, leading back eventually to a just act of acquisition such as labouring on a plot of land that gave the first owner his valid title. The shape of the final distribution is irrelevant: according to Nozick, justice is entirely a matter of the sequence of prior events that created it (for critical assessments of Nozicks position, see Paul 1982, Wolff 1991, Cohen 1995, chs. 12).
Theories of justice can then be categorised according to whether they are comparative, non-comparative, or neither. Principles of equality principles requiring the equal distribution of some kind of benefit are plainly comparative in form, since what is due to each person is simply an equal share of the benefit in question rather than any fixed amount. In the case of principles of desert, the position is less straightforward. These principles take the form A deserves X by virtue of P, where X is a mode of treatment, and P is a personal characteristic possessed by A (Feinberg 1970). In the case of both X and P, we can ask whether they are to be identified comparatively or non-comparatively. Thus what A deserves might either be an entitlement, or an absolute amount of some benefit a living wage, say or it might be a share of some collective benefit, or a multiple or fraction of what others are receiving twice what B is getting, say. Turning to P, or what is often called the desert basis, this may be a feature of A that we can identify without reference to anyone else, or it may be a comparative feature, such as being the best student in a graduating class. So desert-based claims of justice might take one of four different forms depending on whether the basis of desert and/or the deserved mode of treatment is comparative or non-comparative (see Olsaretti 2003 for essays that address this question; for a more advanced treatment, see Kagan 2012, Part III).
The Rawlsian view introduced in the previous section, which holds that principles of social justice apply among people who are engaged together in a co-operative practice, is a leading example of a relational theory of justice. Other theories offer different accounts of the relevant justice-generating feature: for example, Nagel has argued that principles of distributive justice apply among people who by virtue of being citizens of the same state are required both to comply with, and accept responsibility for, the coercive laws that govern their lives (Nagel 2005). In both cases, the claim being made is that when people stand in a certain relationship to one another, they become subject to principles of justice whose scope is limited to those within the relationship. In particular, comparative principles apply within the relationship, but not beyond it. If A stands in a relationship (of the right kind) to B, then it becomes a matter of justice how A is treated relative to B, but it does not matter in the same way how A is treated relative to C who stands outside of the relationship. Justice may still require that C be given treatment of a certain kind, but that will be justice in its non-comparative guise.
Once institutions are established for the purpose (among other things) of delivering justice on a large scale, we can ask what duties of justice individual people have in consequence. Is their duty simply to support the institutions, and comply with whatever rules of conduct apply to them personally? Or do they have further duties to promote justice by acting directly on the relevant principles in their daily lives? No one doubts that some duties of justice fall directly on individuals, for example duties not to deceive or defraud when engaging in commercial transactions (and duties of corrective justice where behaviour is faulty), or duties to carry out ones fair share of an informally organized project from which one expects to benefit, such as cleaning up the neighbourhood park. Others fall on them because they are performing a role within a social institution, for example the duty of an employer not to discriminate on grounds of race or gender when hiring workers, or the duty of a local government officer to assign public housing to those in greatest need. But what is much more in dispute is whether individual people have more extensive duties to promote social justice (for contrasting views, see Cohen 2008, ch. 3, Murphy 1998, Rawls 1993, Lecture VII, Young 2011, ch. 2).
To explain the distinctiveness of justice, Mill suggests that it designates moral requirements that, because of their very great importance to human well-being, people have a right to have discharged, and are therefore matters of perfect obligation. A person who commits an injustice is always liable to punishment of some kind, he argues. So he explains our sense of justice in terms of the resentment we feel towards someone who breaches these requirements. Sidgwick, who laid greater stress than Mill on the connection between justice and law, also underlined the relationship between justice and gratitude, on one side, and resentment, on the other, in order to capture the way in which our concern for justice seems to differ from our concern for utility in general.
Yet despite these efforts to reconcile justice and utility, three serious obstacles still remain. The first concerns what we might call the currency of justice: justice has to do with the way that tangible benefits and burdens are assigned, and not with the happiness or unhappiness that the assignees experience. It is a matter of justice, for example, that people should be paid the right amount for the jobs that they do, but, special circumstances aside, it is no concern of justice that John derives more satisfaction from his fairly-earned income than Jane does from hers (but see Cohen 1989 for a different view). There is so to speak, a division of labour, under which rights, opportunities, and material benefits of various kinds are allocated by principles of justice, while the conversion of these into units of utility (or disutility) is the responsibility of each individual recipient (see Dworkin 2000, ch. 1). Utilitarians will therefore find it hard to explain what from their point of view seems to be the fetishistic concern of justice over how the means to happiness are distributed, rather than happiness itself.