Understanding Social Justice

When I speak with people about Social Justice, or if I read a blog somewhere, I often wonder if those people really understand what Social Justice means.

Go ahead, look it up. There’s nothing in the classical definition that says anything about equality. It’s all about allowing people to live to their potential in society.

Sure, we can infer equality from that but I think it demeans what Social Justice is all about. I really believe that it means what it says, and I can infer from that definition that the goal is to remove interference from peoples lives.

No, I’m not talking about anarchy. Just that government, at all levels, not impede their citizens from prospering in any way, shape or form, within the construct of reasonable restrictions.

Of course there need be laws and regulations, but how far does it have to go before as a society, we start preventing those very people we want to succeed to not be able to do the same?

Do we also penalize one group to help another? No. If we agree to treat all based on their merits instead of their gender, or race, or class – don’t you think we’d progress more as a society?

That’s where equality comes in; by not making judgements based on any of the above. But then, we’re only human and there will always(unfortunately) be those that want to make those decisions for the rest of us.

Let’s actually become real warriors for Social Justice and not let that happen. Who’s with me?

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7 thoughts on “Understanding Social Justice

  1. Meh. The stated goals may be worthy, but the phrase and the movement is unbelievably tainted. If you search for social justice, SJWs are what you will find. And that makes the word unusable as a rallying point.

    Instead, I’d look for a proven, true ethics theory, and use that.

  2. Wikipedia: “Social justice is the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.”

    Given what you say at the start of your commentary, I am going to assume that Wikipedia is likely the source for you description of “classical social justice.”

    Well, Wikipedia hardly qualifies as the definitive source for researching the meaning of social justice. Like any encyclopedia, it is only a starting point. While what you say may be true about achieving one’s potential as the classical definition of social justice, this is not the meaning of the term as used today by philosophers, social workers and social justice advocates.

    Furthermore, just a few sentences further along in the Wikipedia entry on social justice, equality does in fact make an appearance.

    “The goal of social justice is generally the same as human development. The relevant institutions can include education, health care, social security, labour rights, as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equality of opportunity, and no gross inequality of outcome.” (Take note of this last sentence.)

    What you have written here is a caricature of what is meant by social justice today. A more in depth examination of social justice includes what philosophers, social workers and other social justice advocates have to say about the subject.

    I suggest you read, if you have not already, the work of philosophers John Rawls and David Miller on the subject of social justice. Both Miller and Rawls developed comprehensive philosophical theories concerning social justice. Both most certainly thought that equality was a major part of social justice.

    You might start by reading the following essay about social justice by Matthew Robinson, a professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University: http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

    In this essay, Professor Robinson provides a more contemporary definition of social justice and examines the views of both Rawls and Miller on the subject. Here are a few exceprts:

    “”Social justice is defined as “… promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.” It exists when “all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.” In conditions of social justice, people are “not be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership” (Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006).”

    “Two of the most prominent statements about social justice, each of which posits its own theory of social justice, are John Rawls’ (2003) Justice as Fairness and David Miller’s (2003) Principles of Social Justice. While neither of these theories can be considered an exhaustive treatment of the subject matter, each offers a complex theory of social justice that illustrates its broad meaning. Both conceptions of social justice are similar, so there is significant overlap between the main ideas of the theorists; this is likely due to the fact that they are founded on like principles and based on previously posited theories from significant historical political philosophers (Brighouse, 2005).”

    “To Rawls, social justice is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities, as well as taking care of the least advantaged members of society. Thus, whether something is just or unjust depends on whether it promotes or hinders equality of access to civil liberties, human rights, opportunities for healthy and fulfilling lives, as well as whether it allocates a fair share of benefits to the least advantaged members of society.”

    Robinson has this to say about Miller’s view:

    “To Miller, social justice deals with the distribution of good (advantages) and bad (disadvantages) in society, and more specifically with how these things should be distributed within society. Further, social justice is concerned with the ways that resources are allocated to people by social institutions (Miller, 2003: 11).”

    Miller’s theory focuses on three Elements of Social Justice: Need, Desert, and Equality. (There it is again, equality.)

    “Need is a claim that one is lacking is basic necessities and is being harmed or is in danger of being harmed and/or that one’s capacity to function is being impeded (Miller, 2003: 207, 210). Desert is a claim that one has earned reward based on performance, that superior performance should attract superior recognition (Miller, 2003: 134, 141). Equality refers to the social ideal that society regards and treats its citizens as equals, and that benefits such as certain rights should be distributed equally (Miller, 2003: 232).”

    The National Association of Social Workers says this about social justice:

    “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” — https://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/features/issue/peace.asp

    Finally, there is this definition of social justice offered by the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice:

    “Social justice embodies the vision of a society that is equitable and in which all members are physically and psychologically safe.* Social justice also demands that all people have a right to basic human dignity and to have their basic economic needs met.”

    So social justice is not simply the notion that people should be permitted to reach their potential. There is much more to it. We are nowhere near the point where we can all “agree to treat all based on their merits instead of their gender, or race, or class.” When that time comes we can put aside such considerations. But until then we need both governmental and private sector agencies to ensure that those of a particular gender, race or class are not excluded from full participation in the benefits of society nor from achieving their full potential.

  3. Wikipedia: “Social justice is the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.”

    Given what you say at the start of your commentary, I am going to assume that Wikipedia is likely the source for you description of “classical social justice.”

    Well, Wikipedia hardly qualifies as the definitive source for researching the meaning of social justice. Like any encyclopedia, it is only a starting point. While what you say may be true about achieving one’s potential as the classical definition of social justice, this is not the meaning of the term as used today by philosophers, social workers and social justice advocates.

    Furthermore, just a few sentences further along in the Wikipedia entry on social justice, equality does in fact make an appearance.

    “The goal of social justice is generally the same as human development. The relevant institutions can include education, health care, social security, labour rights, as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equality of opportunity, and no gross inequality of outcome.” (Take note of this last sentence.)

    What you have written here is a caricature of what is meant by social justice today. A more in depth examination of social justice includes what philosophers, social workers and other social justice advocates have to say about the subject.

  4. I suggest you read, if you have not already, the work of philosophers John Rawls and David Miller on the subject of social justice. Both Miller and Rawls developed comprehensive philosophical theories concerning social justice. Both most certainly thought that equality was a major part of social justice.

    You might start by reading the following essay about social justice by Matthew Robinson, a professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University: http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice

    In this essay, Professor Robinson provides a more contemporary definition of social justice and examines the views of both Rawls and Miller on the subject. Here are a few exceprts:

    “”Social justice is defined as “… promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.” It exists when “all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.” In conditions of social justice, people are “not be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership” (Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006).”

  5. Robinson had this to say about Rawl’s:

    “Two of the most prominent statements about social justice, each of which posits its own theory of social justice, are John Rawls’ (2003) Justice as Fairness and David Miller’s (2003) Principles of Social Justice. While neither of these theories can be considered an exhaustive treatment of the subject matter, each offers a complex theory of social justice that illustrates its broad meaning. Both conceptions of social justice are similar, so there is significant overlap between the main ideas of the theorists; this is likely due to the fact that they are founded on like principles and based on previously posited theories from significant historical political philosophers (Brighouse, 2005).”

    “To Rawls, social justice is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities, as well as taking care of the least advantaged members of society. Thus, whether something is just or unjust depends on whether it promotes or hinders equality of access to civil liberties, human rights, opportunities for healthy and fulfilling lives, as well as whether it allocates a fair share of benefits to the least advantaged members of society.”

  6. Robinson has this to say about Miller’s view:

    “To Miller, social justice deals with the distribution of good (advantages) and bad (disadvantages) in society, and more specifically with how these things should be distributed within society. Further, social justice is concerned with the ways that resources are allocated to people by social institutions (Miller, 2003: 11).”

    Miller’s theory focuses on three Elements of Social Justice: Need, Desert, and Equality. (There it is again, equality.)

    “Need is a claim that one is lacking is basic necessities and is being harmed or is in danger of being harmed and/or that one’s capacity to function is being impeded (Miller, 2003: 207, 210). Desert is a claim that one has earned reward based on performance, that superior performance should attract superior recognition (Miller, 2003: 134, 141). Equality refers to the social ideal that society regards and treats its citizens as equals, and that benefits such as certain rights should be distributed equally (Miller, 2003: 232).”

  7. The National Association of Social Workers says this about social justice:

    “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” — https://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/features/issue/peace.asp

    Finally, there is this definition of social justice offered by the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice:

    “Social justice embodies the vision of a society that is equitable and in which all members are physically and psychologically safe.* Social justice also demands that all people have a right to basic human dignity and to have their basic economic needs met.”

    So social justice is not simply the notion that people should be permitted to reach their potential. There is much more to it. We are nowhere near the point where we can all “agree to treat all based on their merits instead of their gender, or race, or class.” When that time comes we can put aside such considerations. But until then we need both governmental and private sector agencies to ensure that those of a particular gender, race or class are not excluded from full participation in the benefits of society nor from achieving their full potential.

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