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Brittany Anderson

Dr. Richard Schur

Honors 205 / Social Justice

6 February 2018

Evaluation of Social Justice in Society

With a glance, social justice can be simply viewed as a basic concept of being

holistically just to all individuals within a society. Upon closer speculation, it becomes evident

that social justice is not as clear-cut like it may seem. There are numerous key issues within the

discussion of social justice, a few being the role of reasoning, the role of emotions, and the

effect of parochial interests. In relation to these key issues, many theorists of social justice such

as Amartya Sen and John Rawls have opposing perspectives on not only what social justice

encompasses but how to implement social justice tangibly and the principles needed to

ultimately create a perfectly just society. In retrospect, a theory of social justice entails

reasoning, diversified perspectives, freedom of choice in regards to opportunities, as well as

perpetual improvement upon society as a whole.

One important element for a theory of social justice is objectivity. To be as objective as

rationally possible when it comes to social justice, it is imperative that reason is utilized as it is

the most reliable way to achieve such goal. It continuously allows for consistent scrutiny of

various perceptions and beliefs (Sen 36). However, emotions should not be disregarded.

Historically, many European Enlightenment philosophers blatantly ignored the role of emotions.

This automatically prevents the analysis of how emotions can affect the conclusions of
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reasonings. In a theory for social justice, reasoning should be utilized and the power of emotions

recognized. The use of emotions are thoroughly reflected not only in the justice system but in

decision-making, as they help interpret what is right and wrong through simple feeling.

Another issue to note is parochialism. Because of human nature, the world is succumb to

self-interest. When formulating a theory of social justice, it is crucial to understand the role of

parochial interests. It impacts reasoning as well as overarching perceptions of the surrounding

world. These interests, based upon culture, values, and knowledge, inhibit the perception of

other perspectives and ideologies separate from one’s own. To combat a narrow perspective in

regards to social justice, solutions from Rawls and Adam Smith have been theorized. Rawls

contends for the “veil of ignorance” which insures impartiality by stripping all knowledge of

physical characteristics as well as social and historical circumstances (54). This would prevent

biases or prejudices to come to fruition. Sadly, this would still allow accustomed values to affect

reasonings for conclusions. Adam Smith, however, brings the concept of the ‘impartial

spectator’. Smith devised a plan to create distance from one’s interests and ideals by the

interaction and collaboration with another individual completely different in regards to vested

interests, locale, customs, and traditions (44). This concept allows for expanded knowledge

within reasoning as well as diversification of interests. The ‘impartial spectator’ ultimately leads

to a knowledgeable and broader perspective when processing a conclusion in regards to social


When examining theorists of social justice, there are two main approaches utilized as a

basis for the theories. John Rawls as well as many European Enlightenment philosophers like
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Thomas Hobbes reasoned that a theory of social justice needs to be based upon a solidified

model of a perfectly just institution. This approach, termed as ‘transcendental institutionalism’,

has two unique facets: the identification of perfect justice and the focus on perfecting the

institutions as opposed to the societies (6). The ‘transcendental’ approach establishes the perfect

ideal rather than relatively comparing justice and injustice within a given society, seen in

Amartya Sen’s ‘comparative’ approach. Within Sen’s approach, it focuses on uncovering

solutions that will either improve social justice or lessen injustice based upon actualities in

society. It allows for continual improvement rather than lengthy speculations on what a

perfectly just institution would resemble. The ‘comparative’ approach welcomes plurality and

partial resolutions, permitting the use of multiple perspectives.

Lastly, Sen and Rawls had opposing views in regards to the principles that set up what

constitutes as a social injustice. Rawls contends for two primary principles of justice: equal

rights and liberties as well as fairness in regards to educational and employment opportunities.

Another proposal by Rawls is the ‘difference’ principle (the second portion of one primary

principle), involving the idea that unequally distributed wealth can only be truly justified if the

poor benefited (260). He also identified ‘primary goods’. These can be defined as basic needs

that every rational person is presumed to want. This includes mental and bodily abilities such as

health and memory as well as “liberty, opportunity, income, and bases of social self-respect”

(60). He proposes that these ‘primary goods’ be used as an aspect of the justice system in which

all must be met to achieve a perfectly just society (61).

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Sen goes beyond the accessibility of opportunities straight to the equality of resources to

attain said opportunities with the ‘capability’ approach. Its focus is on what people are

effectively able to do, or their capabilities. Contrasting the focus on basic needs, this approach

compares one’s ability to achieve with the opportunities given. Instead of having the simple

availability to an opportunity, it allows for the evaluation of the resources needed to succeed and

reach the opportunity. These resources can be money, transportation, location, age, and gender

(254). What is ultimately important is freedom of choice for each opportunity presented,

regardless of the individual. The ‘capability’ approach focuses on the freedom to choose, unlike

Rawls’ principles of justice.

When evaluating the key issues and various approaches to social justice, it is clear that

social justice is not concretely black-and-white. While Rawls ultimately gave a great basis for a

social justice theory, Sen’s theory overall paints a clearer picture of the actualization of social

justice and how to sensibly incorporate it universally. There are many key issues that must be

addressed and evaluated thoroughly to create a seemingly just theory of social justice.

Fundamentally, social justice is equality and the basic rights to liberty, primary necessities,

opportunities, and the capability to achieve said opportunities, including diversified insights and

perspectives on a global scale that incorporate plurality and partial resolutions for one purpose

only: the betterment of the world.

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Works Cited

Sen, Amartya Kumar. The Idea of Justice. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.