A friend of mine requested I write this as part of her university assignment. She was asked to collect a number of opinions from different people regarding Justice. Figured, might as well use this as an opportunity to blog. Sweet. Warning, this is very simplistic and not at all an exhaustive analysis of the subject. I’m sure we’ll be hammering away at this for centuries to come.
Justice is like a nude model on display before a group of first year art students. Every angle, and perspective carries with it a host of interpretations and applications. To many, justice is synonymous with legislation and law enforcement. On the playground and in the realm of politics justice means sharing and fair play. In Plato’s Republic, justice was defined as “everyone minding their own business,” each individual doing what he or she is expected to do so that the fabric of society maintains its structural integrity. All of these perspectives are partially true in that all of them are required to provide the breadth and depth of that elusive term: justice.
Each of the above perspectives provides a particular function for justice. With legislation and law enforcement, justice controls behaviors and directs society, it maintains order and punishes disobedience. Its function is mainly punitive and disciplinary. Sharing and fair play denote an interactive function; unspoken rules and expectations that help guide the various elements of society to engage one another in a civil and accommodating way. It provides for tolerance, equality, equity, and harmony. Finally, Plato’s version of Justice provides a utilitarian function (of course this a very simplified interpretation of The Republic), emphasizing the roles and responsibilities of each individual in society. Society works when everyone has a part to play and dedicates himself to this role regardless of status or rewards. Each role must fulfill some need in the given society, and therefore the individual is driven by the idea of providing that service, and we have justice when these roles are fulfilled.
There is one more function, however, that is seldom discussed, which is the liberating function of justice. Bahá’u’llàh, the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, explains that the purpose of justice is to eliminate selfishness, and that “By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.” Hence, the main function of justice becomes the refinement of human character from a greed driven, self-centered perspective to a truth seeking, world embracing, and service orientation. It requires that we not only refine our own characters to that end, but our institutions, laws, and traditions as well. Justice, in this way, liberates because it implies the nobility of the human spirit and demands that every individual be granted the right to develop and flourish.