Philosophy Index

Justice

Justice is a philosophical concept of rightness or correctness in Ethics. Although justice is arguably fundamental to any ethical system, the definitions of ‘justice’ and what is ‘just’ is widely disputed among philosophers, ethicists and political thinkers.

One’s notion of what justice is will ultimately depend on one’s meta-ethical position, and one’s approach to normative ethics in response to that position. For example, a moral skeptic who favours consequentialist approaches to morality will consider justice based on the impact that ethical decisions have on people and their environment. On the other hand, a religious moral absolutist is likely to base their notion of justice on a specific dogma.

Various conceptions of justice place it in dependence of a legal system (natural or artificial), equality or fairness, religious teachings or human rationality. Justice is concerned with both the prescriptive nature of what is just, that is, what should be done, and the response to actions that go against what is just, including retribution.

‘Justice’ in Ancient Greek texts

In many Ancient Greek sources, the word δίκη (dike) is translated as “justice”. However, in its original Greek sense, this word did not have any moral connotation — it was not “justice” in the moral sense, but rather acting in accordance with one’s nature and situation.

Thus, it is important to note that the use of the word ‘justice’ in translations of Plato’s Republic and other texts of that era is fundamentally different than the notion of justice used in ethics today.

For more information on this, see Justice and ‘dike’.