Justice as Retribution

  • Retributive justice is based on belief those who break the law should be punished severely
  • Many who believe in this also believe that the punishment should fit the crime- long standing biblical principle:

And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death…
And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death- Leviticus 24:17

  • Critics point out this is simply legalized revenge
  • Also, what is fair retribution for identity theft,blackmail?

Utility as Justice

  • Applied utilitarian ethics to law
  • Jeremy Bentham wanted to reform laws based on

privilege and tradition that only benefit the elite

  • Believed the goal of laws should be to ensure the greatest happiness or pleasure for the greatest number- laws are just if they are successful in this manner
  • Due to John Stuart Mill’s conception that the quality of pleasure is more important than the quantity, he would hold that laws should ensure people pleasure of the highest quality (example laws ensuring freedom are better than laws ensuring free access to dessert)

Fairness as Justice

John Rawls combined ideas of personal liberty and social equality to arrive at a different conception of justice

Justice must be based on TWO principles:

1.  Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with similar liberties for all

2.  Social & economic inequalities are o.k. as long as all people have an opportunity to obtain positions of privilege and differences should generally benefit the least advantaged members of society

  • Believed that when developing laws and determining what is just, people must act under a veil of ignorance– people must be ignorant of their position in society when making laws or handing out justice- stops people from making laws that benefit their class, place in society

Merit Theory of Justice

  • Based on Plato‘s philosophy on society- what makes people human is living in society.  Therefore, the individual is subservient to the state.  Order must be maintained in the state even at the expense of individual wants or interests
  • Also believed that inequality, class distinctions were natural and justified
  • Rulers, due to their superior rationality, will better understand the true nature of justice, and thus should be trusted to rule justly
  • People must accept and follow the laws set down by the rulers
  • Critics pose the question, what happens if the ruler is unfit to lead or does not act justly?

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