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Should Justice be the Supreme Virtue of Societies

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Introduction

Should Justice be the Supreme Virtue of Societies? Social justice is distributive. It operates under the principle that each person must get his or her due. However, it is quite contentious as to precisely what each person's due is and thus opens the debate as to what justice is. Moreover, once a definition of justice is agreed upon (in a particular state), the question may be raised of how important it is. Is justice salient, or is there another concept that transcends its authority? Some argue that an aggregative concept would best suit a first principle (if indeed there were one). I would argue that justice is indeed salient, that without it there would be no such thing as civil society and therefore that it is the supreme virtue of society. Justice has long been heralded as key to the creation and maintenance of a society, yet why this is has been harder to pinpoint. Pascal argued in Pensees that "force without justice is tyranny." Underlying this contention is the idea that equality amongst all people is inherently good and should be sought after. This is because he assumes that tyranny is a bad thing and that in order for force to be used to good ends it needs to be justified. ...read more.

Middle

This is because a theory of justice should produce universal results, yet laws derived from different states' interpretation of justice are different. Therefore, the failure in Rawls' theory of justice lies in its applicability. As Miller argues in 'Principles of Social Justice', "Nowadays peoples shares of resources and their life prospects depend not only on domestic institutions within states but also on transnational economic and political forces." Why should principles of normative social justice be restricted to national societies and not extended to humanity as a whole? Yet whilst this practicality is an obvious flaw in Rawls' theory, I would argue that it is not enough to nullify it. This is simply because Rawls' theory could in practice be applied to the entire world if it were not made up of nation states. Furthermore, the world is increasingly moving towards governance through supranational institutions. These institutions have laid down universal rights (for all member countries) such as the United Nations' 'Declaration of Human Rights'. Whilst this is not quite the same as a just society where fair laws are made and moreover, where distribution is fair, it is a step in the right direction. ...read more.

Conclusion

A typical example of this principle in practice is the case of a healthy man that walks in to a hospital. Immediately it is seen that his organs could be used to save ten peoples lives. Under the Utilitarian principle the man would be slaughtered in order for his organs to be replaced and push aggregate utility higher. This does seem entirely bizarre yet when coupled with the idea of individual self interest, does not seem that far fetched in that the ten whose lives were saved will be ultimately more happy than they would have been otherwise. On the other hand, it does seem as if Utilitarianism would require a society of saints in order to be successful. This is the fundamental problem with Utilitarianism. It removes the idea of individual rights and replaces them with an appeal to the aggregate appeal to the good of society. Therefore, in concluding, it seems to me that justice is indeed the 'supreme virtue' of a society. Rawls' account of justice seems to portray the most accurate and plausible (in a world without nation states) description of a just society and it incorporates the idea of justice being the first principle of that society. ...read more.

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