Justice

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Video 1—What is Justice?—Prof. Geoff Sayre-McCord
What is Justice

One of the most influential accounts of the origin and nature of justice comes from Plato’s Republic. According to Plato’s account, we can think of the principles of justice as mutually agreed to principles for the coordination and structure of social interaction that would benefit all who are subject to them. What those principles are will depend on the society. In addition, there’s a second theory of justice that Plato offers that’s more general. According to this second theory, justice is “each getting what is rightfully theirs and no one getting what is rightfully another’s.” In other words, questions of justice always ask, “Who has a right to what?” Watch video …


Video 2—Justice and Individual Rights—Prof. Geoff Sayre-McCord
Justice and Individual Rights

If Plato is right, in order to be thinking about justice, you must be asking “who has a right to what?” With this in mind, you can examine contemporary debates about justice, and see what they’re saying about what is rightfully whose. There are different conceptions of what it means to have a right, but what they have in common is the idea that having a right means that others have obligations, duties, or responsibilities with respect to the person that has that right. Laws are unjust when they fail to respect people’s rights. When it comes to individual rights, many of the most influential views involve some kind of equality, such as the idea that individuals have a right to be treated as equals, or the right to equal protection under the law. Other influential conceptions of rights include the idea that individuals have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Watch video …


Video 3—Distributive Justice—Prof. Geoff Sayre-McCord
Distributive Justice

Justice demands that people have what is rightfully theirs. In thinking about what this means, questions of property, power, and opportunity often take center stage. These things are often distributed unequally, which leads to questions about whether this unequal distribution is unjust. Some of the most important discussions in political philosophy concern whether certain inequalities are at odds with the demands of justice, or are in fact actually required by justice. Professor Sayre-McCord explains how difficult it can be to work out the demands of justice given all the complicated and competing claims to justice that people have. It’s this difficulty that makes it so important to think deeply about questions of justice, and not to expect easy answers. Watch video …


Video 4—Justice and the Law—Prof. Geoff Sayre-McCord
Justice and the Law

When it comes to evaluating the justice of a legal system, four dimensions of evaluation loom large: 1) The origin of the laws; 2) The content of the laws; 3) The application of the laws (by the courts, the police, and the penal system); and 4) The effect of those laws (given how they are applied and enforced). Within these broad constraints of justice on the legal system, there is a lot of room for very different legal systems to be consistent with the demands of justice, at least in principle. This is because, when it comes to property (including wealth and income), power, and opportunity, the question of what is rightfully whose is highly contingent on the circumstances in that society. Watch video …