What is Justice

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The term justice refers to the legal or in some instances philosophical theory by which fundamental fairness is administered to all mankind or at the very least, people within a civilization (Oxford English Dictionary, 2014). It is coined from the Latin word Jus, which means right or law. The business dictionary defines it as the fairness in protection of rights and punishment of wrongs. It is arguable that the world over, justice systems aim to uphold this ideal principle through proper administration of the law, however, it is prudent to note that there are unjust laws hence, the question whether justice is indeed JUST. According to philosopher Kant, justice is a virtue by which we respect others’ freedom by not interfering with their voluntary actions, so long as those do not violate the rights of others. It is/was agreed however; among western philosophers that justice is the most fundamental principles that govern interpersonal relations and even further, the relations within societies.

            Perhaps the most common concept of all justice systems is that they originate from a religious being, or power. Though constitutions in the modern world have largely deviated from this traditional approach to justice, it is deeply arguable that all justice systems stem from God or the existence of a supernatural being. God or whichever religious being a society may worship, is seen as just, unchanging, impartial and overall, the true administrator over issues of right and wrong. It is by this fundamental principle that most societies actually extracted their laws from religious scripture, to form the law of the land. A majority of the world’s justice systems still have strong religious ties, even within the lettering of the law or within the motos used in their judicial systems. E.g. The US symbol of justice is a blindfolded lady with a scale on one hand and a sword on the other. This is an imaginative way to personify the qualities of God, which are his impartiality (signified by blindfold), his measure of a man’s truth against the set scale/weight of truth (signified by the balance) and his ability to punish those whose “truth” has been found to be short of the expected amount (sword). However, the US can be argued to be the country that has venerated its founding fathers and the faith they had.

The founding fathers of America did indeed have a strong sense of belief in God. This is seen in two great documents of the United States; The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Across the spectrum if U.S. citizens, from atheists to the religious devout, all look up to these documents for some kind of support, either to base their practise or validate their beliefs. There is however a fundamental difference between these documents, whereas the declaration of independence makes several references to God, the constitution almost has none. This difference reveals a fundamental principle about the founding of the United States, that it is probably a godless state. Thus if the U.S. has no ties to God in its Justice system, does God have any bearing on its justice system if any?

            The declaration of independence states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain rights, by their creator, who is a supreme being, not a man. These rights include; Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It is thus prudent to inquire why the declaration has many allusions to God or a supreme being, but the constitution has none.

            A society’s criminal justice system is made up of different practices and institutions. And, as any other man made invention, the U.S. justice system has its flaws and advantages. Importantly, it is worth noting that the U.S. justice system was created to give everyone fair treatment. Some of the pitfalls of the U.S. justice system are; its socioeconomic bias, racial bias and that it is overburdened. With regard to being overburdened, some areas of the U.S., particularly big cities, the legal system is in danger of being overwhelmed by numerous legal issues to be dealt with. David described the justice system in the Bronx, New York, to be overworked and overwhelmed. This, he said, was due to time pressure on the public defenders. The number of cases they are called on to defend, versus the time and pay is direly in need of revision. Thus even with a public defender, it is more likely than not that one will get sentenced, due to poor representation.

The socioeconomic bias is the second pitfall. In his book published in 2006, Jeffrey argues that in modern society, the rich get richer whereas the poor get prison time. He points out that crimes committed by the poor are punished with more severity and longer jail terms than those committed by the rich. White collar crimes e.g. refusal to make workplaces ergonomic, or environmental pollution by large companies are usually punished by a fine, as opposed to custodial sentence to lesser offences committed by less economically endowed individuals. Thus the rich are more likely to get away with offenses committed as compared to the poor, who are more likely to face the full wrath of the law (Jeffrey, 2006).

Third is racial bias. The criminal justice system of the U.S. seems highly biased in its treatment of non-white defendants. The National Institute of Corrections, in its report dated 2002, identified this bias. In the report, the treatment of black and Latino defendants is said to be massively and pervasively biased. This racial bias is said to occur at every stage of the sentencing process, from arrest to sentencing. An explicit example in the report is in the Maryland State police’s traffic stops between 1995 to 1997. 70% of the stops involved black drivers. Although 17.5% of the areas drivers and speeders were actually black. These among others, show how the criminal justice system of the U.S. is racially partial.

            In my opinion however, the justice system of any society is only as good as the men and women who make and uphold it. If they cannot be law abiding citizens themselves, then the law is null and void. If the justice system is not impartial and in all ways equal to the rich and poor alike, then it is not a justice system, it is a convenience to those with might. It goes by the same popular phrase that ‘what is good for the goose must be good for the gander.’ In all fairness, the whims of law should not apply partially and discriminately to a group of citizens. There should be a clear manifestation of the goodwill from the law administration authorities to ensure that even for the senior members of the state who break the law are brought to book.


David, F. (2006). Indefensible. John Wiley and Sons, NY.

Jeffrey, R. (2006). The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Prison. Routledge Publishers, Thousand Oaks-California. 

National Institute of Corrections. (2002). Report on the Corrections Department in the US. National Institute of Corrections, NY.

Oxford University. (2014). The Oxford Dictionary 5th Edition (2014), Oxford University Press.

August 21, 2023

Law Philosophy

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