What are the competing ideas of justice and how do we synthesize them?

I.    Introduction

People embrace the idea of justice even though they see it in different ways. One way to reconcile the different conceptions of justice is to ground them in the realities of living in today’s world. This research paper situates the idea of justice in the context of different realities that include political realities and the realities of minorities as a way of synthesizing the competing ideas of justice. Justice then is seen as the realization of people’s nature as human beings in their political, economic and cultural realities.

II.    Literature Review

This research paper examines the writings of John Rawls in Justice as Fairness, a Restatement and Will Kymlicka in Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Rawls contextualizes justice in the political order in what he calls ‘a political conception of justice for a democratic society’ (21). Kymlicka situates justice in the context of minority groups, those in our midst who are different and who are fewer than us (107).

III.    Methodology

This research paper is a reflection on the meaning of justice and its significance in light of the nature of people as human beings possessed of infinite worth. The research paper proceeds to relate such an idea of justice to the efforts of Rawls and Kymlicka to ground justice in different realities such as political realities and the realities of the minority groups.
IV.    Data Analysis

Rawls and Kymlicka differ in their approach to justice. While Rawls explores the meaning of justice in an idealized democratic society, Kymlicka investigates the import of justice for minorities in light of the disadvantages that are a significant part of the reality of their everyday lives. 

Though he discusses justice in the context of an idealized democratic society, Rawls delves into the specifics of justice as fairness and expresses the hope that the possibility of such an idealized democratic society is not a remote one. Rawls uses these words in his discussion:

…we consider whether a well-ordered democratic society is possible, and if so, how its possibility is consistent with human nature and the requirements of workable political institutions. We try to show that the well-ordered society of justice as fairness is indeed possible according to our nature and those requirements. This endeavor belongs to political philosophy as reconciliation; for seeing that the conditions of a social world at least allow for that possibility affects our view of the world itself and our attitude toward it. No longer need it seem hopelessly hostile, a world in which the will to dominate and oppressive cruelties, abetted by prejudice and folly, must inevitably prevail. None of these may ease our loss, situated as we may be in a corrupt society. But we may reflect that the world is not in itself inhospitable to political justice and its good. Our social world might have been different and there is hope for those at another time and place. (38)

Kymlicka, in contrast, goes into the hard realities in the lives of members of minority groups. He questions the policy of multiculturalism that involves the assimilation of minorities at the expense of their cultural identities. In place of such a policy, Kymlicka makes a case for bringing the minorities together, preserving their unique cultural identities and increasing their political influence in the process. Kymlicka expresses his thoughts in this manner:

I have tried to show how freedom of choice is dependent on social practices, cultural meanings, and a shared language. Our capacity to form and revise a conception of the good is intimately tied to our membership in a societal culture, since the context of individual choice is the range of options passed down to us by our culture. Deciding how to lead our lives is, in the first instance, a matter of exploring the possibilities made available by our culture.

However, minority cultures in multination states may need protection from the economic or political decisions of the majority culture if they are to provide this context for their members. For example, they may need self-governing powers or veto rights over certain decisions regarding language and culture, and may need to limit the mobility of migrants or immigrants into their homelands. (126)

What Kymlicka seems to propose is in the direction of the minorities as a nation within a nation becoming a kind of a state within a state. Kymlicka makes this proposal on account of the special protection that the minority groups deserve all in the name of justice.

V.    Results

Rawls and Kymlicka succeed in giving a face to justice. From an abstraction, justice becomes the fair lady of fairness in Rawls’ idealized democratic society. Even more concretely, justice is the greater economic and political opportunities for the disadvantaged minorities. The more definite form that Rawls and Kymlicka are able to give to justice advances the cause of justice as a concept that has meaning in the lives of real people.

VI.    Discussion

It is easy for people to invoke justice and to claim to stand for it. But it is quite another matter to take definite steps toward the realization of justice in the complexities of today’s world.

A.    Reflection on Justice

Justice has to do with people receiving their due. At the core of justice is its inextricable link to the value that people posses, a worth that is infinite. The recognition of certain fundamental entitlements that people enjoy as human beings is essential for justice to be a reality. A fair expression of these entitlements is found in two international documents, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Generally, the entitlements under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include:
right to life (art 6)
freedom from torture (art 7)                   
freedom from slavery (art 8)
freedom from arbitrary arrest (art 9)
right to reformation and social rehabilitation (art 10)
freedom of contract (art 11)
freedom of movement (art 12)
freedom from expulsion (art 13)
right to criminal due process (art 14)
freedom from ex post facto law (art 15)
right to recognition as a person (art 16)
right to privacy (art 17)
freedom of religion (art 18)
freedom of expression (art 19)
freedom from war propaganda (art 20)
freedom of assembly (art 21)
freedom of association (art 22)
right to family protection (art 23)
right to child protection (art 24)
right to vote (art 25)
right to equal protection (art 26)
right to minorities protection (art 27)

Generally, the entitlements under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights include:
right to work (art 6)
right to just and favorable conditions of work (art 7)
right form and join trade unions (art 8)
right to social security (art 9)
right to family protection (art 10)
right to an adequate standard of living (art 11)
right to health (art 12)
right to education (art 13)
right to compulsory free education (art 14)
right to take part in cultural life (art 15)

These human rights are essential. Any act of transgression that debases or degrades a person, restrains a person from giving expression to ideas or from making other fundamental choices, prevents a person from having sufficient food or from enjoying other basic necessities, or in any other manner departs from a person’s nature as a human being who possesses infinite worth, will have to contend with the characterization of the act as one which is unjust. 

B.    Justice in Context

Rawls gives expression to a kind of justice as fairness that is a ‘political conception of justice for the special case of the basic structure of a modern, democratic society’ (14). According to Rawls, the basic structure that paves the way to this kind of justice is one formed in a ‘well-ordered society’ (8) through ‘fair agreement’ (15) by ‘free and equal persons’ (18).

Kymlicka sees justice in terms of individual freedom (107) that, in the context of minorities, translates to a measure of political autonomy (126). Kymlicka is not content to pay lip service to the right of minorities to protection. To Kymlicka, multiculturalism that stops at promises to respect differences is not enough. The challenge is to create the appropriate political conditions including the provision of self-governing powers (126) that will enable cultural differences to persist and leave a lasting mark on the national as well as global community.

In a way, both what Rawls and Kymlicka say are in keeping with justice, one that is respectful of human rights, not just civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights, not just for some, but for all. Only in a well-ordered society of free and equal persons mindful of the rights of the minorities and their need for a measure of political autonomy to actualize their individual freedoms can there be justice.

VII.    Conclusion

Justice that gives people their due is respectful of who and what people are. It is mindful of the fundamental entitlements that people enjoy as human beings and reaches out to people in the complex situations in which they find themselves. It includes political justice as well as justice for minorities. To the extent that people fail to realize their nature as human beings in their political, economic and cultural realities, the ends of justice will not have been served.


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