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CBSE Notes | Class 11 | Political Theory
Chapter 4 - Social Justice

The chapter introduces students to the concept of Social Justice, as social justice has been interpreted differently by all cultures. Here, we examine all the principles of justice with John Rawl's theory of justice. This chapter also highlights Plato's idea of justice and free markets.

What Is Social Justice?

The concept of justice has been interpreted differently by all cultures and traditions. Justice was associated with maintaining dharma, or just social order, in ancient Indian society, which was considered the primary duty of kings.

Confucius, a famous Chinese philosopher, advocated for kings to maintain justice by punishing wrongdoers and rewarding the good.

What was Plato’s Idea of Justice?

Plato's book "The Republic" in Greece addressed issues of justice through a long dialogue between Socrates and his young friends Glaucon and Adeimantus.

They noticed that the unjust seemed to have a lot more money than the just. Those who bent the rules to their advantage avoided paying taxes and were willing to lie and deceive were often more successful than those who were honest and just.

Socrates reminds these young people that no one can be certain of benefiting from injustice if everyone is unjust and manipulates rules to suit their own interests. To understand why it is important to be just, Socrates clarified that we must first understand what justice means.

What does justice mean? 

Justice involves the well-being of all people. Ensuring the well-being of the people includes giving each person his due.

According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, human beings possess dignity. If all persons are granted dignity then what is due to each of them is that they have the opportunity to develop their talents and pursue their chosen goals.

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Principles of Justice

There happen to be three principles of justice:

  • Equal Treatment for Equals 

  • Proportionate Justice 

  • Recognition of Special Needs 

Equal Treatment for Equals

It is considered that all individuals share certain characteristics as human beings. Therefore they deserve equal rights and equal treatment.

Apart from equal rights, the principle of treating equals equally would require that people should not be discriminated against on grounds of class, caste, race or gender. They should be judged on the basis of their work and actions and not on the basis of the group to which they belong.

Proportionate Justice

Provided everybody starts from the same baseline of equal rights, justice in such cases would mean rewarding people in proportion to the scale and quality of their effort.

For justice in society, the principle of equal treatment needs to be balanced with the principle of proportionality. 

Recognition of Special Needs 

When it comes to distributing rewards or responsibilities, society must consider the unique needs of individuals. This could be seen as a way to promote social justice.

The principle of taking into account people's special needs does not necessarily contradict, but rather extends, the principle of equal treatment, because treating equals equally could imply that people who are not equal in certain important respects might be treated differently. People with special needs or disabilities may be viewed as unequal in some ways and deserving of special assistance.

It is thought that if people who have a very different standard of living and opportunities are treated equally in all respects with those who have been deprived of even the most basic needs to live a healthy and productive life, the result will be an unequal society, rather than an egalitarian and just society.

As a result, the Constitution established reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in government jobs and quotas for admission to educational institutions. 

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What is Just Distribution?

Equal opportunity and education means that the government should provide equal and comparable opportunities to all citizens. Everyone should have the same opportunity to receive an education. Individually, they should be given the same opportunities to grow. Discrimination of any kind, whether racial or not, should be avoided at all costs.

Caste and creed, race and colour, and wealth and poverty should all be considered equal. Everyone in India is given the same opportunities and has equal access to education.

Inequalities that have remained relatively unchanged over generations are more vulnerable in society. If certain social classes have accumulated significant wealth and the power that comes with it over generations, society will be divided into those who have remained poor and those who have accumulated significant wealth.

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John Rawls - Theory of Justice (Veil of Ignorance)

The only way to arrive at a fair and just rule, according to John Rawls, is to imagine ourselves in a situation where we must make decisions about how society should be organised despite not knowing which position we would take in that society.

According to Rawls, if we don't know who we'll be in the future society or what options we'll have, we'll be more likely to support a decision about the society's rules and organisation that is fair to all members. Thinking through a veil of ignorance is what Rawls refers to.

In such a state of complete ignorance about our potential position and status in society, he believes that each individual would make decisions based on their own interests. However, because no one knows who he is or what benefits him, everyone will see the future society through the eyes of the poor.

The'veil of ignorance' position has the benefit of expecting people to act rationally: to think for themselves and choose what they believe is in their best interests. The important thing is that they will discover that thinking from the perspective of the poorest is in their best interests when they do so.

Because no one knows what position they will hold in the future society, everyone will look for rules to protect them if they are born into a poor family.

As a result, it would be in everyone's best interests if the rules and policies that are decided benefited society as a whole rather than just one segment. Such fairness would be the result of rational action rather than benevolence or generosity.

As a result, Rawls claims that rational thinking, rather than morality, can lead to fair and impartial distribution of society's benefits and burdens.

Pursuing Social Justice 

Justice does not necessitate absolute equality and uniformity in how people live. However, society would be considered unjust if the disparities between rich and poor are so great that they appear to exist in parallel worlds, and if the relatively disadvantaged have no chance of improving their situation no matter how hard they work.

People in a just society should have the basic minimum conditions to live healthy, secure lives and develop their talents, as well as equal opportunities to pursue their desired goals in society. One of the responsibilities of a democratic government is to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

However, providing such basic living conditions to all citizens may be a significant financial burden for governments, particularly in countries with large populations of poor people, such as India.

In our society, as well as in other parts of the world, there is a debate about whether promoting open competition through free markets is the best way to help the poor without harming the better-off members of society, or whether the government should take on the responsibility of providing a basic minimum to the poor, even if it means redistribution of wealth.

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The Balance Between Free Markets and State Intervention

Supporters of Free Markets believe that if markets are left free of government intervention, the sum of market transactions will ensure a fair distribution of benefits and responsibilities in society. Those who have merit and talent will be rewarded accordingly, while those who are incompetent will be penalised.

They would argue that whatever the result of market distribution is, it will be fair. It provides us with more options and higher-quality services.

Why is state intervention required? - To maintain the free markets 

The cost of free-market services may be extremely expensive for the poor. Private enterprise tends to go where it can make the most money, and thus free markets tend to favour the strong, wealthy, and powerful. States could step in to ensure that all people have a basic minimum standard of living so that they can compete on an equal footing.

Private organisations should be encouraged to provide services in areas such as education and healthcare, while state policies should aim to empower people to purchase these services. It may also be necessary for the government to provide special assistance to the elderly and sick who are unable to compete.

The state's role should be limited to enforcing a set of laws and regulations to ensure that individual competition is free of coercion and other impediments.

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