Principles Of Justice Theories

Principles Of Justice Theories


Principles of Justice Theories. 1

Difference between Principles of Justice and Traditional Utilitarianism.. 3

Conclusion. 4

References. 5

Principles of Justice Theories

            Human nature plays a major role in justifying social and political theories. This is mainly because human nature provides the moral aspect of the theory of justice. Essentially the concept of justice is the convergence point of law and morality. Being denotes the unwavering support of citizens and the creation, and promotion, of social harmony. Social harmony can be achieved by several ways, each relying on a theory about human nature. John Rawls gives his account of justice in terms of fairness by employing the concept of family. In his human nature model, he defends his theory of fairness through two major principles of justice. These principles represent the moral responsibility of a government towards the citizens.

Rawls’ book, A Theory of justice, deals with political philosophy and ethics. His principles of justice discuss the human need for liberty and freedom in pursuing their welfare as long as they do not interfere or harm the interests of others.  Happiness is achieved when one has the freedom to pursue his or her interests in a society that supports this quest. This argument makes Rawls a philosopher bent on liberal politics because it boils down to the fact that everyone has the same right to opportunities and success as all the other citizens. The basis of Rawls’ argument is fairness for all in the family and the community.

In viewing justice as fairness, Rawls starts by imagining a hypothetical situation where everyone is at par with none having an advantage over the other in a situation he calls “the original position” and the decision makers “behind a veil of ignorance” (Rawls, 1971, p. 454). In this state, “No one knows his or her place in society; no one knows her or his class position or social status; no one knows what abilities or handicaps he or she will have; and no one knows her or his conception of the good or his or her psychological tendencies” (Rawls 1971, p. 454). At this stage, there is complete equality, without any social status, which defines every aspect of interpersonal association. This position regulates distribution of socio-economic advantages in the community giving rise to the first principle of justice which states that  “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others” (Rawls, 1971, p. 406). The second principle describes how and why it is necessary to arrange social and economic opportunities “so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and attached to positions and offices open to all” (Rawls, 1971, p. 406). In this way power and economic advantages are based mainly on fairness with regard to talent and assessment of need.

By all definitions, principles of justice provide the rules that govern the concept of fair play in the society. These principles could be based on universal laws, or even on context-bound laws, but the underlying fact is that they determine how justice is dispensed. A good example is how principles of distributive justice describe what constitutes a fair division of public assets and how retributive, sometimes called restoration, justice seeks to amend violations of fair play in the society. Tyler and Belliveau (1995) best describe the role of these principles by stating that “People often frame justice issues in terms of fairness and invoke principles of justice and fairness to explain their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their state or government” (291).     

Difference between Principles of Justice and Traditional Utilitarianism

            According to its major proponents, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mills, utilitarianism holds that the moral worth of any deed is measured by its function in creating happiness to everyone. It is an idea based on consequentialism that makes the moral value of an action subject to its outcome. Justice, to the utilitarian, must meet maximum welfare for all people to be considered as fair treatment. This calls for sacrifice for the sake of others, as long as the “good of all” is impartially considered. Rawls argues against utilitarianism by stating that welfare is best maximized to avoid the risk of having to sacrifice our own good in the quest for the greater good of all (Daniels, 2003, p. 241). His principles of justice carry more merit because they propose that everyone is entitled to equal rights to an extensive system of equal liberties governed by a system that upholds equality.  

Another major difference between utilitarianism and principles of justice revolves around the issue of punishment. To the utilitarian, justice involves maximization of welfare for all therefore punishment, which is bad action meted on someone, is not, in itself, a “good.” A utilitarian will thus construe punishment as unjust. However, principles of retributive justice consider punishment as a necessary sacrifice for the good of all because it serves the functions of deterring people from making wrong choices, rehabilitates offenders, and limits opportunities for bad people to cause more harm for example keeping them in prisons.

Justice in the Modern Criminal Justice System

            The major objective of the modern criminal justice system is to uphold social order, prevent crime, and sanction offenders of laws with punishments and rehabilitation. The system is divided into three parts namely law enforcement consisting of the police, courts for adjudication, and correction centers like prisons, probation, and parole programs. These agencies work under the guidelines provided by the rule of law. It can therefore be accurately stated that criminal justice systems are concerned with determining and dispensing justice. However, the complexities involved in determining the parameters of justice dispensation make it difficult to ascertain whether criminal justice agencies are actually just in their operations. Justice in this field is defined as the application of the law of the land equally to all citizens without regard to their social, economic, and political status or discrepancy. This definition is however limited to application of the law and does not concern itself with the moral justification of the law being applied. The system is subject to a code of laws that it applies equally to all. The law itself could be lacking in fairness by, for example, discriminating against a member or members of the society but the definition of fairness by the system still remains intact when the discriminative law is equally applied to all. Principles of justice are thus hardly a concern of criminal justice agencies. Therefore when security is taken to involve wider values like freedom, welfare, and equality, criminal justice agencies can not be depended on to provide security. Security is provided for by the law (Morton, 2000, p. 54).


            Rawls’ principles of justice equate justice to fairness in every social, economic, and political aspect. To be just is to be fair. The fairness of a system an evaluation of its discretionary powers determine an only. Fair procedures in criminal justice systems are important because they give legitimacy to decisions reached and determine whether the citizens will accept these decisions or not. Fair procedures in the criminal justice systems should be maintained in all forms of legal proceedings. Above all, rules and laws should be just and impartial because all other pursuits of justice are hinged on fairness within the laws.  


Daniels N. (2003). Democratic Equality: Rawls’ Complex Egalitarianism. In Freeman S (Ed.),     The Cambridge Companion to Rawls. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Pub. p. 241-276.

Morton, D. (2000). Justice and conflict. In Morton Deutsch and Peter Coleman (Ed.).The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass        Publishers, Inc., p. 54.

Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tyler, T. & Belliveau, M. (1995).  Tradeoffs in Justice Principles: Definitions of Fairness. In       Barbara B. Bunker and Jeffrey Z. Rubin (Eds.).  Conflict, Cooperation, and Justice. San         Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, p. 291.

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