An Examination of Justice
Lamont and Favor (2013) refer to distributive justice as the frameworks by which economic distributions occur in people’s lives, and provides moral guidance about the appropriation of certain benefits across members of society. According to the researcher, some benefits are distributed according to certain social cues, or according to individual’s status in society, job, or role. There are certain people who believe that all goods, particularly those goods related to an individual’s basic welfare, including food, that should be distributed equally to all people, whereas other people believe that individuals have a moral responsibility to care for the less fortunate.
Slote (2012) suggests that “justice as virtue” describes the traits of individuals. This means that individuals have virtues and justice is a virtue that some people have, and some have not. Many philosophers have considered justice to be a virtue that all people have in some degree, and thus all decisions people make, including moral and ethical ones may depend on the virtue of justice one has within them. For example, people may consider it unjust to steal, or unjust to distribute goods and services disproportionately. The degree to which one considers it unjust to do something naturally, will depend on how virtuous one is, or the degree to which one contains the virtue of justice within them. One may argue that all people are born with a zero degree of virtue instilled within them, and that certain virtues are instilled within people based on their family, or the kind of life they are brought up into, including the lifestyle they live and environment and moral upbringing they are subjected to during their lifetime. Certain societal influences will certainly influences one’s sense of justice and virtue.
A recent issue highlighted in the news about justice was reported by Allison and Hattenstone (2013) in The Guardian, talked about prisoners that were dying while being chained to their hospital beds. In one instance a man that was considered brain-dead by medical authorities had been handcuffed in an ambulance, and chained to his hospital bed. In many instances there are severely disabled and elderly prisoners that are also terminally ill and chained in hospitals; the researchers showed that this occurs despite the obvious evidence that these individuals pose no threat to the hospital, staff, or society. One must pose the question: is this justice?
The article presented highlighted the point that many of these patients are too weak to move. In cases like this, justice may not be carried out. Justice is an act of ensuring that one’s basic welfare is cared for, even a prisoner’s welfare. Why should this matter? Because our Constitution requires it. Not surprisingly, in the U.S. our Constitution is modeled after our moral compass. Justice in the U.S. demands that no one experience cruel and unusual punishment, which is a stipulation of the 8th amendment. While one may argue that prisoners have committed a crime that is worthy of harsh penalties and even harsher sentencing and a stripping of most rights, surely a subject that is dying and without strength, or an individual that is disabled, suffering from cancer, or someone that is unable to walk, should not be confined and handcuffed to their bed in their final days… subjecting anyone to cruel and unusual punishment represents punishment that violates basic tenets of justice as defined by the Constitution. A threat like this can only be addressed by linking the acts of injustice to a prisoner’s rights as applied in the Constitution, and for those prisoners treated unjustly abroad and in other countries, by appealing to basic human rights and liberties. Be seeking to treat all people, even those that make mistakes in judgment humanely, and treating them by some equitable standard, truly then can justice be served and applied uniformly to everyone.
- Allison, E. and Hattenstone, S. (2013). “Dying Prisoners Routinely Chained to Hospital Beds.”
The Guardian. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/08/dying-prisoners-chained-hospital-beds
- Lamont, Julian and Favor, Christi, (2013, Spring). “Distributive Justice”, The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved November 10, 2013 from: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/justice-distributive/.
- Slote, Michael, (2010, Fall). “Justice as a Virtue”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved November 10, 2013 from: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/justice-virtue/.