One of the most poignant and timeless discussions related to ethics is the concept of justice. Justice is the measurement of fairness and is defined by theories which vary wildly between and within cultures and countries. Administration of fairness is as crucial to ethics as are, for example, other fundamental ideas of morality such as trust and honesty. Theories of justice may focus on equal distribution, individual treatment, societal consequences, or even punishment and reparations. These differing theories all have their own foundation in a culture’s ethical values and are then impacted by historical events, jurisprudence, or religious beliefs in a variety of ways. Even though justice is so varying and individual, efforts toward and desires for it are indeed universal, and the ethical fundamentals of its moral pursuit are shared as well.
- Justice is a decision (Ronald Sullivan) – Wrongful convictions are a particularly distressing and compelling example of injustice and need for justice-based reform within the legal system. If an innocent person is incarcerated, he or she is unjustly deprived of freedom, and the victim of the underlying crime misses out on true restoration or reparations as well. Ronald Sullivan argues for the importance of advocacy as the defining competency and mission of criminal law attorneys, especially public defenders. Working as an advocate with the mission of serving justice and ensuring that the individuals in a case are not subjected to injustice positions lawyers to address a moral good and employ the most ethical mode of legal representation.
- Errors of justice (Asbjørn Rachlew) – Related to the above, wrongful convictions have an obvious striking and lasting impact on the innocent people who are sentenced to jail for crimes they do not commit. In this talk, Asbjørn Rachlew discusses wrongful convictions from the perspective of a police superintendent, especially focusing on those which included false confessions and intense, coercive investigations. From this perspective, Rachlew delves into the root causes for these errors of justice, helping the wrongfully convicted to see the reasons outside of themselves for their injustice as well as helping police and other authorities to understand their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions. For any moral society, thinking about the impact of these errors and the very real damage that can be done to humans because of injustice is a necessary ethical consideration and one that should lead to reform and better practices to ensure that justice is a higher priority.
- Why Justice Isn’t Enough (Barry Schwartz) – Justice and morality go hand in hand. For a society to be considered moral or on the “good” side between right and wrong, justice must be a respected virtue. A just society is an ethical society. In most cases, this is clearly represented by a distributive system of justice where people deserve what they get and get what they deserve. Both of these outcomes may seem rare to many people, at least from a perception perspective. Indeed, in education, jobs, social standing, and material success of all kinds, people that are seen as having merit often go without while others who appear less deserving or have not worked diligently toward goals nonetheless get everything they could want anyway. The differentiating factor is sometimes just luck. Therefore considering and appreciating the importance of luck could increase social justice and administration of fairness and equitable treatment between individuals who are just as deserving as one another but haven’t been as lucky.
- What is Fair and What is Just? (Julian Burnside) – What is the role of moral response in justice? What ethical responsibility do individuals and their communities have do something when confronted with injustice? This starts with defining fairness and justice. Just as people must have internal moral codes and ethical registers in order to have any ability to contribute to organizational ethics and integrity within groups, communities, or countries, people must also have individual definitions for and understandings of fairness and justice. Sensitivity to unfairness, and concern with fairness and justice, is an ultimate expression of compassion and a high moral value. The struggle for justice is universal, and is plagued by differing interests and values as well as the desire of many to not engage in confronting difficult or distressing situations, but sincere efforts toward it must be made by ethical individuals.
- What if justice was something we felt (Ardath Whynacht) – The role of compassion in justice is a powerful evocation of the morality of striving for fairness. As demonstrated in the above talks, there are complicated forces that work against understanding and achieving justice. However, the social and ethical benefits of the effort to all involved are great enough to justify trying. Perhaps justice is more appealing and concrete of a goal if people approach it from a compassionate, humanistic perspective rather than from a legal or abstract wealth and rights distribution basis. Seeing justice from an emotional perspective, and acknowledging its restorative and connecting power, can transform the incentives in society to seek it.
In application, justice and the ethics of its interpretation and attempts to reach it in society is a major topic in the modern legal system, with the actions and decisions of lawyers, judges, and parties to cases all having major influence on the execution of different efforts toward fairness. Individual entitlements, such as to property, other wealth, basic goods, and social status, are also distributed with questions of equal rights or arrangement of inequalities under some vision of justice and ethics. Finally, as provocative as justice itself is the concept of injustice, or errors of justice, and how damage from this can be acknowledged, avoided, or corrected.