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Looking at world through own ‘justice prism’

By Gu Hyo-gyeong

From a few years ago until recently, there was a book that held its spot on the best-seller list.

Gu Hyo-gyeong

It is Michael Sandel’s “Justice.” I used to ask people who read this book about what they thought justice is. It was hard to find anyone who gave a clear answer to this question.

Scholars’ discussions about justice have been going on for a long time. However, the debate over which viewpoints are more appropriate for our society is still ongoing without a clear conclusion. Among the theories of various definitions of justice, we can easily come across utilitarianism and John Rawls’s justice.

First, scholars advocating utilitarianism include Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham is famous for claiming “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong.” He sought to maximize happiness based on happiness as an indicator of justice. And he meant to quantify the joy that society gives us and to maximize the total sum of those joys. Moreover, he said that all pleasures are equivalent, and that there are no qualitative differences, only quantitative differences in pleasure.

Mill’s idea is also based on “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” but unlike Bentham, he recognized the qualitative difference in pleasure.

Thus, he argued that mental pleasure is a higher level of pleasure than sensuous pleasure. “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” he said.

The problem of utilitarianism is that it neglects the characteristics of free human beings. In addition, usability cannot define the means and methods of social problems, and the principle of “the greatest number of the greatest happiness” imposes sacrifices on the minority. Nevertheless, there are many examples of utilitarianism in modern society. And it has had a great influence on the development of a welfare state.

Rawls claimed justice as fairness. Here, fairness is a concept similar to fair play in sports that is used in a narrower and more concrete meaning than equality. He introduced the equality principle of distributive justice, the difference principle which only permits inequalities that work to the advantage of the worst-off, and the concept of “the veil of ignorance,” by which he claimed principles of justice are chosen from behind. In economics, this principle is called ‘Maximin.’ In addition, he emphasized procedural justice rather than distributive justice and emphasized opportunistic equality rather than equality of results. He argued that unfair systems can only be allowed if benefits of the minority are guaranteed. Therefore, he is regarded as incorporating the anti-liberal theme of liberty and equality by reflecting social demands on the framework of liberalism.

The above two theories _ utilitarianism and Rawl’s theory of justice _ are different in their ideals.

Various discussions surrounding justice are still continuing. And there is a high probability that there will not be a single definite conclusion for quite some time. Society will change rapidly, and what is considered as “justice” for that society can change at any time. “Justice” as a kind of organism tends to depend on the culture, tradition, political and economic circumstances of society at the time.

Therefore, it is what kind of “justice” we have in our minds as the members of the society that matters. We should be able to set our own frame of justice and look at the world through it. Many of the problems in the world do not arise because there is no single definition of justice for society, but because the members of the society have never thought about what justice means for them. All of us must be able to look at the world through our own “justice prism” in order to solve social problems.


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