Theories of Justice

Political Science

Write an essay about the theories of justice.

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Theories of Justice



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Theories of Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is a famous quote by Martin Luther King. According to Hocking (2017), “J ustice is a theoretical concept that varies across people, place and time” (p.3). “Humans have no need of such a concept until we observe inequities between people that we perceive to be untenable” (Hocking, 2017, p.3). “Within modern democratic societies, at least, inequities that reach the threshold of being an injustice are commonly considered from the perspective of social justice, which functions as a moral compass, guiding both reasoning and action. When we frame justice as social justice, we are acknowledging two things” (Hocking, 2017, p.3). “First, some inequities are created by societies rather than, for example, the forces of nature or god’s will” (Hocking, 2017, p.3). “Second, we are asserting that societies could do something different – alter the social arrangements in some way – to make the situation more equitable and in accepting that proposition, we are conceding that social institutions – politics, the economy, religion, schools and the family – have a real-world impact on people’s material circumstances” (Hocking, 2017, p.3). “The idea of e quality of opportunity stresses the importance of individual freedom of choice” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). “It implies that in a society with genuine equality of opportunity, inequalities are legitimate, provided they result from people’s choices and efforts; inequalities are unfair if they result from morally arbitrary circumstances such as being born in a poor family or ethnic group” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override, and for this reason, justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others” (Rawls, 2020, p.3). “It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many” (Rawls, 2020, p.3). “Therefore, in a just society, the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests” (Rawls, 2020, p.3). “The only thing that permits us to acquiesce in an erroneous theory is the lack of a better one; analogously, an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice” (Rawls, 2020, p.3). “Being first virtues of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising” (Rawls, 2020, p.3). Some of the theories of justice include utilitarianism, libertarianism, and Rawls’ Egalitarianism.


U tilitarianism is one of the theories of justice. According to Savulescu et al. (2020), “Utilitarianism is now often used as a pejorative term, meaning something like ‘using a person as a means to an end’, or even worse, akin to some kind of ethical dystopia” (p.2). “Yet utilitarianism was originally c onceived as a progressive, liberating theory where everyone’s well-being counted equally; This was a p owerful and radical political theory in the 19th century when large sections of the population were completely disenfranchised and suffered from institutional discrimination” (Savulescu et al., 2020, p.2). “Yet utilitarianism remains relevant in the 21st century, and it typically accepts that instances of g oodness and badness can be aggregated in a quantitative fashion” (Savulescu et al., 2020, p.2). According to Pereira et al. (2017), “Originally p roposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism is among the most influential theories of justice, not least because it provides the ethical foundation of cost–benefit analysis” (p.4). “Utilitarianism is based on three key assumptions, which s tructure its understanding of justice” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.4). “F irstly, utilitarianism is premised on the view that h uman well-being (“utility”) is the only thing with intrinsic value and, therefore, is the core of justice concerns” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.4). “Secondly, utilitarians interpret the principle of equal respect as giving equal weight to everyone’s welfare and interests, “regardless of the content of the preferences or the material s ituation of the person” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.4). “F inally, utilitarianism holds a strictly consequentialist view: the moral judgment of an action or policy should be based exclusively on its consequences, particularly on how it maximizes well-being” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.4). T hus, utilitarianism is among the most influential theories of justice, not least because it provides the ethical foundation ofcost–benefit analysis.


Another theory of justice is libertarianism.  According to Vossen (2017), “Libertarianism is a theory in political philosophy that strongly values individual freedom and is skeptical about the justified scope of government in our lives” (p.2). “L ibertarians see individuals as sovereign, as people who have a r ight to control their bodies and work, who are f ree to decide how to interact with willing others, and who cannot be forced to do things against their will without very strong justification” (Vossen, 2017, p.2). “Accordingly, libertarians claim free markets are inherently just and work as the primary instrument to promote justice, inasmuch as they result from voluntary choices by consenting adults, and are the best mechanism for efficiently m aximizing social wealth” (Pereira et al., 2017 p.5). “S tate interventions such as regulation, taxes, and subsidies should be limited as they tend to distort market functioning” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.5). “When it comes to an individual’s actions (e.g. travel behavior) with second-order effects on other members of the community (e.g. vehicle emissions, traffic accidents, and congestion), libertarians believe self-regulated markets can provide adequate solutions to unfair or inefficient outcomes that emerge from collective action” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.5). “However, free markets are not efficient or, arguably, fair in the presence of market f ailures” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.5). “Additionally, consent in market transactions is not a sufficient condition for justice, particularly when contracts involve large power imbalances, as is often the case in free markets” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.5). “In the end, while utilitarianism gives priority to aggregate well-being over individual rights, libertarianism gives priority to individuals’ liberties, even if they come at the expense of human w elfare” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.5). T hus, libertarianism recognizes that all individuals equally share some fundamental rights.

Rawls’ Egalitarianism

Another theory of justice is Rawls’ Egalitarianism. According to Pereira et al. (2017), “Rawls’ egalitarianism Rawls’ theory of justice is essentially concerned with the role played by institutions in promoting justice” (p.6). According to Forrester, “In the aftermath of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, Rawls’s A Theory of Justice made a particular kind of liberalism essential to liberal philosophy” (p.1). “His theory comprises two overarching principles, ordered by priority, and the first principle has absolute priority and applies particularly to basic rights and liberties” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). “It holds that the rules defining individuals’ basic rights and liberties ought to apply equally to everyone and that individuals should have as much freedom as possible as long as this does not infringe the freedom of others” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). “The second principle applies to the distribution of primary goods, which are various social conditions and all-purpose means that are necessary to enable citizens to pursue their life plans (whatever they may be); they include in broad categories income and wealth, opportunities, powers and prerogatives of authority, and the social bases of self-respect” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6); This second principle contends that social and economic inequalities can only be considered fair if they simultaneously (a) derive from a situation of fair equality of opportunity, and (b) work to the benefit of the least advantaged members of society Rawls (1999) nonetheless acknowledges that some level of inequality is inescapable and that it is not possible to achieve genuine equality of opportunity because individuals’ innate or trained abilities, freedom of choice, and even effort cannot be completely separated from their social conditions” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). “In such circumstances, the notions of fraternity and mutual benefit embedded in the difference principle give moral justification for institutions to limit the upper part of the distribution” (Pereira et al., 2017, p.6). Thus, the Rawls’ egalitarianism Rawls’ theory of justice is essentially concerned with the role played by institutions in promoting justice.


In conclusion, justice is essential in a society as it promotes equality and fairness. Justice also ensures that human rights are followed, and everyone is given the same opportunities. Some of the theories of justice include utilitarianism, libertarianism, and Rawls’ Egalitarianism. Justice aims to address the root cause of the problem and also identifies the necessary action to ensure that the crime is not repeated; This ensures that the criminal takes accountability of their actions. Justice should be p romoted as it maintains law and order in the society and ensures that the rule of law is followed by all.


Forrester, K. (2019). In the Shadow of Justice. In in the Shadow of Justice. Princeton University Press.

Hocking, C. (2017). Occupational justice as social justice: The moral claim for inclusion. Journal of Occupational Science, 24(1), 29-42.

Pereira, R. H., Schwanen, T., & Banister, D. (2017). Distributive justice and equity in transportation. Transport reviews, 37(2), 170-191.

Rawls, J. (2020). A theory of justice: Revised edition. Harvard university press.

Savulescu, J., Persson, I., & Wilkinson, D. (2020). Utilitarianism and the pandemic. Bioethics, 34(6), 620-632.

Van der Vossen, B. (2017). Libertarianism.




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