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What is justice?

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It is easy to define justice in the abstract but hard to know what is just in any particular circumstance. This is because justice is, for the most part, in the eye of the beholder.

In general, we can say that justice consists of people being treated in the way that they deserve.  In a just society, people who commit crimes would be punished in a way that is commensurate with their crime.  In a just society, people who have acted in correct ways should be rewarded in ways that are consistent with what they have done right.

The problem with this is that it is exceedingly difficult for people to determine what other people deserve. Let us say that someone commits a murder.  Clearly, this person should be punished, but how much punishment does he deserve? Does it depend on how cruelly he treated his victim before he killed them?  Does it depend on how badly he had been mistreated as a child and low his IQ is? It is very hard to know exactly how much punishment a person deserves.

Similarly, it is hard to know how much of a reward a person deserves.  Is it just that, in our society, teachers get paid much less than basketball players even though they contribute more to our society?  How do we define who deserves more and who deserves less? This is really a matter of personal perspective and there is no way to objectively determine the answer.

Thus, we can define justice as a state in which people get what they deserve, but we will have a very hard time defining it in any given circumstance because there is no objective way to determine who deserves what level of reward or punishment.


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