The problem of social justice is closely related to that of equality and inequality of people in specific historical conditions. Sometimes one can come across the assertion that justice is nothing more than a consistently carried out equality. A complexly organized society based on the division of labor and social hierarchy generates moral beliefs that sanction people’s inequality arising from the differences between them. However, the contradictory relationship between equality and inequality is at the core of historically changing justice concepts. The paper argues that justice and equality rely on each other to complete a bigger picture in society.
Social justice acts as a category with the help of which the measure of equality and inequality in the life situation of various social groups and individuals, objectively determined by the level of material and spiritual maturity of society, is characterized. Justice, correlating people and their actions, determines how people must undoubtedly act as equal to each other and in what and how they can and should differ from each other. Justice may be the art of inequality. It is based on attention to human individuality and life differences (Flew). It should also be remembered that, contrary to popular belief, equality can be a source of conflict and injustice, and inequality can be a source of consent and justice. Practice shows that these two phenomena must be considered and studied in a close relationship, interdependence, and interaction: one does not exist without the other (Thompson). Naturally, the problem of social inequality has a concrete historical meaning, is rigidly tied to the national specifics, the features of the historical development of a particular country. The modern USA is no exception.
Today, the relationship of equality and justice in the United States can be described from the standpoint of the discussion outlined in the book by John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice” (Rawls). The author uses the idea of a “social contract” as the basis for a “just” society. This contract is intended to establish two fundamental rules. First, freedom is the most important rule of social justice, and a just society must protect citizens’ freedom. Everyone should have an equal right to the fullest fundamental freedoms consistent with those of others. Second, inequality must be at a level acceptable to all. J. Rawls imposes the concept of “justice” on the normative theory of distribution. The social contract is a means of determining whether a policy is legitimate and correct. Justice is a morally established principle, so political actions will be considered appropriate if they do not contradict this principle (Kogelmann). However, other moral imperatives can affect the allocation of resources. At the same time, an additional theoretical resource for describing the present historical period in the United States and the relations of justice and equality reflected in them is the conservative point of view of David Hume. He considers justice in terms of the recognition of property rights (Baier). These rights are based on the use, possession, disposal of property, its accession or acquisition, inheritance, or transfer. He considers it a fair measure to maintain the current allocation of resources.
To conclude, the principle of justice is not necessarily egalitarian: social justice based on the criterion of the degree of satisfaction of needs will imply the establishment of universal equality; social justice based on merit or traditional property rights will lead to uneven distribution. However, the idea of proportional distribution helps explain why justice corresponds to equality in all cases and helps complete a bigger picture of a society. The principle of proportional distribution assumes equal availability of goods and services for individuals in cases where there is no reason to identify any advantages of some over others according to other criteria. This principle is of fundamental importance in arguing the criteria for equality.
Baier, Annette. The cautious jealous virtue: Hume on justice. Harvard University Press, 2010.
Flew, Antony. Equality in liberty and justice. Routledge, 2018.
Kogelmann, Brian. “Justice, Diversity, and the Well-Ordered Society.” The Philosophical Quarterly 67.269 (2017): 663-684.
Rawls, John. A theory of justice. Harvard university press, 2009.
Thompson, Neil. Anti-discriminatory practice: Equality, diversity and social justice. Macmillan International Higher Education, 2016.