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Nourishing Ideas > Foundational Values > Justice

Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.
        - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Justice is a sentiment and a process as much as a principle or a legal requirement. "That's not fair" arises intuitively from our childhood mouths and remains, in many ways, a mantra for the rest of our lives. We all long to live in a fair world. We understand that if one person gets more than their fair share, others likely won't. We know innately that, as Eleanor Roosevelt observed, "Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both." Or, even more properly: for everyone.

Justice evokes duty, rights, equal opportunity, freedom, the law, judicial proceedings, love, fairness, tolerance, self-determination, and social and economic equity. Social justice, which encompasses economic justice, demands that no one be deprived of basic goods regardless of class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability or health. There is a further expectation that sorting out what is fair for each person occurs in the context of our associations with each other. In short, justice has an intimate connection with citizenship.

We often think of justice in legal terms, associating it with constitutional rights, legal duties and contractual obligations. And these are critical institutional expressions of fairness when society consists of large numbers of impersonal and indirect relationships. But they are not by themselves enough to secure justice. In a good society, justice is grounded in something deeper: friendship, love, pursuit of "the good", and the neighbourliness peculiar to community that we call philia. These are what provide the wind to lift the scales of justice above what is currently embedded in law.

In fact, the latest (although by no means the majority) thinking about justice is that it is not a fixed set of rules, laws and norms, but a process of constantly seeking, clarifying and expanding our understanding of "the good". In this model, determining the principles of justice is seen as a cooperative endeavour, achieved in various forms of social dialogue among real citizens. The focus of theoretical discussion thus shifts, as Mark Kingwell says, "away from particular norms and principles of justice, to the conversational spaces in which they are generated and justified, and so to the talkers who do the generating and justifying."

In these conversations everyone is included, and all modes of communication and expression are accepted. Of course, sorting out what is fair for everyone and what is beneficial for the common good will lead to conflict, and inevitably, to compromise. As such, the ongoing public conversation about justice will be lively, controversial, demanding, noisy, unfiltered, challenging, generative, creative, and never-ending. This, in turn, will require a commitment to civility. Indeed, we can't imagine a vigorous debate in pursuit of justice without such a commitment. Civility, open-mindedness, honesty and non-judgement will help manage the inevitable conflicts of pluralistic politics.

Living justice in our daily lives will bring out the best in each of us, and will move us collectively into a new awareness and consciousness about how to live with one another, doing what is right, unprovoked, promptly and with pleasure.

The world rests on three things: justice, truth and peace. The three are really one, for when justice is done, truth prevails and peace is established.
        - Talmud

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Related Items
Books of interest:
A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls
A Civil Tongue: Justice, Dialogue and the Politics of Pluralism, by Mark Kingwell
Love and Justice: Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr

Other resources:
It's About Justice
A treasure trove of quotes, art and inspiration about justice.
Center for Economic and Social Justice
Promoting "A Just Third Way", a new paradigm for social and economic justice.
Virtues Consulting
A website focusing on the virtues, qualities of the human spirit such as compassion, honesty, forgiveness, justice. Click here for their page on justice.
Expanding Horizons: Rethinking Access to Justice in Canada
Click here for the full report of this one-day symposium in March 2000.
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