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Chapter: 11th Political Science : Social Justice

Distributive Justice and Retributive Justice

The substantial point of debate while studying the concept of Justice would be how the resources would be distributed to all section of the society.

Distributive Justice and Retributive Justice

The substantial point of debate while studying the concept of Justice would be how the resources would be distributed to all section of the society. In order to understand this point more clearly let us dwell upon a few important perspectives on the issue of Justice. In conventional understanding of politics, there are a few major theories of Justice being discussed at length. Equality of Resources, Common Ownership theories and Entitlements are often referred while discussing Justice.

A. Equality of Resources

This perspective defines distribution of resources to be just; that is to say, if every individual has the same effective resources that amounts to Justice. If, for some given work, each person obtains the same amount of wage or reward, that is how we must realize Justice. If inequality exists it is singularly the result of individual choices – to be a productive earner or to be a person of leisure. This perspective effectively rejects self-ownership and resource ownership but strongly advocates only responsibilities and obligations.

B. Common Ownership Theories

These theorists argue that a fair distribution means each person in the initial stages must have the same amount of land or other valuable resources. It clearly means there are no major differences in terms of an individual’s preferences and abilities. All individuals are endowed with equal amount of abilities. Therefore, by ensuring common ownership of resources, we can bring in substantial Justice.

C. Entitlements Theory

It defines just distribution when land or any other resources disbursed must be historically justified. Individuals who have never had the ownership of land or other resources can appropriate it by voluntary transfer between and among themselves. Transfer of resources, for them, must be absolutely voluntary.

All these perspectives as it is evident from the brief description do focus on both resources and human ability. Resources could be for example, land as well as knowledge; human ability also plays a vital role for some theorists. There is a grand consensus that Justice in a society is possible only when it becomes distributive rather than retributive. How do we define retributive justice?

D. Retributive Justice

The concept of retributive justice is often invoked in several contexts. One can understand the framework of this form of justice by following certain principles.

i). Those who have committed wrongful acts, serious crimes do deserve harsh punishment quite proportionate to their crime.

ii). It is morally good; when the legitimate punisher gives the culprit a stern punishment what that person deserves; no matter whether the punitive action against wrong doers is compared with others or not, the punishment is necessary as moral good.

iii). It does not encourage punishing the innocent intentionally and also disapproves inflicting large punishments on wrongdoers disproportionately.

Even though, the idea of retributive justice played vital role in theorizing punishment and Justice for some time, some of its pivotal features such as proportionality, normative status of suffering and the ultimate justification for retribution become highly contentious.

In a country like India, there are a few who tacitly approve violence as a mean to achieve and establish Justice by advocating retributive justice for many wrong acts. This is highly untenable proposition in modern context. Retributive justice as a modes operandi to establish justice was firmly rejected in our constitution itself. The architects of our constitution firmly believed that violent methods will not bring in peaceful and enduring solutions to our problems nor does it establish sustainable Justice in our society.

Our intention is to introduce several perspectives on Justice to you. In the process, we must also realize which perspective would be very appropriate in our Indian context to realize the spirit of Justice. Of all these perspectives, the framework offered by John Rawls stands out as a significant one; let’s study the vital aspects of his theory.

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