Justice VS. Fairness: Understanding the Nuances

Justice and fairness are two concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and implications socially and morally.

With this article, we will explore just how different justice and fairness are, in terms of semantics but also for society, and why they are so important in our world today. 🌎

What is justice?

The right proportion between our merits—what we deserve—and the good and bad that happens to us is referred to as “justice.”

Justice is often associated with the idea of giving someone what they deserve based on their actions.

Furthermore, justice is key in maintaining social order and lays the foundation for any legal system. Justice aims to ensure that everyone receives the advantages and privileges to which they are entitled, as well as proper punishment in case of wrongdoings.

However, justice isn’t always fair, especially when there are existing inequalities or disadvantages among groups of people.

For instance, if we apply the same laws and principles to everyone, regardless of their differences or needs, we may not take into account their different starting points, experiences, and challenges. Would this be fair? 🤷🏻

Some people may have more advantages and privileges than others, while others may face more barriers and discrimination than others. Therefore, justice doesn’t necessarily address the root causes of injustice or the structural factors that create and maintain it.

What is fairness?

The concept of fairness relates to the impartiality and equality of treatment of individuals, to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance or opportunity.

Another aspect of fairness is the equitable allocation of opportunities and resources according to the needs and circumstances of individuals. The concept of treating people differently but equitably based on their circumstances is also linked to fairness.

Fairness acknowledges that people come from a variety of backgrounds, have faced different hardships, and that some groups experience greater disadvantages than others. So, fairness means lessening or closing the gaps and differences opened by injustice and inequality.

For instance, if we give more support and assistance to people who are struggling or marginalized, we are not favoring them over others, but rather providing them with the opportunity to catch up and succeed.

✒️ Semantics

Semantics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the meaning and interpretation of words and sentences.

Semantics also affects how we comprehend and express both concepts and use them in different situations and fields.

For instance, the word “justice” can have different connotations depending on the context, such as “correctness,” “legality,” or “punishment.”

Likewise, the word “fairness” can have different implications depending on the viewpoint, such as “neutrality,” “equity,” or “balance.”

They are viewed as synonyms by many, but this isn’t true.

Society

Society is the structured and interconnected system of human interactions, institutions, and culture. It is deeply intertwined with both justice and fairness and how they are applied in the various aspects of social life.
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Similarly, justice and fairness are indissociable from the opinions, values, and actions of individuals and groups toward diversity, inclusion, and social transformation.

For example, justice and fairness can impact—and be impacted—by the laws, policies, and norms that regulate human rights, democracy, and social welfare.

Why are these differences important?

The concepts of justice and fairness, and understanding the differences between them, is important for two main reasons:

  • First, they are the foundation of social justice and human rights, which are the ethical and legal standards that protect the rights and welfare of all people.
    Social justice and human rights are based on the belief that all people have equal value and deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity, and to have access to the opportunities and resources that allow them to live a good and meaningful life.
  • Second, justice and fairness are important for creating a more diverse and inclusive world, which is the condition or quality of accepting and valuing the differences and similarities among people.
    Diversity and inclusion are based on the belief that all people have their own worth and potential, and they all contribute to improving the world by sharing what they have to offer, learning from one another, and respecting differences.

Diversity and inclusion can encourage creativity, innovation, and cooperation, and they can improve the social, economic, and environmental well-being of individuals and communities. 😊

Morality, Ethics, and Utilitarianism

Fairness and justice are two related but distinct—and sometimes conflicting—concepts that are often used in moral and ethical reasoning.

Fairness is about being impartial and treating others as equals, regardless of their individual differences or needs. Justice is about being right and giving others what they deserve, according to a certain standard, like law or morality.

One way to understand this is by thinking about moral principles and ethical standards, in particular, the principle of utilitarianism, a moral theory that holds that the right action is the one that maximizes the overall happiness and minimizes the overall suffering of the greatest number of people.

According to utilitarianism, fairness and justice are both aspects of the broader principle of utility, which is the measure of the goodness or badness of an action based on its consequences. Fairness and justice can both contribute to the utility of an action, but they may also have different implications for the distribution of happiness and suffering among different individuals or groups.

Having been a teacher myself, I can give you a practical example that will help you understand better. Let’s imagine a teacher who needs to grade her students after giving them an exam. A fair way to grade the exam would be to apply the same criteria and standards to every student, right?

But if she does this, she overlooks their different abilities, backgrounds, and efforts, which all affect their results. For example, children with special needs must be evaluated differently.

A just way to grade the exam would be to give each student the grade that they deserve, based on their performance, knowledge, or skills.

However, a fair grading system may not be just, because it may not reflect the true merits or demerits of each student. A just grading system may not be fair, because it may favor some students over others, based on factors that are beyond their control.

The utilitarian approach to grading the exam would be to consider the effects of the grading system on the overall happiness and suffering of the students, the teacher, and ultimately how it impacts society.

A utilitarian grading system may balance fairness and justice by taking into account both the equality and the merits of the students, as well as the educational and social goals of the grading system.

There are other moral theories and frameworks that may offer different perspectives, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and implications or applications for various moral and ethical dilemmas.

This is why being aware of the diversity and complexity of these two concepts, and being critical of the moral principles and ethical standards that guide our actions and decisions is so important. 😊

So, we’ve seen justice and fairness are two related but distinct concepts that have different meanings and implications for society and morality. Justice doesn’t always lead to fairness, and fairness doesn’t always require justice.

Justice refers to the proper proportion between what a person deserves and the good and bad things they face, while fairness refers to the impartiality and equality in how they are treated as individuals.

Have you faced dilemmas related to fairness and justice? Tell us all about it in our blog’s comment section!

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