Social justice

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Any theory or practice that encourages members of a society to behave more justly toward each other. The “social justice” concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society is characterized and measured by the distribution of wealth, natural resources, goods and services, opportunities for personal activity, social privileges and other values related to habitat and well-being.

In many human cultures, the concept of social justice often has entailed processes of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive their due from society.[1] The current global grassroots movements for social justice emphasize breaking barriers to social mobility, maintain safety nets and economic equity.[2] For example, a social justice policy may seek to alleviate the consequences of racism, patriarchy, colonization or other form of unequal treatment and/or improve relations between classes. In economics, social justice is associated with policies seeking to help the poor, especially but not necessarily at the punitive expense of the wealthy. While generally critical of capitalism, social justice is not necessarily a socialist ideology, and is often opposed to experiments in socialism due to human rights concerns or similar grounds.[3]

Social justice assigns rights and duties to the institutions of society, which enables people to share equitably the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions often include those responsible for taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, public hygiene and sanitation, environmental goods and natural resources (land, water, etc.), labor law and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of habitat, wealth and equal opportunity, and the attainment and maintenance of well-being.[4]

Interpretations that relate justice to a person’s reciprocal relationship to society are mediated by differences in cultural traditions, some of which emphasize the individual responsibility toward society and others the equilibrium between access to power and its responsible use.[5] Hence, social justice is invoked today while reinterpreting historical figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas, in philosophical debates about differences among human beings, in efforts for gender, ethnic, and social equality, for advocating justice for migrants, prisoners, the environment, and the physically and developmentally disabled.[6]

While the concept of social justice can be traced through the theology of Augustine of Hippo and the philosophy of Thomas Paine, the term “social justice” became used explicitly in the 1780s.[7] The Jesuit priest Prospero (Luigi) Taparelli d’Azeglio (1793–1862) is typically credited with coining the term,[8] and it spread during the revolutions of 1848 with the work of Antonio Francesco Davide Ambrogio Rosmini-Serbati (1797–1855).[9] However, more-recent research has shown that the expression “social justice” is even older (before the 19th Century,[10] for example, in Anglo-America, the term appears in The Federalist Papers.[11]

[1]  Aristotle, The Politics (ca 350 BC); Burke, T. P. (2014).  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1971); N. Hanif, Islamic Concept of Crime and Justice: Political justice and crime (New Delhi: Sarap & Sons, 1999); Barbara Hemphill, “Social Justice as a Moral Imperative,” The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol.  3, Issue 2 (2015), at:; Mary T. Clark, “Augustine on Justice,” in Teresa Delgado), John Doody, Kim Paffenroth, eds., Augustine and Social Justice (Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2015), pp. 3–10, at:; Ayelet Banai, Miriam Ronzoni and Christian Schemmel, Social Justice, Global Dynamics : Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2011), at:;شکوه دیباجی وغلامرضا فروشانی جمشیدیه “مفهوم عدالت از منظر فارابی و ابن‌خلدون” [“Justice from the Perspective of al-Farabi and Ibn Khaldun”], فصلنامه علمی-پژوهشی نظریه های اجتماعی اندیشمندان مسلمان [Scientific-Research Quarterly of Social Theories of Muslim Thinkers], Vol. 5, Issue 1 (winter and spring 2015), at:     /article_60438.html.

[2] Gavin N. Kitching, Seeking Social Justice Through Globalization Escaping a Nationalist Perspective (University Park PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001). pp. 3–10, at:; Arye L. Hillman, “Globalization and Social Justice,” The Singapore Economic Review, Vol. 53, Issue 2 (2008), pp. 173–89, at:; Kaan  Agartan, “Globalization and the Question of Social Justice,” Sociology Compass, Vol. 8, Issue 6 (2014), pp. 903–15, at:; Ann El Khoury, Globalization Development and Social Justice: A propositional political approach (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2015). pp. 1–20, at:; Cecile Lawrence and Natalie Churn Movements in Time Revolution, Social Justice, and Times of Change (Newcastle upon Tyne UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2012), pp. xi–xv, at:

[3] “Social Justice,” Farlex Financial Dictionary (2009), at

[4] Rawls, op. cit.

[5] Aiqing Zhang, Feifei Xia and Chengwei Li, “The Antecedents of Help Giving in Chinese Culture: Attribution, Judgment of Responsibility, Expectation Change and the Reaction of Affect,” Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 35 Issue 1 (2007), pp. 135–42, at:

[6] Justin E. H. Smith, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), p. 17, at:; Thanh-Đạm Trương, Des Gasper, Jeff Handmaker and Sylvia I. Bergh, eds., Migration, Gender and Social Justice: Perspectives on Human Insecurity (Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht and London: Springer, 2013), pp. 3–26, at:; Abebe Abay Teklu, “We Cannot Clap with One Hand: Global Socio–Political Differences in Social Support for People with Visual Impairment,” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. 5, Issue 1 (2010), pp. 93–105, at:

[7] See Clark, op. cit., `Abd al-Rahmān bin MuhammadIbn Khaldūn, transl. by Franz Rosenthal, Nessim Joseph Dawood, ed., intro. by Bruce Lawrence,  المقدمة [Prolegomena] The Muqaddimah: an introduction to history; in three volumes (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), excerpt at:; Thomas Paine. Agrarian Justice, opposed to agrarian law, and to agrarian monopoly. Being a plan for meliorating the condition of man, by creating in every nation, a national fund, to pay to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, to enable him or her to begin the world! And also, ten pounds sterling per annum during life to every person now living of the age of fifty years, and to all others when they shall arrive at the age, to enable them to live in old age without wretchedness, and to enable them to live in old age without wretchedness, and go decently out of the world (Philadelphia: R. Folwell, for Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1796), at:; Joseph Zajda, Suzanne Majhanovich, Val Rust and E Martín Sabina, Education and Social Justice: Issues of Liberty and Equality in the Global Culture (Dordrecht:, Springer Science & Business Media, 2006);  J. Zajda, S. Majhanovich, and V. Rust, “Introduction: Education and social justice,” Review of Education,Vol. 52, Issue, 1 (2006), pp. 9–22, at:

[8]Thomas Patrick Burke, “The origins of social justice: Taparelli d’Azeglio,” First Principles Journal (October 2014), at:

[9]Antonio Rosmini, transl. by Alberto Mingardi, The Constitution under Social Justice (Lanham MD: Lexington Books. 2007).

[10]Carlos Andrés Pérez-Garzón, “Unveiling the Meaning of Social Justice in Colombia,” Mexican Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 2 (14 January 2018), pp. 27–66, at:

[11]“We have observed the disposition to retaliation excited in Connecticut in consequence of the enormities perpetrated by the Legislature of Rhode Island; and we reasonably infer that, in similar cases, under other circumstances, a war, not of parchment, but of the sword, would chastise such atrocious breaches of moral obligation and social justice.” Alexander Hamilton, “The Same Subject Continued: Concerning Dangers from Dissensions Between the States, For the Independent Journal,” The Federalist Papers: No. 7, The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, at: