Competing Theories of Justice

Abstract We describe three philosophies of justice: (a) the utilitarian, which says that decisions should be made with the aim of producing the greatest good for the greatest number; (b) John Rawls’s theory of justice, which contends that social and economic inequalities should be rearranged so that they provide the greatest advantage to the least advantaged; and (c) Amartya Sen’s capability approach, which focuses on a people’s actual ability to make use of the opportunities available to them. Utilitarian foundations support mostly negative justifications for freedom of expression, the basic substantive right that humans should justly enjoy. Rawlsian philosophy ensures a minimal level of free expression. The capability approach focuses on people’s ability to put speech to use in ways they themselves see fit.

Keywords Justice • Utilitarianism • John Rawls • Amartya Sen • Redistributive justice • Capabilities approach

Just like media, justice is social as it “refers most fundamentally to how we treat one another” (Williamson, 2012, p. 78). There can be no definition for, or understanding of, the term justice without a social context in which it is embedded. Just practices, just solutions, just actions, and just policies all refer to a situation in which a decision is being made that

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Amit M. Schejter, N. Tirosh, A Justice-Based Approach for New Media

Policy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-41510-9_3

affects members in society with relation to others. However, because justice is a time-honored concept dating to the cradle of civilization, notions of justice differ. While “[t]he primary subject of justice,” according to John Rawls (1999), “is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation” (p. 6), according to Amartya Sen, “[j]ustice is ultimately connected with the way people’s lives go, and not merely with the nature of institutions surrounding them” (Sen, 2009, p. 19). And indeed, if asked to define justice, most Americans use words such as fairness., similar or equal treatment, lack of discrimination, due process, and equal opportunity (Hamer, Jenkins, & Moore, 2013), all of which refer to people’s daily lives and not only to the social institutions that influence them.

Different philosophies of justice have been at the core of public policy, ever since its emergence as a planned tool that serves to achieve goals set by governing bodies. We focus on three of them, one that has dominated Western thought for centuries and two alternatives developed in the twentieth century.

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