Justice from a teleological and moral perspective

We’ve seen in movies and read in books: Justice is an abstract idea, maybe a blank canvas where everybody draws their ideas as to what it means to them.

Like a lot of questions, this one is difficult to answer because this topic is subjective both from a moral and philosophical perspective.
The word Subjective means something that is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Justice from teleological perspective

In common parlance, Justice means giving people what they deserve.

Is that it? Let’s take an example:

I am standing in front of a hundred people and I have a few flutes as gifts in hand that I want to distribute. But I only have a few limited best ones. Who should I give the best ones to?

Will it be justice if I randomly pick people from the crowd or should I give them to the people that cannot play flutes so that they can learn it. Or maybe to the persons who are excellent flute players.
What do you think the answer should be?

Aristotle says, the best flutes should be given to the best players of flute.

It is maybe because that will produce the best music and every listener will be happy (greater good utilitarian concept). But that is not Aristotle’s reason. He thinks that the best flutes should go to the best flute players because that’s what flutes are for- to be played well.

The purpose of a flute is to be played well and those who can realize this purpose ought to have the best ones.

But his reasons are far beyond utilitarian consideration. His purpose is to look at it from teleological reasoning. The word teleological refers to telos in greek which means the purpose, end, or goal.

Aristotle, therefore, teaches that Justice means giving people what they deserve. And in order to determine what people deserve we have to determine what virtues are worthy of honor and reward.

Theoretically, finding the purpose, end, or goal of something could be an easy task but these are by very human nature very complex situations. The purpose of a thing that is to you might not be the same for me.

Though this is one interesting way to look at justice from the teleological perspective that Aristotle teaches us.

Justice can also be viewed from a moral perpective

Professor Sandels from Oxford university elaborated in his lectures on Justice that how a moral perspective can change on how you think about justice.

If I ask you, would you be better off killing 10 people if you had the chance of killing 1 and save the other 9?

You’d probably say NO because we all know by our rational reasoning that killing one is far better than killing 10.

Let me ask you again but this time from another perspective?

If you were a doctor and ten people were dying at your clinic, each of them in need of a vital organ: Kidney. liver etc. A perfectly fine gentleman walks in to have his regular check-up. Would you operate on him and give his organs to the other ten patients and in this process kill him?
You’re eventually killing one life to save the other ten this time too. Will you?

Keep your answers, we all know it wouldn’t be justice to kill an innocent to save lives no matter if they’re more in numbers.

In a similar set of circumstances, if the government of any country is put forward a choice of killing one of its citizens in order to save hundred others, it would probably choose to kill one innocent.

This is our moral perspective making us paint a picture of justice on that blank canvas.


This series of Blog Justice has different perspectives is influenced by the lectures of Harvard University Prof. Michael Sandel. Make sure you check out his lectures through this link: Justice: What’s the right thing to do?

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