An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Social Justice

Justice indicates what is right or fair. Social justice is concerned with the fairness of transactions and distribution. What is called commutative justice considers such matters as contracts and due process of law. Commutative justice is focused on civil law, but it includes matters of criminal law in the case of punishment for theft. Distributive justice considers the distribution of goods and burdens for the sake of the individual and the society as a whole. Social justice has most often focused on questions of distributive justice and the common good. The central question of social justice is, “On what basis are goods and burdens distributed fairly?” In fact, several bases or principles of justice indicate what is fair, depending upon what is being distributed. This includes individual need, merit or deserving effort, and benefit to the society as a whole. Justice is often complex since goods and services such as education or taxes are distributed on the basis of several principles. The Christian tradition has emphasized the intrinsic value or worth of the individual person. It has thereby claimed that justice requires meeting the basic needs of the individual and insuring that person's participation in society. However, disagreement is great over what constitutes basic justice and how individual needs and the benefit of the whole of society may be best achieved.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.