What Is Social Justice? - Definition, Issues & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Social Justice?
  • 1:18 Why Have Social Justice?
  • 2:32 Problems Finding…
  • 4:00 Other Examples
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

You often hear people talking about the importance of social justice, but what is meant by it? This lesson takes a look at the overall idea of social justice while providing examples to explain just what it is.

What Is Social Justice?

Imagine that you have been selected to help design a new society. I know, it sounds a bit outlandish, but hear me out. You'd make sure that there were laws for citizens to follow so that people were not wronged by other individuals. In fact, let's say that you used much of the same legal inspiration that the founders of the United States used, namely the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

You'd also make sure that there were schools and hospitals for people who needed education or healthcare. In fact, you'd probably also make sure that there were plenty of places of worship, so people who were religious felt at home. In short, you'd want to build institutions that were available to people.

But who would get to use said institutions? Would you limit some groups to only using certain institutions, or only having access to those institutions on certain days of the week? Or, would you completely ban certain groups, saying that you didn't want them in your society?

Now, if this sort of thing was done by an individual, it would be a crime. After all, it's illegal to stand in front of a hospital and prevent someone who is gravely injured from having access to a doctor. However, what if it were the hospital itself? This idea that institutions should be freely and equally available to individuals is known as social justice.

Why Have Social Justice?

Of course, you would likely want to create a society in which all people have equal access to those institutions. After all, you are using the laws framed by the founders of the United States, and those resonate with the idea that all men are created equal. Clearly, there is a direct legal motivation for you to do so. The laws of your society dictate that equal opportunity be provided to all citizens. Remember, opportunity is what is at stake here and is the chance to do something. Social justice does not mean that an individual has rights to something that they did not earn.

Speaking of earning opportunities, let's look at a reason to have social justice in education. Say that your society has two schools, incidentally enough on opposite sides of the railroad tracks. One school is very well-funded, while the other school is practically falling apart.

If we have a hypothetical student with an interest in researching the cause of disease attend either school, then we could have two very different outcomes. If she attends a well-funded school, then she has a much higher chance of nurturing that interest in science to the point that she cures a disease. Meanwhile, if she goes to the less well-funded school, she may not see a microscope until she gets to college. In this case, it is in everyone's best interest to make sure that opportunity, expressed here as quality of education, is fair.

Problems Finding Social Justice

Yet, it is not always that simple. Let's say that our researcher grows up, gets rich off of curing a disease, and moves back to your society. She now has a daughter of her own and wants to give her every opportunity possible. Meanwhile, a fancy new private school has opened up, attracting the best teachers. Incidentally, with fewer teachers at each public school, the school board has a budgetary surplus. The researcher obviously sends her child to the private school, as she can easily afford the tuition, and it is the best institution.

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