Acommon definition of justice is “the administra- tion of law.” What then is law? “A rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.” 1 So justice
is simply enforcement of the norms agreed upon to further
civilized society. It’s simple, right?
But who decides which conduct or actions should bind
society? This is where philosophy comes in, defined as:
“An analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing
fundamental beliefs.” 2 This analysis is necessary to ensure
our laws are both fair and beneficial to the largest number
of people possible. This brings us to the philosophy of
law, also known as jurisprudence—a sub discipline that
aims to define what law is, at its essence. Is law “a unique
social-political phenomenon, with more or less universal
characteristics that can be discerned through philosophical analysis?” 3
The answer to this question depends on which philosophy
you subscribe to: legal positivism (the idea that law is merely
a social construction), 4 natural law (the theory that law comes
from divine revelation and is discovered by reason), 5 or some-
thing else entirely. I will not delve into the differences among
the theories. Rather, my focus here is on semantics: why
justice, law, and philosophy cannot be defined independently
of one another, and why it is significant that the concepts
cannot stand alone.
Have you ever lain awake at night wondering why speeding
used to be criminalized in our state? I concede that the answer is
probably “no.” But someone, somewhere, once, must have. Every
time you wonder if a jury verdict is fair, every time you question a
new Medicare law, and every time you cringe thinking about our
deadlocked Congress, you are philosophizing…about the law.
Ask yourself, “Where do my beliefs about law and justice
come from?” Was I taught right from wrong by my parents? Was
I taught to follow the law without questioning it? Did I rebel once,
or several times, blatantly disregarding the law? Do I think the
law is necessary, or would I rather society plunge into the chaos
of anarchy? Most people, even legal professionals, go about their
busy lives never thinking about these things. However, I believe
most people would say these issues are important.
Let’s revisit and expand on our earlier definitions of law,
justice, and philosophy. There is more to justice than simply
administration of law. Justice is also the quality of fairness and
the application of rights given to us by law or equity. 6 What is
just is synonymous with what is righteous: in accordance with
moral and/or divine law. 7 We can debate ad nauseam the origin
of the rights that justice protects (divine or secular), but for
now let’s assume they exist.
OF LAW, JUSTICE,
by Genissa Sygitowicz Richardson
Can the Concepts Be Defined Independently?