Justice is a multifaceted and complex philosophical theory. It affects many areas of human life and human society as a whole. Moreover, it is inextricably linked with the law as a social and universal category. Often, justice is defined as a philosophy of moral, legal, and socio-political nature. In fact, it is connected with historically changing perceptions of inalienable human rights. In addition, justice can be defined as a morally grounded criterion used to analyze the actions of a person, while a retribution for each action can be considered as a certain consequence. Of course, justice can determine specific legal norms to regulate the most important human relations. If justice is seen as a fundamental principle, which underlies any legal phenomenon, then fairness will be administered. The theory of justice is addressed mainly when there is a need to normalize people’s behavior, to direct social communication, or to resolve a conflict. Therefore, justice can be identified as a universal principle of social relations regulation.
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Historical and Socio-Philosophical Perspective
First, justice is one of the primary philosophical concepts. It is an ultimate universal foundation of things. The concept has been known since time immemorial. The idea of justice has always distinguished cruelty from charity, honesty from cheating, knowledge from ignorance, and courage from cowardice. Justice has always been viewed from various social perspectives, mainly because it established the ultimate philosophical basis. It concerns many spheres of human life, by virtue of its universality. Justice had a social content in ancient Greek philosophy. The concept of justice served as a criterion used to assess the actions of people through the prism of societal interest, the usefulness or harmfulness of such decisions for society or its dominant groups.
Plato believes that the justice and temperance of the law-enforcers have to guarantee the proper execution of the law. “And the lawgiver reviewing his work will appoint guardians to take care that his regulations are observed, and then mind will bind together all his ordinances and show them to be in harmony with temperance and justice, and not with wealth or ambition” (Plato 8). Aristotle pointed out that the truth, which is the application of fairness to a particular case, is the highest justice and an amendment of the law, which sometimes cannot give correct general definitions in relation to complicated situations (Celano 143). Hence, it follows that the notion of justice includes both the lawful and the equal, and the law has been considered the yardstick of justice. Justice requires the correspondence between the actual significance of various individuals or social groups and their social positions, between their rights and duties, between deed and retribution, labor and reward, crime and punishment, etc. It follows that justice confronts inequality, which is the exact opposite of fairness. This provision can also be understood in different ways. Hegel argued that although justice exists as an opposite to injustice, it affects the content of social relations by its conservative side, namely the ability to exist at all times for the unified principles of social processes (Ramm 2). Thus, someone might argue that justice exists because there is injustice, while others might believe that injustice expresses universal permissiveness.
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In general, it should be noted that the concept of justice is very ambiguous, and highly depends on the context of a particular era, the spirit of the times, the development of civilization, etc. In the history of philosophy, justice was viewed as a social phenomenon that encompassed all aspects of social life and determined social principles (Pomerleau). It is a phenomenon that arises, exists, and changes solely as a result of the social development of a particular society.
The essence of justice lies in the initial contradiction, the resolution of which depends on the answer to the question, which is to whom a particular ideal is valid. Hence, it follows that justice can be applied to persons of different social status. However, justice should take into account not only the social factor. It should also consider the outward conditions, which do not depend on a person. Only then, perhaps, justice can be embodied as a universal philosophical concept.
Axiological understanding of justice merits special attention. In particular, value as a universal philosophical concept is understood as something that has the importance or meaning for someone (Nyquist). In this regard, justice is a value of universal and fundamental nature of society. It is believed that justice is the main and absolute concept that determines the meaning of people’s existence along with freedom and equality. One can distinguish three basic elements of justice. The first is the value that constitutes its basis; the second is the rule that conducts it; the third is the legal act by which it is implemented (Nyquist). Only the last two elements can comply with the requirements of rationality. Justice as the absolute value underlying the regulatory system cannot be subservient to rational thinking.
Therefore, it appears that there are many views and ideas about justice as a philosophical concept. Although all these points of view are quite different, they converge because the notion of justice changes, but justice itself remains a universal social value in society and law. Of course, one can say that justice is an abstraction, but one should take into account that this concept is necessarily concretized in a wide range of social relations, including legal ones.
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Social Justice and Criminal Law
The principle of social justice is recognized as one of the central in the theory of law. The principles of law serve as a guide for the law making and law enforcement activities of state bodies. Their observance ensures both normal and uniform development and functioning of the legal system. The US legal system often refers to the need to incorporate the principle of social justice (Nyquist). In fact, it can be defined as a principle of both criminal legal policy and law-making activity. Reflection of the principle of justice in law-making activities is multifaceted. In particular, it is considered when forming a circle of criminal acts in the processes of criminalization and decriminalization. It is also necessary to take into account the principle of social justice when establishing norms that exempt from criminal liability. The value of social justice is manifested in the result of law enforcement, for example, in the fairness of a judicial decision. Social justice is a general legal principle of law that permeates all the ‘floors’ of the legal system, from individual norms to the law as a whole (Pomerleau). When the principle of social justice is embodied in law, the latter thereby acquires the characteristics of social justice.
The principle of social justice in criminal law is expressed in the imposition of punishment and the application of criminal law measures that must be carried out within the legislative limits. Moreover, they must correspond to the nature and degree of public danger of the committed crime, must take into account the circumstances that mitigate and aggravate punishment, and consider the identity of the perpetrator. Social justice is manifested in the criminal law in the formation of a range of socially dangerous acts, in the determination of sanctions, and in the imposition of punishment (Nyquist). The principles of individualization of criminal responsibility and punishment form the core of the principle of social justice.
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Social Justice as a Principle of Criminal Law
The purpose of restoring social justice means adequate compensation for damage caused to society and its citizens by a committed crime, at the cost of the equivalent deprivation or restriction of the rights and freedoms of the perpetrator. This means that it is necessary to prove the causal relationship between the act and the consequence to determine the adequate punishment for the criminal. The purpose of punishment is to motivate citizens for the lawful behavior and observance of the established order (Nyquist). The legal obligation and social need to match punishment with goals are not undermined by their impracticability in individual cases. The law directs punishment to achieve goals, but it cannot fully guarantee their success. Any crime is an encroachment on the established order of law, which corresponds to the moral and value orientations of the overwhelming majority of members of society and allows them to exercise their rights and conscientiously fulfill the duties assigned to them, and therefore, is often perceived by the public conscience as fair (Nyquist). Therefore, punishment as a form of state reaction to a crime is aimed at restoring social justice violated by lawbreaking.
Restoration of social justice by the punishment of the convict is carried out with reference both to the society as a whole and to the victim in particular. Social justice in society is restored to the possible limits. It means that the state partially reimburses the damage caused by fines, confiscation of property, correctional labor and other types of punishment. Thus, citizens become convinced that the state is able to provide punishment for the offender, and judge him or her in accordance with the law, based on rational and sociopsychological considerations. In relation to the victim, social justice is restored by protecting his or her legitimate interests and rights violated by the committed crime. Thus, to realize this goal, the punishment should provide compensation for the harm caused and, to the extent possible, proportionally deprive or restrict the rights and freedoms of the person convicted of the victim’s sufferings, which he or she has experienced because of the committed crime.
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In general, the involvement of the principle of justice in the criminal law is a positive measure. The principle of justice proceeds, first, from social and philosophical perspective. It would be difficult to underestimate the importance of justice, since it lies at the basis of all the other principles of criminal law, and therefore it is interconnected with them. The consolidation of the principle of justice in the criminal law is dictated by the modern era, therefore, in many respects, it helps the legislators and the law enforcers to navigate in the legislative functions. Thus, justice is a universal principle of law since it is one of the widespread regulators of social behavior and because it represents a general measure of good behavior in law instead of an obligation in its pure form. Consequently, the general measure of justice characterizes an indefinite number of legal relationships, including criminal ones, which are built on the public law principles. In conclusion, justice is a philosophical concept that is well interconnected with law. Despite its ambiguity and numerous interpretations, it serves a significant role in identifying human behavior as good or bad.