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Teaching for social justice


Social justice is the and just relation between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.

Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions often include taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labour law and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunity and equality of outcome.

Interpretations that relate justice to a reciprocal relationship to society are mediated by differences in cultural traditions, some of which emphasize the individual responsibility toward society and others the equilibrium between access to power and its responsible use. Hence, social justice is invoked today while reinterpreting historical figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas, in philosophical debates about differences among human beings, in efforts for gender, racial and social equality, for advocating justice for migrants, prisoners, the environment, and the physically and mentally disabled.



  • Plato
    Plato wrote in The Republic that it would be an ideal state that "every member of the community must be assigned to the class for which he finds himself best fitted." In an article for J.N.V University, author D.R. Bhandari says, "Justice is, for Plato, at once a part of human virtue and the bond, which joins man together in society. It is the identical quality that makes good and social. Justice is an order and duty of the parts of the soul, it is to the soul as health is to the body. Plato says that justice is not mere strength, but it is a harmonious strength. Justice is not the right of the stronger but the effective harmony of the whole. All moral conceptions revolve about the good of the whole-individual as well as social.".
  • Aristotle
    Aristotle believed rights existed only between free people, and the law should take "account in the first instance of relations of inequality in which individuals are treated in proportion to their worth and only secondarily of relations of equality." Reflecting this time when slavery and subjugation of women was typical, ancient views of justice tended to reflect the rigid class systems that still prevailed. On the other hand, for the privileged groups, strong concepts of fairness and the community existed. Distributive justice was said by Aristotle to require that people were distributed goods and assets according to their merit.
  • Socrates
    Socrates (through Plato's dialogue Crito) is attributed with developing the idea of a social contract, whereby people ought to follow the rules of a society, and accept its burdens because they have accepted its benefits. During the Middle Ages, religious scholars particularly, such as Thomas Aquinas continued discussion of justice in various ways, but ultimately connected being a good citizen to the purpose of serving God.
  • The citizen agrees to be represented by X for certain purposes, and, to that extent, X holds these powers as a trustee for the citizen.
  • X agrees that enforcement in a particular social context is legitimate. The citizen, therefore, is bound by this decision because it is the function of the trustee to represent the citizen in this way.
  • Freedom of thought;
  • Liberty of conscience as it affects social relationships on the grounds of religion, philosophy, and morality;
  • Political liberties (e.g., representative democratic institutions, freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of assembly);
  • Freedom of association;
  • Freedoms necessary for the liberty and integrity of the person (namely: freedom from slavery, freedom of movement and a reasonable degree of freedom to choose one's occupation); and
  • Rights and liberties covered by the rule of law.
  • Life and dignity of the human person: The foundational principle of all "Catholic Social Teaching" is the sanctity of all human life and the inherent dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death. Human life must be valued above all material possessions.
  • Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable: Catholics believe Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgement God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." The Catholic Church believes that through words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. People are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor."
  • Pope Leo XIII, who studied under Taparelli, published in 1891 the encyclical Rerum novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes; lit. "On new things"), rejecting both socialism and capitalism, while defending labor unions and private property. He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. In this document, Leo set out the Catholic Church's response to the social instability and labor conflict that had arisen in the wake of industrialization and had led to the rise of socialism. The Pope advocated that the role of the State was to promote social justice through the protection of rights, while the Church must speak out on social issues in order to teach correct social principles and ensure class harmony.
  • The encyclical Quadragesimo anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order, literally "in the fortieth year") of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage,subsidiarity, and advocates that social justice is a personal virtue as well as an attribute of the social order, saying that society can be just only if individuals and institutions are just.
  • Pope John Paul II added much to the corpus of the Catholic social teaching, penning three encyclicals which focus on issues such as economics, politics, geo-political situations, ownership of the means of production, private property and the "social mortgage", and private property. The encyclicals Laborem exercens, Sollicitudo rei socialis, and Centesimus annus are just a small portion of his overall contribution to Catholic social justice. Pope John Paul II was a strong advocate of justice and human rights, and spoke forcefully for the poor. He addresses issues such as the problems that technology can present should it be misused, and admits a fear that the "progress" of the world is not true progress at all, if it should denigrate the value of the human person. He argued in Centesimus annus that private property, markets, and honest labor were the keys to alleviating the miseries of the poor and to enabling a life that can express the fullness of the human person.
  • Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus caritas est ("God is Love") of 2006 claims that justice is the defining concern of the state and the central concern of politics, and not of the church, which has charity as its central social concern. It said that the laity has the specific responsibility of pursuing social justice in civil society and that the church's active role in social justice should be to inform the debate, using reason and natural law, and also by providing moral and spiritual formation for those involved in politics.
  • The official Catholic doctrine on social justice can be found in the book Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 and updated in 2006, by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax.
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Wikipedia

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