HomeEthics TestsCasesMarkkula LinksDownloadsPublicationsAboutContact

Ethics Ops
Strategies for Effective Ethics

Justice Test

HOW TO USE THE JUSTICE TEST
 
© 2012  J. Brooke Hamilton III, Ph.D.
 
 
You may wish to begin with the discussion of justice and fairness on the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics site.  Then return here to see how the test is operationalized and study the two examples linked at the bottom of the page.
 
A.  INTRODUCE THE PRINCIPLE:
      Ask: “Is this a fair distribution of benefits and burdens.” 
 
 
B. WHY IS THE JUSTICE TEST A VALID WAY TO DECIDE RIGHT AND WRONG?
If everyone is equal – that is, has equal value as a human person– then everyone has an equal claim to a share.  The default distribution is to give everyone an equal share since all are worth the same.
 
But there are circumstances in which everyone does not have an equal claim because they worked harder or less hard, contributed more or less, have greater or less need, etc.  
 
So a fair distribution is in each situation depends on their equality or inequality: 
Treat equals equally and unequals unequally.
 
The reasons for inequality:
  • Effort – some may have worked harder
  • Accomplishment – some may have achieved more or performed better
  • Contribution – some may have contributed more to the group or society
  • Need – some may have a greater need to be served first or receive a larger share
  • Seniority – some may have arrived in line first, be older or younger, or have more years of    service
  • Contract – a prior agreement about how the distribution should be made.
  • Relationship or In-Group Status -- some may have a claim because they are members of my family or a group to which I owe loyalty.
 
 
C.  APPLY THE PRINCIPLE
 
STEP 1: What is the distribution?   Who is getting the benefits and burdens in the situation: Do those who get benefits also share burdens?  Do those with benefits share some of the burdens?  These are factual questions.  Once you know the distribution you can decide if it is fair or not.
 
STEP 2:  Is the distribution fair? Which criterion for distribution would be     most fair in this situation and why would it be most fair in this situation?  You     have to defend the distribution and the criterion or reason for the distribution.
 
STEP 3:  If disagreement persists over which outcome is fair or over which criterion for inequality is best in the situation, then select a fair process to decide what is fair: an election, dispassionate judge, chance decided by a coin or paper-rock-scissors.
 
STEP 4: Draw a conclusion
Will this action produce a fair distribution, and why?
 
 
4.  STRENGTHS OF THE JUSTICE TEST
Research shows fairness to be one of the most fundamental ethical instincts in     humans.  It is present in many animals, including primates and dogs.  Subjects     will give up rewards that would make them better off than they are, if others are     getting greater rewards that are not justified.
 
 
5.  WEAKNESSES OF THE JUSTICE TEST 
There is no single criterion for a fair distribution so the test is always open to disagreement among ethical persons.
 
 
SEE CASE EXAMPLES: 
  1. "Less Sugar" Marketing
  2. Phantom Expenses
 
For links to descriptions of ethical theories, go to Ethical Decision Making at the Markkula Ethics Center site.  For a discussion of the Justice approach at that site, go to Justice and Fairness.
 
For a page of quick links to move between ethical theories and steps to operationalize these theories, return to the Markkula Links page.
 
 
 
This page was last modified on June 7, 2012 
HomeEthics TestsCasesMarkkula LinksDownloadsPublicationsAboutContact