It’s common these days (or any days, for that matter) to read or hear something to the effect that feeding the hungry, paying a living wage, providing healthcare, or any multitude of other things is “social justice.” Trying to abstract the nature of social justice from such statements or declarations, we reasonably conclude that “social justice” means meeting people’s needs on a large scale, rather than looking after people individually or on a small scale.
Now, such things are far from being bad things. They are, strictly speaking, very good things. They are not, however, social justice, and in many cases are not justice at all, but charity, or an expedient in lieu of either justice and charity.
The problem is that, when we set out to “do” social justice, we need actually to do social justice, not just slap the label on anything that comes down the pike. Otherwise, we will not only not be doing what we think we’re doing, we might end up doing exactly the opposite.
So, what is “social justice”? In the CESJ Glossary we define it relatively simply — if not completely clearly, hence this “tutorial”:
Social justice is the particular virtue whose object is the common good of all human society, rather than, as with individual justice, the individual good of any member or group. It is one of the basic social virtues in the field of social morality. Social justice guides humans as social beings in creating and perfecting organized human interactions, or institutions. It is the principle for restoring moral balance and harmony in the social order.
Social Justice encompasses and operates within every level of the social order, from the macro-level (the “common good” of society) to the micro-level of each organization and enterprise. It organizes systems so that they provide every member of that system with equal opportunity and access to such social goods (or social tools) as money, credit, and the ballot, in order to be able to participate fully in the system.
Social justice imposes on each member of society a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development. To the extent an institution violates the human dignity and rights of any person or group, organized acts of social justice are required to correct the defects in that institution. Actions such as “social justice tithing,” for example, recognize a personal responsibility to devote a certain amount of time toward working with others to improve the organizations and institutions in which we live and work.