Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism


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Introduction

In African terms, humanity is not just an anthropological term; it is also a moral term when it comes to considering the relations between members of the human species. But the notion of brotherhood is essentially a moral notion, for it is about the relations between individual human beings that make for their own interest and well-being. There is, thus, a limit to the area of cultivation of land. But this, the maxim invites us to realize, is not so in the cultivation of the friendship and fellowship of human beings; the boundaries of that form of cultivation are limitless.

For, humanity is of one kind; all humankind is one species, with shared basic values, feelings, hopes, and desires. Thus, even though the African people traditionally live in small communities and are divided into different ethnic or cultural groups and into clans and lineages with complex networks of relationships, nevertheless, they perceive humanity to embrace all other peoples beyond their narrow geographic or spatial confines, to constitute all human beings into one universal family of humankind.

Even though this family is fragmented into a multiplicity of peoples and cultures, nevertheless, it is a shared family—a shared humanity—the relationships among whose members ought to feature a certain kind of morality: the morality of a shared humanity. The common membership of one universal human family constitutes should constitute a legitimate basis for the idea of universal human brotherhood or unity.

This idea is depicted in, for instance, the Akan maxim:. The maxim asserts unmistakably that a human being can be related only to another human being, not to a beast. Implicit in the African perception of humanity is the recognition of all persons, irrespective of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, as brothers. But the word is also used, significantly, by persons between whom there are no blood ties; thus, the word is used comprehensively. A practical translation of the idea of brotherhood leads to such social and moral virtues as hospitality, generosity, concern for others, and communal feeling.

Several writers, including European travelers to Africa in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have remarked upon these virtues as practiced in African social and moral life. A Briton who spent about three decades in Central Africa from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the early part of the twentieth century made the following observation:. Most people, including foreign visitors to Africa, often testify, in amazement, to the ethic of hospitality and generosity of the African people.

That ethic is an expression of the perception of our common humanity and universal human brotherhood. As regards the African conception of the worth and dignity of the human being, there is time to refer only to a couple of Akan maxims. One such maxim is:. In this maxim a human being is depicted as beautiful. That which is beautiful is enjoyed for its own sake, not for the sake of anything else.

What the maxim is saying, therefore, is that a human being is to be enjoyed for his or her own sake.

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It means you should be open to the interests and welfare of others and feel it a moral duty to offer help where it is needed. To enjoy a human being also means you should recognize the other person as a fellow individual whose worth as a human being is equal to yours and with whom you undoubtedly share basic values, ideals, and sentiments.

Thus, the main intent of the maxim is to point out the worth of a human being and the respect that ought to be given to her by virtue of her humanity. Recognition of the worth of a human being is, according to the maxim, more important than caring for wealth. Kenneth Kaunda describes in some detail how the enjoyment of people is expressed in practical terms:.

It is the human being that counts: I call upon gold, it answers not; I call upon cloth, it answers not; it is the human being that counts. Onipa ne asem : mefre sika a, sika nnye so, mefre ntama a , ntama nnye so ; onipa ne asem. The maxim says that it is only the human being that is of real value, for in times of need or distress, if you appeal to gold and other material possessions they will not respond; only a human being will. For these reasons, the worth of the human being is of the ultimate consequence and ought therefore to be given the ultimate consideration.

From such maxims one can appreciate why human welfare and concern constitute the preoccupation of African ethics. The notion of the common good features manifestly in African ethics. The part of the motif relevant to moral thought is the single stomach, and it is to the significance of this that I wish to pay some attention. The common stomach of the two crocodiles indicates that at least the basic interests of all the members of the community are identical. It can therefore be interpreted as symbolizing the common good , the good of all the individuals within a society.

The common good is not a surrogate for the sum of the various individual goods. It does not consist of, or derive from, the goods and preferences of particular individuals. It is that which is essentially good for human beings as such, embracing the needs that are basic to the enjoyment and fulfillment of the life of each individual. If the common good were the aggregate of individual goods, it would only be contingently, not essentially, common and, on that score, it would not be achieved in a way that will benefit all the individuals in a society.

If the common good is achieved, then the individual good is also achieved. Thus, there should be no conceptual tension or opposition between the common good and the good of the individual member of the community, for the common good embraces the goods—the basic goods—of all the members of the community. If the common good were understood as the basic good—as human good—as such, there would be no need to think of it as a threat to individual liberty as touted by Western liberal individualist thinkers, for, after all, individual liberty is held as one of the basic goods of the members of the society.

The good, as discussed in an earlier section, is defined by the traditional thinkers of the Akan society in terms of peace, happiness or satisfaction human flourishing , justice, dignity, respect, and so on. The common good embraces these goods and more. There is no human being who does not desire peace, security, freedom, dignity, respect, justice, equality, and satisfaction.

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It is such a moral, not a weird, notion embracive of fundamental goods—goods that are intrinsic to human fulfillment and to which all individuals desire to have access—that is referred to as the common good. The unrelenting support by people in a community for such moral values as social justice and equality on the one hand, and the spontaneous, universal denunciation of acts such as murder and cruelty on the other hand, are certainly inspired by beliefs in the common good.

Similarly, the institutions of various kinds—legal, political, economic, moral and others—are set up in pursuit of certain commonly shared values and goals, that is, a common good which a human society desires to achieve for all of its members. The institution of government or legal system is surely based on a common understanding of the need for societal values of social order and social peace.

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It is, thus, pretty clear that the common good is that which inspires the creation of a moral, social, political, or legal system for enhancing the well-being of people in a community. The common good is a notion that is conceptually affiliated to the notion of community and, thus, to the notion of human society as such. The common good is an essential feature of the ethics espoused by the communitarian African society.

The pursuit of the good of all is the goal of the communitarian society, which the African society is. A sense of the common good—which is a core of shared values—is the underlying presupposition of African social morality. A humanistic morality, whose central focus is the concern for the welfare and interest of each member of community, would expectably be a social morality which is enjoined by social life itself. Such is the nature of African morality.

Social life or sociality is natural to the human being because every human being is born into an existing human society. The natural sociality or relationality of human beings would—and should—prescribe a social ethic, rather than the ethic of individualism. Individualistic ethics that focuses on the welfare and interests of the individual is hardly regarded in African moral thought.

African social ethic is expressed in many maxims or, proverbs that emphasize the importance of the values of mutual helpfulness, collective responsibility, cooperation, interdependence, and reciprocal obligations. Let me refer to a few of these, from the Akan repertoire:. The point of this proverb is, not that a person should always look to another or others for his well-being and the attainment of his goals, but that there are occasions when the demonstration by another person or other persons of goodwill, sympathy, compassion, and the willingness to help can be a great boost to a person's attempts to achieve his goals, to fulfill his life.

The dependency noted in the foregoing proverb is to be put down to the limited nature of the possibilities of the human individual. Human limitations are in fact expressed in the following Akan proverb:.


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The proverb points up the inadequacies of the human being that make it impossible for him to fulfill his life, socially, economically, emotionally, psychologically, and so on. It is evidently true that in the context of the society, in terms of functioning or flourishing in a human society, the human individual is not sufficient, for her capacities, talents, and dispositions are not adequate for the realization of her potential and basic needs. It is only through cooperation with other human beings that the needs and goals of the individual can be fulfilled.

With his self-sufficiency whittled away by man's natural condition, the individual requires the succor and relationships of others in order to satisfy his basic needs. A social ethic that recognizes the importance of the values of mutual help, goodwill, and reciprocity is the kind of ethic that will counter the lack of human self-sufficiency in respect of talents and capacities and in many ways help realize his basic needs. That the left arm cannot wash itself is of course a matter of everyday experience. It is when the two arms wash each other that both become clean: thus, the need for interdependence.

In the farming communities of rural Ghana, when a farmer realizes that work on the farm cannot be completed within a certain time if he did it single-handedly, he would request the assistance and support of other farmers in the community. The other farmers would readily lend a helping hand to that farmer, who would, in this way, achieve his productivity goals and do so on time. The same request would, when necessary, be made by the other farmers on different occasions.

Refusing to offer help to others and consistently seeking one's own good and disregarding the good of others will result in one's being denied the help and goodwill that may be necessary to achieve certain ends. Since you refused to help someone who needed your help or someone who was in distress, you are likely to meet the same refusal or denial when you need some help—perhaps more help at that.

The morality of a shared life, as in any community, thus demands mutuality or reciprocity as a moral mandate in a world in which human beings, weak and limited in many ways, are subject to vulnerable situations. Mutual aid, then, becomes a moral obligation. That a human being, due to her limitations, deserved to be helped is expressed in the following maxim:. The real meaning of the maxim, then, is that a human being deserves, and therefore ought, to be helped. It also means that a human being must be regarded as an object of moral concern and should therefore be entitled to help by others in the appropriate circumstances.

The reason why you should help someone in need is also given in the following maxim, among others:. Two important things about this maxim need to be pointed out. These unfortunate situations or circumstances insistently call for the demonstration of sympathy, compassion, and willingness to offer some help. The basic or ultimate thrust of the maxim is that you should not show insensitivity to people who are in pitiable situations, for one day you might be in that situation too and would need the help of others: thus, your neighbor's situation is potentially your situation; every other person is basically you.

Social morality thus demands mutual reciprocity as a moral mandate in a world in which human beings can easily be overcome—even overwhelmed—by the contingencies of the human condition and existence. Altruism is, thus, a fundamental moral value. Insensitivity to the needs and hardships or suffering situations of others is repudiated in Akan morality, as it is, indeed, repudiated in the moralities of all human cultures. In Akan moral thought and practice, a maxim that rebukes the lack of feeling for others is put thus:.

When something, such as a needle, sticks into your own flesh or body, you feel the pain. If it stuck into another person's—your neighbor's—flesh, you would not directly feel the pain. Even so, you should not feel insensitive to the pain or suffering of that person and shrug off your moral shoulders, for the other person's body is certainly not a piece of wood that cannot feel pain.

The foregoing maxims and many others similar to them in content and purpose all underline a social morality. There are many African folktales whose conclusions are intended to affirm the values of social morality—the kind of morality that is centered on human relations. The social character of morality requires that the individual member of the society, ever mindful of his interests, adjust those interests to the interests and needs of others.

This requires him to give due consideration to the interests and welfare of others. Necessarily embedded in a human community, the individual person has a dual moral responsibility: for him or herself as an individual and for others as co-members of the community with whom she shares certain basic needs and interests. African ethics, is a humanitarian ethics, the kind of ethics that places a great deal of emphasis on human welfare. The concern for human welfare may be said to constitute the hub of the African axiological wheel.

This orientation of African ethics takes its impulse, undoubtedly, from the humanistic outlook that characterizes traditional African life and thought. Humanism—the doctrine that sees human needs and interests as fundamental—thus constitutes the foundation of African ethics see section 5 above. Now, the natural sociality or relationality of the human being that would prescribe social ethic see preceding section would also prescribe the ethic of duty or, responsibility.

The natural relationality of the individual immediately involves one in some social and moral roles in the form of obligations, commitments, and duties or, responsibilities to other members of his or her community which the individual must fulfill. Social or community life itself, a robust feature of the African communitarian society, mandates a morality that clearly is weighted on duty to others and to the community; it constitutes the foundation for moral responsibilities and obligations.

There appears to be a conceptual tie—perhaps also a practical tie—between the social ethic prescribed by the communitarian ethos and the ethic of duty mandated by the same ethos. A morality of duty is one that requires each individual to demonstrate concern for the interests of others. The ethical values of compassion, solidarity, reciprocity, cooperation, interdependence, and social well-being, which are counted among the principles of the communitarian morality, primarily impose duties on the individual with respect to the community and its members.

All these considerations elevate the notion of duties to a status similar to that given to the notion of rights in Western ethics. African ethics does not give short-shrift to rights as such; nevertheless, it does not give obsessional or blinkered emphasis on rights. In this morality duties trump rights, not the other way around, as it is in the moral systems of Western societies.

The attitude to, or performance of, duties is induced by a consciousness of needs rather than of rights. In other words, people fulfill—and ought to fulfill—duties to others not because of the rights of these others, but because of their needs and welfare. It would be clear from the foregoing discussion that African ethics takes a stand that would be against what are referred to as acts of supererogation. In much of the literature on Western moral philosophy, an act of supererogation is held not as a strictly moral duty.

Thus, it is neither morally obligatory nor forbidden; therefore, it is not wrong, so the argument concludes, to omit or neglect performing it, even though it is good and commendable by virtue of its value and consequences on others if it is performed. It is supposed to be a meritorious act and yet optional, one that may be performed if the spirit moves you, but need not be performed. Supererogationism is clearly an oxymoron: for, why should an act that is good and morally commendable and will conduce to the well-being of another person or, other persons fail to exact obligation or compel performance?

African morality, which is humanitarian, social, and duty-oriented rather than rights-oriented morality, does not make a distinction between a moral duty and a supererogatory duty—one that is beyond the call of duty and so does not have to be performed. In the light of our common humanity, it would not be appropriate—in fact it would demean our humanity—to place limits to our moral duties or responsibilities.

Even though it is true that, as human beings, we are limited in many ways and so are not capable of fulfilling our moral duties to all human beings at all times as such, nevertheless, the scope of our moral duties should not be circumscribed. Such a capacious morality would make no distinction between a morally obligatory act and a morally optional act. It would insist that no act that is morally good in itself or that will conduce to the well-being of some individual or group of individuals should be considered morally optional, to be morally shrugged off or unconscionably set aside, if we understand morality to be something that serves or, should serve human needs.

Thus, as the second part of a previous quotation says,. Thus, African ethics—an ethics that is weighted on duty, not on rights—would, in principle, not consider moral duty of any kind as extraordinary, optional, or supererogatory. The African humanitarian ethic makes all people objects of moral concern, implying that our moral sensitivities should be extended to all people, irrespective of their cultures or societies.

African morality is founded on humanism, the doctrine that considers human interests and welfare as basic to the thought and action of the people. It is this doctrine as understood in African moral thought that has given rise to the communitarian ethos of the African society. For, ensuring the welfare and interests of each member of society can hardly be accomplished outside the communitarian society. Social or community life is, thus, not optional to the human being. Social life, which follows upon our natural sociality, implicates the individual in a web of moral obligations, commitments, and duties to be fulfilled in pursuit of the common good or the general welfare.

Thus, African humanitarian ethics spawns social morality, the morality of the common good, and the morality of duty that is so comprehensive as to bring within its compass what are referred to as moral ideals such as love, virtue, compassion , which are considered supererogatory in Western ethics. But central or basic to the African morality is character, for the success of the moral life is held to be a function of the quality of an individual's personal life. A moral conception of personhood is held in African ethics, the conception that there are certain basic moral norms and ideals to which the conduct of the individual human being, if he is a person, ought to conform.

The recognition in the African ethical traditions of all human beings as brothers by reason of our common humanity is indeed a lofty moral ideal that must be cherished and made a vital or robust feature of global ethics in our contemporary world. It is a bulwark against developing bigoted attitudes toward peoples of different cultures or skin colors who are, also, members of the universal human family called race. Africana Philosophy Akan Philosophy: of the person ethics: virtue. African Ethics First published Thu Sep 9, African Words for Ethics or Morality 3. Moral Personhood 5. The Humanistic Foundations of African Morality 6.

Humanity and Brotherhood 7. The Notion of the Common Good 8. Social, Not Individualistic, Ethics 9. The Ethics of Duty, Not of Rights References to the moral or ethical life or behavior are made using words that mean behavior or character. The Notion of Character as Central to African Ethics There are of course other moral concepts in the African moral language and thought.

Moral Personhood Let me start the analysis of moral personhood in African moral philosophy with a statement made by Ifeanyi Menkiti, an African philosopher from Nigeria: The various societies found in traditional Africa routinely accept this fact that personhood is the sort of thing which has to be attained, and is attained in direct proportion as one participates in communal life through the discharge of the various obligations defined by one's stations.

It is the carrying out of these obligations that transforms one from the it-status of early child-hood, marked by an absence of moral function, into the person-status of later years, marked by a widened maturity of ethical sense—an ethical maturity without which personhood is conceived as eluding one. Ifeanyi Menkiti, Menkiti's statement adumbrates a conception of moral personhood, which will now be discussed in some detail.

The Humanistic Foundations of African Morality Observations have been made by a number of scholars that Africans are a very—even a notoriously—religious people, that religion so deeply permeates all spheres of their lives that it cannot be distinguished from nonreligious aspects of life, that in the African traditional life there are no atheists, and that the African cultural heritage is intensely and pervasively religious.

McVeigh made the following observation: Therefore, it is important to inquire concerning the African standard of judgment, what makes some things good and others bad. The right builds up society; the wrong tears it down. One is social; the other anti-social Malcolm J. McVeigh, In the ethics of the Lovedu, a South Bantu ethnic group of the Transvaal: Right conduct is relative always to the human situation and morality is oriented not from any absolute standards of honesty or truth but from the social good in each situation. Conduct that promotes smooth relationships, that upholds the social structure, is good; conduct that runs counter to smooth social relationships is bad J.

Krige in Forde, And, regarding the basis of Bantu morality, Molema remarked: The greatest happiness and good of the tribe was the end and aim of each member of the tribe. Now, utility forms part of the basis of perhaps all moral codes. With the Bantu, it formed the basis of morality…it was utilitarian. This was the standard of goodness, and in harmony with, and conformity to, this end must the moral conduct be moulded.

The effect of this, of course, was altruism S. Molema, Humanity and Brotherhood These two concepts, humanity and brotherhood, feature prominently in African social and moral thought and practice. We start our discussion with the Akan maxim: Humanity has no boundary. Even though this family is fragmented into a multiplicity of peoples and cultures, nevertheless, it is a shared family—a shared humanity—the relationships among whose members ought to feature a certain kind of morality: the morality of a shared humanity The common membership of one universal human family constitutes should constitute a legitimate basis for the idea of universal human brotherhood or unity.

This idea is depicted in, for instance, the Akan maxim: A human being's brother is a or another human being. A Briton who spent about three decades in Central Africa from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the early part of the twentieth century made the following observation: Hospitality is one of the most sacred and ancient customs of Bantuland, and is found everywhere. A native will give his best house and his evening meal to a guest, without the slightest thought that he is doing anything extraordinary Dugald Campbell, 45, emphasis added.

And a contemporary African writer also notes: One of the achievements of our [African] society was the universal hospitality on which they [i. One such maxim is: The human being is more beautiful than gold. Kenneth Kaunda describes in some detail how the enjoyment of people is expressed in practical terms: Our conversation is a good example of this [enjoyment of people]. We will talk for hours with any stranger who crosses our path and by the time we part there will be little we do not know about each other.

We are open to the interests of other people. Our curiosity does not stem from a desire to interfere in someone else's business but is an expression of our belief that we are wrapped up together in this bundle of life and therefore a bond already exists between myself and a stranger before we open our mouths to talk Kaunda, The value of the human being is expressed also in the following maxim: It is the human being that counts: I call upon gold, it answers not; I call upon cloth, it answers not; it is the human being that counts.

Social, Not Individualistic, Ethics A humanistic morality, whose central focus is the concern for the welfare and interest of each member of community, would expectably be a social morality which is enjoined by social life itself. Let me refer to a few of these, from the Akan repertoire: The well-being of man depends on his fellow man. Human limitations are in fact expressed in the following Akan proverb: Man is not a palm-tree that he should be complete or, self sufficient.

Reciprocity and interdependence are forthrightly expressed in the following Akan maxims: The right arm washes the left arm and the left arm washes the right arm. Life is mutual aid. That a human being, due to her limitations, deserved to be helped is expressed in the following maxim: A human being needs help. The reason why you should help someone in need is also given in the following maxim, among others: Your neighbor's situation is [potentially] your situation.

Wo yonko da ne wo da Two important things about this maxim need to be pointed out. In Akan moral thought and practice, a maxim that rebukes the lack of feeling for others is put thus: When it sticks into your neighbor's flesh, it is as if it stuck into a piece of wood.

The Ethics of Duty, Not of Rights African ethics, is a humanitarian ethics, the kind of ethics that places a great deal of emphasis on human welfare. In other words, people fulfill—and ought to fulfill—duties to others not because of the rights of these others, but because of their needs and welfare It would be clear from the foregoing discussion that African ethics takes a stand that would be against what are referred to as acts of supererogation. Thus, as the second part of a previous quotation says, A native will give his best house and his evening meal to a guest, without the slightest thought that he is doing anything extraordinary Dugald Campbell, section 6 above.

Conclusion African morality is founded on humanism, the doctrine that considers human interests and welfare as basic to the thought and action of the people. Bibliography Bewaji, John A. Busia, K. Praeger, Inc.

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Danquah, J. Ebijuwa, T. Forde, Daryll ed. Gbadegesin, Segun, Gyekye, Kwame, Hardie, W. Idowu, Bolaji E. Kaunda, Kenneth D. After the Renaissance and Reformation , the modern concept of social justice, as developing human potential, began to emerge through the work of a series of authors. Baruch Spinoza in On the Improvement of the Understanding contended that the one true aim of life should be to acquire "a human character much more stable than [one's] own", and to achieve this "pitch of perfection The chief good is that he should arrive, together with other individuals if possible, at the possession of the aforesaid character.

Although there is no certainty about the first use of the term "social justice", early sources can be found in Europe in the 18th century. Thomas Aquinas. He argued that rival capitalist and socialist theories, based on subjective Cartesian thinking, undermined the unity of society present in Thomistic metaphysics as neither were sufficiently concerned with moral philosophy. Writing in , the influential British philosopher and economist, John Stuart Mill stated in Utilitarianism his view that "Society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely.

This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made in the utmost degree to converge. In the later 19th and early 20th century, social justice became an important theme in American political and legal philosophy, particularly in the work of John Dewey , Roscoe Pound and Louis Brandeis.

One of the prime concerns was the Lochner era decisions of the US Supreme Court to strike down legislation passed by state governments and the Federal government for social and economic improvement, such as the eight-hour day or the right to join a trade union. After the First World War, the founding document of the International Labour Organization took up the same terminology in its preamble, stating that "peace can be established only if it is based on social justice".

From this point, the discussion of social justice entered into mainstream legal and academic discourse. Then again in Divini Redepmtoris , the Church pointed out that the realisation of social justice relied on the promotion of the dignity of human person. In the late 20th century, a number of liberal and conservative thinkers, notably Friedrich von Hayek rejected the concept by stating that it did not mean anything, or meant too many things. Even though the meaning of social justice varies, at least three common elements can be identified in the contemporary theories about it: a duty of the State to distribute certain vital means such as economic, social, and cultural rights , the protection of human dignity , and affirmative actions to promote equal opportunities for everybody.

Hunter Lewis ' work promoting natural healthcare and sustainable economies advocates for conservation as a key premise in social justice. His manifesto on sustainability ties the continued thriving of human life to real conditions, the environment supporting that life, and associates injustice with the detrimental effects of unintended consequences of human actions. Quoting classical Greek thinkers like Epicurus on the good of pursuing happiness, Hunter also cites ornithologist, naturalist, and philosopher Alexander Skutch in his book Moral Foundations:.

The common feature which unites the activities most consistently forbidden by the moral codes of civilized peoples is that by their very nature they cannot be both habitual and enduring, because they tend to destroy the conditions which make them possible. Pope Benedict XVI cites Teilhard de Chardin in a vision of the cosmos as a 'living host' [34] embracing an understanding of ecology that includes humanity's relationship to others, that pollution affects not just the natural world but interpersonal relations as well. Cosmic harmony, justice and peace are closely interrelated:.

If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. In The Quest for Cosmic Justice , Thomas Sowell writes that seeking utopia, while admirable, may have disastrous effects if done without strong consideration of the economic underpinnings that support contemporary society. Political philosopher John Rawls draws on the utilitarian insights of Bentham and Mill , the social contract ideas of John Locke , and the categorical imperative ideas of Kant.

His first statement of principle was made in A Theory of Justice where he proposed that, "Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. His views are definitively restated in Political Liberalism where society is seen "as a fair system of co-operation over time, from one generation to the next".

All societies have a basic structure of social, economic, and political institutions, both formal and informal. In testing how well these elements fit and work together, Rawls based a key test of legitimacy on the theories of social contract.

Western Theories of Justice

To determine whether any particular system of collectively enforced social arrangements is legitimate, he argued that one must look for agreement by the people who are subject to it, but not necessarily to an objective notion of justice based on coherent ideological grounding. Obviously, not every citizen can be asked to participate in a poll to determine his or her consent to every proposal in which some degree of coercion is involved, so one has to assume that all citizens are reasonable.

Rawls constructed an argument for a two-stage process to determine a citizen's hypothetical agreement:. This applies to one person who represents a small group e. Governments that fail to provide for welfare of their citizens according to the principles of justice are not legitimate.

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To emphasise the general principle that justice should rise from the people and not be dictated by the law-making powers of governments, Rawls asserted that, "There is But this presumption creates no special priority for any particular liberty. According to Rawls, the basic liberties that every good society should guarantee are:. Thomas Pogge 's arguments pertain to a standard of social justice that creates human rights deficits. He assigns responsibility to those who actively cooperate in designing or imposing the social institution, that the order is foreseeable as harming the global poor and is reasonably avoidable.

Pogge argues that social institutions have a negative duty to not harm the poor. Pogge speaks of "institutional cosmopolitanism" and assigns responsibility to institutional schemes [42] for deficits of human rights. An example given is slavery and third parties. A third party should not recognize or enforce slavery. The institutional order should be held responsible only for deprivations of human rights that it establishes or authorizes.

The current institutional design, he says, systematically harms developing economies by enabling corporate tax evasion, [43] illicit financial flows, corruption, trafficking of people and weapons. Joshua Cohen disputes his claims based on the fact that some poor countries have done well with the current institutional design.

The term "social justice" was seen by the U. At the initiative of the Soviet Union, and with the support of developing countries, the term was used in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, adopted in The same document reports, "From the comprehensive global perspective shaped by the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , neglect of the pursuit of social justice in all its dimensions translates into de facto acceptance of a future marred by violence, repression and chaos. The same UN document offers a concise history: "[T]he notion of social justice is relatively new.

The concept first surfaced in Western thought and political language in the wake of the industrial revolution and the parallel development of the socialist doctrine. It emerged as an expression of protest against what was perceived as the capitalist exploitation of labour and as a focal point for the development of measures to improve the human condition. It was born as a revolutionary slogan embodying the ideals of progress and fraternity.

Following the revolutions that shook Europe in the mids, social justice became a rallying cry for progressive thinkers and political activists By the mid-twentieth century, the concept of social justice had become central to the ideologies and programmes of virtually all the leftist and centrist political parties around the world Institutionalized affirmative action has promoted this. While legally outlawed, the caste system remains strong in practice.

In Muslim history, Islamic governance has often been associated with social justice. For the Muslim Brotherhood the implementation of social justice would require the rejection of consumerism and communism. The Brotherhood strongly affirmed the right to private property as well as differences in personal wealth due to factors such as hard work. However, the Brotherhood held Muslims had an obligation to assist those Muslims in need. It held that zakat alms-giving was not voluntary charity, but rather the poor had the right to assistance from the more fortunate.

One of Judaism's most distinctive and challenging ideas is its ethics of responsibility reflected in the concepts of simcha "gladness" or "joy" , tzedakah "the religious obligation to perform charity and philanthropic acts" , chesed "deeds of kindness" , and tikkun olam "repairing the world". From its founding, Methodism was a Christian social justice movement. Under John Wesley 's direction, Methodists became leaders in many social justice issues of the day, including the prison reform and abolition movements. Wesley himself was among the first to preach for slaves rights attracting significant opposition.

Today, social justice plays a major role in the United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church says, "We hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people to free and fair elections and to the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, communications media, and petition for redress of grievances without fear of reprisal; to the right to privacy ; and to the guarantee of the rights to adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care.


  • Western Theories of Justice!
  • Our values in practice;
  • Introduction.

Catholic social teaching consists of those aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine which relate to matters dealing with the respect of the individual human life. A distinctive feature of Catholic social doctrine is its concern for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

Two of the seven key areas [56] of "Catholic social teaching" are pertinent to social justice:. Even before it was propounded in the Catholic social doctrine, social justice appeared regularly in the history of the Catholic Church:. The Chinese concept of Tian Ming has occasionally been perceived [ by whom? A successful rebellion is considered definite proof that the Emperor is unfit to rule. Social justice is also a concept that is used to describe the movement towards a socially just world, e. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality, and can be defined as "the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society".

A number of movements are working to achieve social justice in society. These movements are working toward the realization of a world where all members of a society, regardless of background or procedural justice, have basic human rights and equal access to the benefits of their society. Liberation theology [64] is a movement in Christian theology which conveys the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions.

It has been described by proponents as "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor", [65] and by detractors as Christianity perverted by Marxism and Communism. Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the s—s.

It arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. According to Sarah Kleeb , "Marx would surely take issue," she writes, "with the appropriation of his works in a religious context Despite this, in terms of their understanding of the necessity of a just and righteous world, and the nearly inevitable obstructions along such a path, the two have much in common; and, particularly in the first edition of [A Theology of Liberation], the use of Marxian theory is quite evident.

Social justice has more recently made its way into the field of bioethics. Discussion involves topics such as affordable access to health care, especially for low income households and families. The discussion also raises questions such as whether society should bear healthcare costs for low income families, and whether the global marketplace is the best way to distribute healthcare. They develop a social justice theory that answers some of these questions in concrete settings. Social injustices occur when there is a preventable difference in health states among a population of people.

These social injustices take the form of health inequities when negative health states such as malnourishment, and infectious diseases are more prevalent in impoverished nations. Integrating social justice with health inherently reflects the social determinants of health model without discounting the role of the bio-medical model.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action affirm that "Human rights education should include peace, democracy, development and social justice, as set forth in international and regional human rights instruments , in order to achieve common understanding and awareness with a view to strengthening universal commitment to human rights. Social justice principles are embedded in the larger environmental movement. The third principle of The Earth Charter is Social and economic justice, which is described as seeking to 1 Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative 2 Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner 3 Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity, and 4 Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

The Climate Justice and Environmental Justice movements also incorporate social justice principles, ideas, and practices. Climate justice and environmental justice, as movements within the larger ecological and environmental movement, each incorporate social justice in a particular way. Climate justice includes concern for social justice pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions, [75] climate-induced environmental displacement, [76] as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Many authors criticize the idea that there exists an objective standard of social justice. Moral relativists deny that there is any kind of objective standard for justice in general. Non-cognitivists , moral skeptics , moral nihilists , and most logical positivists deny the epistemic possibility of objective notions of justice.

Political realists believe that any ideal of social justice is ultimately a mere justification for the status quo. Many other people [ who? One example is the statement by H.

Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism
Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism

Related Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism



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