Ariadne's Thread on Justice
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Treat Equal Cases Equally

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Professor Sidgwick Speaking
We call actions and laws and institutions just or unjust. We speak of distributive justice and reparative justice. I'm wondering how we are to sort this out?

One possibility is to look at typical cases in which we speak of justice and ask ourselves what is common and peculiar to them. We can return to this question if you want, but I don't think we should begin with it. I don't think we should assume that there is anything common and peculiar to all cases in which we speak of justice. Perhaps 'just' and 'justice' don't always mean the same thing. Who knows?

Instead, I suggest that we try to simplify things (for the moment, anyway) and start by considering an ancient rule of justice that is accepted by almost all moral philosophers. The rule can be stated as follows:

"Treat equal cases equally"

To be more complete, we should say "treat equal cases equally and unequal cases unequally," but I'm going to use the shorter version because it's convenient.

This rule can be applied to laws, to decisions made in courts, and to many cases in which benefits and burdens are handed out.

Does this rule help us? If so, how? If not, why not?


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