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The Faces of Injustice

The Faces of Injustice

Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 151
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  • Book Info
    The Faces of Injustice
    Book Description:

    How can we distinguish between injustice and misfortune? What can we learn from the victims of calamity about the sense of injustice they harbor? In this book a distinguished political theorist ponders these and other questions and formulates a new political and moral theory of injustice that encompasses not only deliberate acts of cruelty or unfairness but also indifference to such acts.

    Judith N. Shklar draws on the writings of Plato, Augustine, and Montaigne, three skeptics who gave the theory of injustice its main structure and intellectual force, as well as on political theory, history, social psychology, and literature from sources as diverse as Rosseau, Dickens, Hardy, and E. L. Doctorow. Shklar argues that we cannot set rigid rules to distinguish instances of misfortune from injustice, as most theories of justice would have us do, for such definitions would not take into account historical variability and differences in perception and interest between the victims and spectators. From the victim's point of view-whether it be one who suffered in an earthquake or as a result of social discrimination-the full definition of injustice must include not only the immediate cause of disaster but also our refusal to prevent and then to mitigate the damage, or what Shklar calls passive injustice. With this broader definition comes a call for greater responsibility from both citizens and public servants. When we attempt to make political decisions about what to do in specific instances of injustice, says Shklar, we must give the victim's voice its full weight. This is in keeping with the best impulses of democracy and is our only alternative to a complacency that is bound to favor the unjust.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16149-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-14)

    When is a disaster a misfortune and when is it an injustice? Intuitively the answer seems quite obvious. If the dreadful event is caused by the external forces of nature, it is a misfortune and we must resign ourselves to our suffering. Should, however, some ill-intentioned agent, human or supernatural, have brought it about, then it is an injustice and we may express indignation and outrage. As it happens, in actual experience this distinction, to which we cling so fervently, does not mean very much. The reasons become clear enough when we recall that what is treated as unavoidable and...

    (pp. 15-50)

    It will always be easier to see misfortune rather than injustice in the afflictions of other people. Only the victims occasionally do not share the inclination to do so. If, however, we remember that we are all potential victims, we might also decide to reconsider the matter and take a closer and more searching look at injustice—not only at justice—even though this is an unusual enterprise. After all, every courthouse boasts a statue of justice in all her dignity. Justice has been represented in an endless number of pictures.¹ Every volume of moral philosophy contains at least one...

    (pp. 51-82)

    The modern age has many birthdays. One of them, my favorite, is the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. What makes it such a memorable disaster is not the destruction of a wealthy and splendid city, nor the death of some ten to fifteen thousand people who perished in its ruins, but the intellectual response it evoked throughout Europe. It was the last time that the ways of God to man were the subject of general public debate and discussed by the finest minds of the day. It was the last significant outcry against divine injustice, which soon after became intellectually irrelevant....

    (pp. 83-126)

    When the victims of disasters refuse to resign themselves to their misfortunes and cry out in anger, we hear the voice of the sense of injustice. Voltaire is their poet. What, however, is the sense of injustice? First and foremost it is the special kind of anger we feel when we are denied promised benefits and when we do not get what we believe to be our due. It is the betrayal that we experience when others disappoint expectations that they have created in us. And it has always been with us. We hear the sense of injustice in the...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 127-138)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 139-144)