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If everyone was perfect, we would not need justice. Thus justice is distinguished from a moral code; justice exists independently as a mean of addressing failures to follow a moral code.

There seems to be two levels of justice. The current system, and the underlying ideal.

A justice system is instituted by a country as a means to identifying and addressing unfairness in its society. There are many possible systems, each defining unfairness differently and addressing it differently.

Most of us believe there is a right system of justice. This can be seen when we say “the criminal justice system is unjust.” We are appealing to the higher ideal of justice, beyond the particular flawed system in question.

In this essay we consider the ideal of justice apart from particular flawed systems of justice.

Without attempting to define fairness, we can make some useful observations. First, unfairness comes broadly from two places:

  1. Our circumstances in the world (being born rich or poor)
  2. Other conscious beings impinging on our well-being

The first form of unfairness is often called “social justice” or “distributive justice,” because it is considered with the distribution of goods within a society.

An interesting ethical question is: can the first form of unfairness exist if everyone was perfect? In other words, should moral wealthy people give their money to the poor so as to flatten out the distribution of goods?