What Is Justice?


What seems just to one person may seem unfair to another person. Ancient philosophers used to contemplate about justice, and contemporary political authors continue to try to define justice. Although the approaches of ancient and modern philosophers differ in many aspects, their views have much in common. Socrates views justice on a narrow level of state and sees a state law system as the main representation of justice, while Mills regards justice on the global level and questions the fairness of a legislative system and global social relationships. However, both philosophers agree that the moral code is crucial in the establishment of justice on personal, state, and global levels. Justice is based on moral codes that aim to provide equal rights and opportunities to all citizens. Fair and impartial state and international laws should guarantee justice.

Justice of Socrates and Mills

In the dialogue between Socrates and Crito, Socrates perceives justice as an undeniable rightness of laws and state. The philosopher distinguishes men, meaning public opinion, which can be wise and unwise and state, meaning the opinion of those who understand the matter deeper. According to Socrates, laws are indissoluble, and what is right according to one law should be right according another law as well. Socrates strongly believes in the absolute justice of laws and state. Therefore, he refuses to escape from prison and save himself from execution. His friend Crito tries to persuade Socrates that since his accusers unjustly sentenced him, it is unjustly to betray own life. However, the philosopher believes that since he was born, educated, and provided with welfare by the state and laws that regulate relations between people and institutions, he should obey them even when they are not beneficial to him. He claims that he was free to move to a state the laws of which appealed to him more, but since he did not do that and have lived in his state for 70 years, his state’s law system satisfied him. Consequently, he should obey and respect it even if that means that he must die because laws and state represent justice.

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Charles Mills, in his turn, views justice differently. In his opinion, justice lies not in laws and legislation but in the moral and equal acceptation of every race’s representative’s life. According to Mills, the contemporary laws and legislation system are not as fair as they should be. Moreover, they are not as democratic as many people suppose. Mills claims that the reason for this is the Racial Contract’s rejection. The concept of the Racial Contract the author introduced provides a new political theoretical approach. This approach assumes that all regulations and relations in the world are not fair because they were agreed only between white people. Consequently, the modern regulations do not take into consideration the rights and opportunities of the representatives of non-white races. The author asserts that people will be able to achieve some kind of justice on the state and global levels only if they recognize and understand the principle of the Racial Contract. Thus, according to Mills, justice should guarantee equal opportunities and rights for all people despite their color of skin.

In his book, Mills contrasts the principle of Racial Contract with the principle of the Social Contract, which is commonly accepted. According to the Social Contract, people should respect each other despite race and social position. However, although whites tend to discuss ethics, political philosophy, justice, and rights, they still act as if their race is superior to other races. While previously their superiority was manifested in slavery and colonization, now it is based on capitalism and wealth division. Mills claims that whites consider they did the right thing when they eliminated many signs of the blacks’ underclass position in the USA (Mills 37). However, in reality “whites possess nearly twelve times as much median net worth as blacks, or $43,800 versus $3,700” (Mills, p.37). Consequently, the fact that whites’ lives are valued more than the lives of others, the existence of the capitalistic division of labor in Europe and the USA, and the “economically privileged supremacy of the white race” (Mills 105) indicate that inequality still exists. Thus, according to Mills, laws and legislation on both state and personal levels are unjust, and Social Contract does not help to solve this issue.

According to Mills, justice should exist on the global level, and it should ensure equal rights and opportunities for all people. The author is convinced that the acceptation of the Racial Contract, according to which whites dominate the world and establish rules for other races, is the first step to achieve justice. Mills claims that whites will be able to make the global social relations just only when they recognize their moral cognitive dysfunction. Thus, the acknowledgement of racial inequality is the only way to establish justice on the state and global levels.

To conclude, while Socrates views justice as an inalienable feature of the laws prescribed by the state, Mills sees it in the global morality of equal perception of each person’s rights and opportunities. According to Mills, since laws and state provide regulations that are beneficial mostly to those who establish them, they are not just enough. While Mills considers total justice to be an ideal notion, he thinks it is important to reach at least partial justice for humanity to stay moral and ensure equal rights for all races. Consequently, Mills views justice on the global level, while Socrates does not view it beyond the boundaries of one state.

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Similarities of Socrates’s and Mills’s Approaches to Justice

Despite the fact that Mills is a contemporary political philosopher and Socrates lived in ancient Greece, their views regarding justice have certain similarities. Both philosophers believe the moral code is an inalienable feature of justice. Socrates asks Crito, “Will life be worth having, if that higher part of man be depraved?”, and adds, “a good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one” (Plato). Mills supports the aforementioned position as well. According to him, morality plays the leading role in the just society formation since “a just society would be formed, ruled by a moral government” (Mills 5), while “unjust, exploitative society, ruled by an oppressive government and regulated by an immoral code” (Mills 5). Moreover, Mills cites Rousseau in his book and writes that justice and self-prescribed moral laws allow people transform from instinctive creatures into humans (Mills 12). Thus, a significant role of morality in the establishment of any kind of justice is vital according to both philosophers.

Despite Socrates’s approval of the fairness of laws and Mills’s disapproval of them, both authors describe the authority of the state similarly. Socrates thinks that since citizens are children and slaves of their state, they should obey its laws. The philosopher does not deny the fact that a state has the power to destroy a citizen, while a citizen has no right to destroy a state. However, the aforementioned fact does not seem unfair to him. Socrates claims state laws make the life of each citizen safer and more comfortable. According to him, laws help people to marry, bear children, earn money, and receive education. In addition, laws protect people’s properties and lives, Thus, people should obey laws.

Mills, in his turn, agrees with Socrates’s view that laws regulate different spheres of life and provide citizens with a certain level of safety and welfare. He says, “the legitimacy of the state …..and its role … is, correspondingly, to protect those rights and safeguard the welfare of its citizens” (Mills 81-82). However, Mills views laws from a broader perspective than Sophocles. For him, welfare and safeness are not enough, and he questions the justice of laws on the state and global levels. Still, he claims that a state has authority over its citizens and “the authority of the state over us is that “we the people” agreed to give it that authority” (Mills 81). Saying “we the people,” Mills emphasizes that only whites agreed to authorize the state and law, while non-whites had to obey. Thus, if to omit the matter of race and emphasize the matter of state authority, the positions of Sophocles and Mills are similar.

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Differences of Socrates’s and Mills’s Approaches to Justice

Despite certain similarities, the positions of Socrates and Mills regarding justice have many differences. While Socrates accepts state laws as the main manifestation of justice, Mills asserts they are not as fair as they should be because of the Racial Contract. Mills emphasizes that race exploitation remains the taboo topic “in the justice of most white political theories” (Moll 39). Consequently, contrary to Socrates, Mills does not agree with undeniable justice of state laws.

Further, Socrates and Mills view the behavior of a citizen in a state differently. Socrates considers that if a person does not like the laws of the state, he/she has liberty to move to a state that will satisfy his/her requirements. Mills, in his turn, states that seeing injustice “does not require one to leave the country but to speak out and struggle” (Mills 107) as anticolonialists, abolitionists, civil rights activists, and opponents of imperialism do. To conclude, while Socrates believes that a person should unquestionably follow the laws of the country, Mills rejects such a position and appeals to the struggle for justice.

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The Methods of Advancing Readers’ Thinking Used by Plato and Mills

In their works, Plato and Mills want to stimulate their readers’ contemplation about justice. To achieve this effect, Plato chose the form of a dialogue. Plato’s work is rich in rhetorical questions and contrasting ideas, which motivates readers to thinking. Mills, in his turn, chose to convince his readers in the rightness of his political theory by means of supporting evidence. He provides examples of actual historical realities and norms. In addition, he cites such famous people as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant among others. Further, Mills explains his theory and its benefits to humanity in details. Thus, he tries to gradually lead readers to the understanding of his theory. His tactics provokes readers’ analysis of it. Thus, Plato uses the form of dialogue, while Mills uses the form of scientific writing to advance readers’ thinking.


Justice is a concept that is relatively difficult to define and establish because it involves different aspects and interests. Justice should provide equality on interpersonal, state, and international levels to all people despite their color of skin or social position. Although secular state laws and legislation must guarantee justice, they are not always as fair as citizens want them to be. Mills thinks that only a small part of human representatives, white in majority, passes laws. Thus, according to him, the involvement of representatives of all races and the basing of laws on the moral code can help to achieve justice on state and international levels. Socrates, in his turn, undeniably trusts the laws of the state in which he has lived for 70 years. At the same time, similar to Mills, he believes that the moral code is the core of justice, and that states have power over their citizens. Hence, according to both philosophers, true justice must be regulated by laws, which should be based on the moral code to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all people.

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