Transforming Justice

Business Ethics Quarterly 9 (4):593-602 (1999)
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Abstract

Rights, justice, and power raise many interesting questions. Why do such basic concepts as rights and justice have such differentpoints of concern—equality, proportionality, medium rei? Why are there such different perspectives in philosophy, theology, and law? Why is the notion of power in business ethics so isolated from the general discussion of applied justice in treatises on business contracts, employee relations, and in other related topics? Discussions of power seemed parallel with discussions of justice. The two did not seem to intersect. In this paper I shall argue that rights, power, and justice are interrelated. While natural rights are the basis for justice, rights cannotbe realized nor justice become operative without power. I shall call this relationship and the theory underlying it “Transforming Justice.”One of the basic concerns of this article is to notice the lack of interaction between rights and power in the traditional theories ofjustice. Granted that for many philosophers it is sufficient to determine what is just. But the notion of justice as an active virtue that persons are to exercise in their dealings with others goes further. It touches the realities of life that every person experiences. Life doesnot separate rights from power. Reflection upon the current separation of rights from power both in theory and in action is analogous to the separation of the “sensory” from the “imaginative” in art and in life. The urge to devise a framework of justice that brings out thewholeness of its existential being is the underlying rationale for developing a theory of transforming justice. Another purpose fordeveloping a theory of transforming justice is to suggest a conceptual framework of business ethics and corporate social responsibility that incorporates values, rights, power, and virtue. Authors and teachers approach these issues either from a value perspective or from the view that institutions respond only to those who exercise power. Thus, it isnecessary for a conceptual framework to incorporate the dynamics of power and the qualifying aspects of rights or claims.A natural law approach to justice and rights argues that humans have certain basic rights that others, whether humans or institutions, are required to respect. Natural rights theory places the burden or duty on each individual to respect the rights ofevery other person. In addition, justice is usually defined by natural law theorists as “giving each person his or her due,” what is requiredby natural rights, what is owed, earned, or deserved. But its applications fall short of reality. It raises other questions. How does one person get another to give him what is “his due”? How are duties and claims entailed by natural rights enforced in practice? The notionof transforming justice attempts to answer these questions.

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