Justice from a Human Perspective


Every human being has a sense of justice that develops at a very early age. If I show a cookie to a 15-month old, and don’t give it to her, she will cry. She might not be able to articulate what she is thinking, but she reacts because “it isn’t fair”. I shouldn’t show her a cookie I’m not going to give her!

Is this a primitive form of the sense of justice that we all have? Maybe.

Scientists used to believe that a sense of justice didn’t develop until age 6 or 7, but recent studies suggest our sense of justice forms much earlier than that (before we even reach the age of two).[1] The study shows that toddlers not only have a sense of justice; they are already developing nuance in their sense of justice to distinguish between lesser and greater injustices.

That sense of justice matures as we grow older. Studies show that children as young as 3 to 5 years old can already identify injustice done to others, not just themselves.[2] I think our common experience demonstrates that our sensitivity to injustice grows, develops and becomes more refined as we mature as people. We develop a sensitivity to injustices done to others, not just ourselves and the people we know.

Still, that sense of injustice is never provoked so much as when we are on the receiving end. We are never more incensed at injustice as when the injustice is done to us, our family or people with which we identify. Our sensitivity to injustice tends to get softer and less urgent when the injustice is done to people we don’t know, especially if they are people with whom we don’t easily identify.

Don’t think so? When someone from “the other party” rants about a particular injustice done to “their side”, do you feel empathetic?

We can train ourselves to be more sensitive to other people, including other people with whom we have little or nothing in common, maybe even people with whom we disagree, but it’s a lot of work!

Let’s be honest here: it’s much easier to spot the injustice done to ourselves and people with whom we identify; we are much quicker to jump to our own defense and to the defense of people with whom we identify; we don’t naturally have the same feelings for others, especially those with whom we have little or nothing in common.

These observations suggest that a person’s sense of justice is affected by his or her perspective. As we grow older, our perspective broadens and widens, and we can learn to take other people into account as our sense of justice develops, but even as mature adults our sense of justice is driven by our personal perspectives.  Continue reading “Justice from a Human Perspective”