Thinking about justice: Starting from the wronged

At the Justice2013 conference here in Philadelphia. Yesterday’s pre-conference sessions included one by Nicholas Wolterstorff (professor at Yale) entitled, “My Story: Starting From the Wronged in Thinking About Justice”. He told of 2 experiences where he heard the stories of injustice (one in South Africa, the other from Palestinian Christians) and how these stories shaped his thinking about justice. He argues that starting from the position of the wronged changes how we think about justice. Here’s a few of his points:

  • We have reactive (retributive) rights and primary rights. Reactive rights are those that we have once we are wronged. Primary rights are those we always have (e.g., dignity). Most people think only about reactive rights or about justice in light of injustice.
  • In thinking about primary rights/justice, there are two common models: right order model (view that there is an external standard for order and rights (e.g., the bible); inherent rights (what one is due (equity, dignity) from merely being human).
  • Rights and fairness are connected but fairness or treating people equally is not necessarily justice. Some need more than others.
  • Justice and freedom are connected but autonomy as an absolute right is “justice for eagles and lions”, meaning only justice for the powerful. What about justice for those who have dementia, who are born without capacity to act? What if dignity is the foundation for justice?
  • Punishment as payback violates the biblical concept of “do not return evil for evil.” Thus, we must view punishment as connected to love (e.g., as a parent punishes a child to teach but not to pay them back for their evil action).


Filed under Abuse, Justice

2 responses to “Thinking about justice: Starting from the wronged

  1. Andrew J. Schmutzer

    Thanks for these thoughts from Wolterstorff. Is there any way to get a copy of his speech (CD>) or a manuscript? Let me know.

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