Justice is of central importance in political practice and theory. In defending or opposing laws, public policies and administrative decisions of governments, appeals are made to notices of justice. Justice is also invoke in social and political movements, civil disobedience and satyagraha campaigns. Thus, the civil rights or civil liberties movements are essentially movements for justice. So are dalit, feminist and environmental movements.
While a decent or good society or polity must have several virtues, justice is, according to a widespread view, the first of them. In the words of the leading contemporary moral and political philosopher, John Rawls of Harvard University, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions.” He made that statement in his book, A Theory of justice, which was published in 1971. Some two decades earlier, it was proclaimed in the Preamble of the Indian Constitutions that the Democratic Republic of India stood committed to securing to all its citizens “Justice, social, economic and political.” It is noteworthy that the Preamble lists Justice above the other moral political values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Rawls, book inaugurates what has be rightly called “ a golden age in theorizing about justice.” Consequently, justice, as noted by Tom Campbell, is today “the central and commanding concept of current mainstream normative political philosophy.” In his edited volume, entitled John Rawls and the Agenda of Social Justice, B.N. Ray observes that Rawls’s book has renewed not only scholarly interest, but also popular interest in justice.
While there is a widespread agreement among ordinary peoples, politicians and philosophers about the centrally of justice as a moral-political values, there is no such agreement among them on its meaning and scope. On these, there are very major differences in the views of the liberal, utilitarian, liberal-egalitarian (i.e., Rawlsian), libertarian, communitarian, Marxist and feminist theorists. Of them, the liberal-egalitarian theory of social justice propounded by Rawls has come to occupy a deservedly central position. Those who advanced alternative or competing theorists off justice feel compelled to present their worth or merit in comparison and contrast with Rawls’s theory.