Most of the political philosophers and analysts believe that justice is one of the basic pillars on which the building of a political system can be constructed. Justice, in simplest words, is 'to give what a person deserves' or 'it is what the courts offer' or else 'it is what law tends to achieve'. But these definitions of justice are too simplistic and concise to be considered as the true definition of the term.
Justice both in theory and practice means something more than what has already been described in the above definitions. In order to understand the concept of justice it is necessary to have a look at some of the basic theories about it.
The basic concepts of justice can be traced in Greek society. The Greek political philosophers did much in explaining the justice from different perspectives and providing the basic discussion regarding the further explanation and implementation of the concept in human societies. Among the Greek philosophers Plato is considered as the one with great emphasis on justice. He considered justice as the basic requirement for his ideal society, "Utopia". But, the predecessor of Plato and even some of his contemporaries defined justice in a different way.
The theory of justice of Cephalous in this regard is one of the most dominant ones. This theory defines justice as giving to every man what is due to him. This theory is rejected on the basis that it is not of universal application; to restore weapons to a man who has gone mad is not justice even though theoretically his weapons are due to him. Polemarchus elaborates this theory by giving a new meaning to the word 'due'. He defines justice as consisting in doing good to one's friends and harm to one's enemies. But this theory also has clear shortcomings.
Another important theory regarding justice was established by Thrasymachus, who believed that 'justice is the interest of the stronger and lies in conformity with laws laid down by the sovereign in his own good. Each form of government makes laws to serve its own interest.
These laws represent the justice delivered to the subject and whosoever violates these laws is condemned as unjust and punished. Government is stronger than the subjects so justice serves the interest of the government and is, therefore, the interest of the stronger. Glaucon, another Greek political philosopher carries on the argument of Thrasymachus and says that it is good to be unjust but bad to suffer injustice.
Morality is good because it is useful in securing certain external ends. All advantages are on the side of injustice. Man's actions are based on nature, which demands injustice when one's actions are undetected and on convention demands a reciprocal recognition of rights and counter-rights when one's actions are under detection. Thus, both Thrasymachus and Glaucon had a negative interpretation of justice.
But most emphatic on justice among Greek philosophers was Plato. He defined justice with the help of his ideal state from which justice is inseparable. Justice resides in the state and is to be identified with complete virtue which is composed of four elements i.e. wisdom, courage, temperance i.e. self control and justice.
Platonic justice lies in 'the will to concentrate on one's sphere of duty, and not meddle with the sphere of others and its habitation, therefore, is in the heart of every citizen who does his duty in his appointed place'. Justice is the condition of every other virtue of the state and grows with specialization of functions.
"The justice of the state is the citizen's sense of duty. This conception of justice goes against individualism because a man must not think of himself as an isolated unit with personal desires, needs or ambitions but as an integral part of an organic whole".
Plato's justice does not embody a conception of rights but of duties as though it is identical with true liberty. Justice is an indispensible quality of moral life. It is true condition of the individual and of the state and 'the ideal state is the visible embodiment of justice'. The state is the reality of which justice is the idea.
Just as the justice of the state depends upon each class and each individual in the state performing its/his duties properly, similarly the justice of the individual demands that each of the three elements in the individual soul i.e. reason, spirit and appetite, keep within their proper bounds. Justice in the individual is identifiable with complete virtue or excellence which must be distinguished from compartmental excellences. Justice, as a complete virtue, makes a man good by integrating and harmonizing his other virtues of courage and self control.
Justice to Plato has a moral rather than legal content. It has its individual and social aspects. From the point of view of the individual, it means self-control which makes a man refrain from following his selfish impulses and doing undesirable things. It makes him curb his social ambitions, stick to the station in life for which he is best fitted by his natural endowments and make his most excellent contribution to the society in the performance of his duty.
Form the point of view of society, justice means self-control on the part of various classes of society which makes each class mind its own function and not meddle with the functions of other classes. Justice, thus, is a principle of non-interference which keeps within proper bounds the various classes of society, various individuals of each class and various elements in an individual's soul. This explanation clearly indicates that Plato had a very positive and idealistic concept of justice.
The concept of justice moves from very negative and practical to very positive and ideal from Thrasymachus to Plato. Though human beings have made thousand years of evolution, yet there are societies that run with the same concepts of justice. There are societies with a very perverted form of justice and at the same time societies with very ideal form of justice. Unfortunately, our country Afghanistan, falls in the category that has a very perverted form of justice.
It seems like the theory of Thrasymachus proves true for the justice found in our country. Definitely, justice has turned into the interest of the powerful, while the common and poor people remain deprived and the situation would further worsen unless steps are taken to achieve something similar to the ideal form of justice as defined by Plato or at least to achieve Plato's emphasis for justice as 'the ideal state is the visible embodiment of justice'.