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Arts & Letters Daily


8e. Justice - Mr. Kennedy


Additional elements required for a ‘just’ judgement


Duty. For the past three and a half years, Mr. Kennedy, a high school teacher in his early thirties, has experienced pain in his legs. Finally, he told his doctor about it who, upon examination, determined that he had transverse myelitis. When asked, the Doctor acknowledged that no effective cure currently exists for this condition.

Since Mr. Kennedy’s duties in the classroom required prolonged standing, he requested regular periods of sick leave to rest his legs and to engage in a physical therapy program. With the concurrence of his Doctor, Mr. Kennedy asserted that he could not work in the classroom without regular periods of rest and therapy even though his contract obligated him to be in the classroom every school day.

Rights. When senior management was reluctant to agree to the request for a series of ‘paid leaves’, Mr. Kennedy appealed the decision based on the protection of his human rights enshrined in the Canadian Bill of Rights. Reluctantly, management concurred with the appeal on the grounds Mr. Kennedy’s civil rights had been violated.

Motive. The District Superintendent was a scrupulous and principled person. His conscience told him that he had been less than principled in Mr. Kennedy’s case. He wondered how he could make amends.

Desert. The superintendent felt he should apologize to Mr. Kennedy. The reluctance to grant the ‘periodic leaves’ was not the action of a principled person. It gave the appearance that Mr. Kennedy was looking for an angle to get a few breaks from the classroom which implied a negative motive. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy deserved an apology.

Just. The Superintendent called Mr. Kennedy and offered to go for coffee with him. The apology was going to be made directly and personally. Not only did Mr. Kennedy deserve an apology, but is was also the right thing to do for the Superintendent. Needless to say, Mr. Kennedy was surprised by this offer and his respect for the Superintendent was never the same.


  • Identify the elements in the Superintendent’s ‘just’ judgement. Discuss.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.
  • Discuss how each judgement ( duty, rights, motive, desert, justice) contributes to a more thorough understanding of a moral dilemma.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of  ‘just judgements’.

  • Crooked thinking

Generally, the justness of a distribution is determined only on the basis of what the recipient deserves.

  • Straight thinking

What additional elements besides a distribution or allocation of objects of interest and disinterest must be present in a situation which requires a ‘just’ judgement? First, there has to be a distributor or allocator of objects of interest or disinterest. When a judge pronounces a sentence on a criminal, the judge is the allocator of an object of disinterest. The distributor or agent must be a moral agent because, in order to make a just distribution, a person must make a right distribution. However, in order to make a morally right distribution, a person must be able to distinguish right from wrong, have the concepts of right and wrong, and understand the meaning of “right” and “wrong”.

Second, a ‘just’ judgement requires a recipient. For example, the criminal on whom the sentence is imposed, is the recipient of the object of disinterest. It would seem that the recipient need not be a moral agent although he would have to have objects of interest and disinterest. The recipient would be a potential moral agent. Although children are sometimes admonished to be fair to animals, it has not been established whether one can be fair to animals. If the recipient must be an actual or potential moral agent then ~notion of fairness would not apply to animals. To say that animals can and should be treated fairly also suggests that animals have rights. A discussion of the question whether animals have rights was pursued in the section on aeteological terms and judgements. No conclusive answer to this question seemed to be available.

Third, there is the distribution. From what point of view is the distribution of an object of interest or disinterest just or unjust? First, several objections can be raised to suggesting that the distribution of an object of interest or disinterest is just based on what the recipient deserves. How would that apply to little children in a family? Does a taxpayer deserve to pay taxes (which are regarded by most people as objects of disinterest)? Generally, the justness of a distribution is not determined only, or at all, on the basis of what the recipient deserves.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click the following:

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