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Arts & Letters Daily


10e. Justice - Jerry - Social Studies teacher


Some cases of discriminatory distribution are neither just nor unjust.


Duty. ‘This is the last time I will allow you back into my class!’ shouted Jerry a third year Social Studies teacher at Middletown Middle School, at one of his ninth graders. Jerry had been a good student himself and always had this dream of being a star teacher. But teaching wasn’t working for him … the students’ lack of interest in Canadian Social Studies annoyed him. He felt the students were irresponsible and immature and he let them know it.

Jerry’s beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and emotions engulfed his sense of duty about teaching adolescents … he felt a huge sense of guilt about how he felt about his students. What could he do about it?

Rights. In utter frustration, Jim discussed his disappointments with Betty, an experienced and successful Math teacher on staff. Betty listened and at one point asked Jerry if had any other interests. He hesitated and finally indicated that he also was somewhat interested in law but had never considered it because he could not afford law school. What’s more, he did not have the grades to qualify for law school. Betty ask, ‘What about training to become a para-legal?’ Jerry certainly had not considered this option because it would mean a considerable cut in pay. Could this potential object of interest become his actual object of interest? Jerry will never know till he tries it.

Motive. It was the students’ motive for doing things that really bothered Jerry. Some of the boys seemed quite prepared to interrupt the class if it suited their purpose. Some seemed morally week in that they participated in class disturbances reluctantly. A few yielded to the temptation of disturbing the class frequently. One or two students seemed downright unscrupulous in their behaviour towards Jerry. Did he read the motives accurately or was he paranoid? He had a great deal of difficulty with this question.

Desert. Again, Jerry felt torn and totally frustrated. At times he knew that some of the students deserved punishment. At other times he scolded the whole class because he was so agitated by the antics of a few students. After the fact, he regretted that he had wrongly punished the the guilty and the innocent. Now what should he do?

Justice. Upon reflecting on the problems he was having in class, Jerry realized that whenever he lost his cool, he was reacting to something one of the boys had done. Was it only boys who were disturbing his class? Or, was he discriminating against them? He decided to monitor his own behaviour more carefully … picking on the boys, no doubt, would only aggravate an already intolerable situation.


  • When might it be wrong not to discriminate? Explain.
  • Discuss how each judgement ( duty, rights, motive, desert, justice) contributes to a more thorough understanding a moral dilemma.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view about ‘discrimination’

  • Crooked thinking

Every form of discrimination is wrong.

  • Straight thinking

Discrimination is unjust when a person has a duty not to discriminate or when it is wrong to discriminate. For example, if it is true that it is wrong to discriminate against a person on the basis of the color of his skin, then it is also unjust. However, not every discrimination is wrong. In fact, it may be wrong in some situations not to discriminate. For example, suppose A and B both arrive at the doctor’s office with different ailments. A wants a check-up because he cannot get rid of a cold and B has just cut off his hand with an electric saw. It would be wrong for the doctor not to discriminate against A, even if he had an appointment and B did not, to attend to B’s much more serious injury.

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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