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Arts & Letters Daily


1e. Justice – Irate parent


‘Just’ as applied to a person


Duty. An irate parent burst into the Principal’s office at Semple High School located in a small town in the Midwest and dove into her questions, ’Why do you permit your English teacher to require her class to read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbach … (she paused for a moment to catch her breath) … when you know the book is not on the required reading list of the State Education Ministry?’  ‘That’s wrong’, she went on to say before the principal could say a word, ‘morally wrong!’ ‘I find the language used in that book totally offensive … all that cursing!’ ‘I repeat’, she said, ‘that is morally wrong’.

Rights. What’s more, my daughter has a right to be allowed to read a novel which is not offensive to me whether she agrees with me or not’, she asserted.

Motive. All the while, the Principal was wondering as he listened to her. Even though he suspected that her motives were somewhat self-serving, he accepted her moral indignation.  He agreed that it would not be wrong to offer her daughter the option to study an alternative novel.

Desert. However, the Principal felt he could not ignore the way the parent had verbally accosted him. He informed her that he would review the situation with his staff at the next Department meeting in two weeks time. In the meantime, her daughter would be required to stay in the class where Of Mice and Men was studied. He considered this action to be an appropriate way of expressing his disapproval of her action.

Just. Never-the-less, the Principal viewed the parent as a just person because he agreed that the action she demanded was the right action.


  • Did the parent act like a just person? Do you agree withthe Principal? Explain.
  • Discuss how each judgement ( duty, rights, motive, desert, justice) contributes to a more thorough understanding of a moral dilemma.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of a ‘just person’

  • Crooked thinking

“Just” as applied to a person refers to the same thing as applied to an action, law or sentence.

  • Straight thinking

People sometimes say of a particular judge that he is a just person. This use of  “just” introduces a usage of this term that is different from all others. “Just” as applied to a person does not refer to the same thing as applied to an action, law or sentence. It makes reference to a person’s motivation. This subjective sense of the term “just” applies only to people. When “just” is used in this way, it is used in a way analogous to the way in which “good” or “virtuous” are used. In other words, for a person to be considered a good person it is not sufficient that he make just decisions or just distributions of goods. If he did so out of fear or self-interest, he would not be regarded as a just person. He must do so for a morally good motive. All the other uses of the term “just” do not make any reference to motivation but only to the objective characteristics of that which is judged to be just.

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

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