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Arts & Letters Daily


2e. Justice - Semple High School


Not all right acts are also considered just.


Duty. Mrs. Jones, who also had a daughter attending Semple High School, was pondering to herself about what to say to the school’s Principal that afternoon when she was determined to object to the use of John Steinbach’s novel, Of Mice and Men in English classes. She felt she was right to object to the use of foul language in the book in class. Adolescents hear enough bad language on the street and in public places. More than that, she felt she had a duty to raise her objections because she had a right to do so. She simply had to make her case, first to the Principal and if he fails to act on her objection, then to the Board.

Rights. On second thought, she asked herself, ‘Should I raise objections to the use of the novel or someone else who might be more qualified to discuss this issue with the Principal?’ She concluded that she probably should meet with the Principal because she had a right to do so.

Motive. Mrs. Jones really wants to do what was is right; that’s why she kept on thinking about what she should say to the Principal. At times she felt it was her duty to confront the Principal since she had a right to object to the use of the novel in English class.

Desert. In any case, Mrs. Jones has decided that she would present her concerns with respect … she is certain that the Principal did not choose to upset her daughter. This is no time to express disapproval for him … he did not do wrong for wrong’s sake.

Just. Finally, Mrs. Jones decides to meet her daughter’s Principal even though she realizes that not all wrong acts are also unjust. But, making her daughter read foul language in class is an unjust act which makes it wrong. She picked up the phone to make an appointment with the Principal.


  • Does Mrs. Jones make a a sound case for injustice? Explain.
  • 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 ‘right/just act’

  • Crooked thinking

All right acts are also considered just.

  • Straight thinking

Not all right acts are also considered just. For example, it may be right to lend a child one dollar to buy lunch but it does not follow that it is wrong not to lend the child one dollar to buy lunch. The person might choose to meet his duty in some other way. Even though it may be right to lend one dollar to a child to buy lunch, the just thing to do may be to send the child home to have lunch or to pick up one dollar even if the child would be late for some afternoon classes. The relationship between “right” and “just” as well as “wrong” and “unjust” can be summarized as follows:

a) Not all right acts are just but all just acts are right.

b) Not all wrong acts are unjust but all unjust acts are wrong.

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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