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Arts & Letters Daily


5e. Justice - Drama teacher


Is a distribution considered just or unjust from the point of view of the rights of the recipient?


Duty. Ms. Smith, the Drama teacher, was frustrated. She felt she had a duty to allow students, who found the course language in Of Mice and Men offensive, the option to read an alternative novel because she had promised their parents that their students would have that option. She would have to prepare a new set of Lessons and Assignments for these three students. Where would she find the time to do this when the rehearsals for the live performance of Of Mice and Men were taking so much of her out-of-class time? She knew she had a duty to teach all students in her class, but, did she really have a duty to prepare and teach an alternative novel to three students?

Rights. Ms. Smith of courses recognized that all students in her class were entitled to receive instruction; they were duly registered in her English course. But, were they entitled to individualized instruction across several novels at any given time?

Motive. Although she does not always do the right thing, Ms. Smith regards herself as someone who tries to do what she believes is right. She recognized that she does not always do the right thing, but, she normally and regularly tries to do what is right from a morally good motive. That’s why she agonizes over this situation in her classroom; she wants to do right by all of her students.

Desert. In the end, Ms. Smith agreed to tutor the three students who requested that they be allowed to study a different novel. In fact, she felt relieved and positive about this decision. When she informed her Principal, he expressed his strong approval and commended her for offering this option to the three students.

Justice. It was important to Ms. Smith that her class would see her decision as being ‘just’. Indirectly, her decision had a positive impact on all students in her class because it showed that she respects her students and might make similar individual considerations for all students in her class. She explained to the class why she made the decision to make sure that they understood that she did not simply yield to the wishes of a few students. She thoughtfully tried to make a just decision.


  • Did Ms. Smith deserve an expression of approval for her decision to comply with her duty to teach all students in her class? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of straight 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 on ‘the rights of the recipient’

  • Crooked thinking

The rights of the recipient offer a sufficient explanation.

  • Straight thinking

Although the rights of the recipient are considered, it does not seem to offer a sufficient explanation. For example, it would sound awkward for someone to suggest that Mr. Smith has a right to be assigned more hours of instruction than Mr. Jones.

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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