Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7. A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.



In the realm of justice and societal welfare, the words of philosopher John Rawls resonate with profound significance: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” Rawls, a prominent figure in political philosophy, underscored the paramount importance of justice as the foundational principle upon which harmonious and equitable societies are built.

Justice, as he contended, stands as the foremost virtue in social institutions—a virtue that, when upheld, can alleviate the need for excessive charity. Charity, though a noble and compassionate endeavour, often addresses the symptoms of societal injustices rather than their root causes. However, Rawls’s insight prompts us to consider that a just society strives not merely to provide for the disadvantaged but also to rectify the systemic issues that breed inequality, poverty, and social disparities.


Essence of the topic:

It underscores the idea that while charity serves as a compassionate response to immediate needs, a just society seeks to address the systemic issues that give rise to those needs. In essence, the more just a society is, the less it relies on charity as a means of mitigating inequality, poverty, and social disparities.


Thesis statement:

In this essay, we delve into the profound correlation between justice and charity, exploring how societies that prioritize justice can significantly reduce their reliance on charitable acts.


Justice in Society:

  • Quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Defining Justice: Justice, at its core, is the fair and impartial treatment of individuals and groups within a society. It encompasses notions of equality, human rights, and the rule of law.
  • Philosophers of Justice: Philosophers like John Rawls, Amartya Sen, and Martha Nussbaum have contributed significantly to our understanding of justice. Rawls’s theory of justice as fairness and Sen’s capability approach offer frameworks for creating just societies.
  • Fostering Equality: Justice serves as the cornerstone of an equitable society. It ensures that all individuals have equal access to opportunities, resources, and protections, regardless of their background or circumstances.
  • Legal Justice: Legal systems are designed to uphold justice by ensuring that laws are applied consistently and fairly. Examples of legal justice include the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
  • Social Justice: Social justice addresses systemic inequalities and discrimination. It strives to rectify historical injustices and create a society where everyone has a chance to thrive. Initiatives like affirmative action aim to achieve social justice.
  • Economic Justice: Economic justice seeks to reduce disparities in wealth and income. Progressive taxation, minimum wage laws, and social welfare programs are mechanisms that promote economic justice.

Relationship between Justice and Charity:

  • Quote: “Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” – John D. Rockefeller
  • Complementary but distinct concepts: While justice focuses on systemic fairness and equitable treatment, charity addresses immediate needs through voluntary acts of giving.
  • Charity as a response to injustice: Often, charity arises from the recognition of injustices within society. It provides temporary relief to those who have been disadvantaged by systemic inequalities.
  • Charity’s limitations: Charity, while compassionate, does not address the root causes of inequality and suffering. It can perpetuate dependency and fail to rectify systemic injustices.
  • Justice as a preventive measure: A just society seeks to prevent the need for excessive charity by addressing inequalities, poverty, and social disparities through fair laws, policies, and practices.
  • Equal access to basic needs: Justice ensures that all individuals have equal access to basic needs like education, healthcare, and employment, reducing the reliance on charity to meet these needs.
  • Examples:
  • The civil rights movement in the United States sought justice for racial inequalities, eventually leading to policy changes that reduced the need for charity.
  • Countries with robust social welfare systems, such as Sweden and Denmark, have lower poverty rates and, consequently, less reliance on charity.

Critical view:

  • Quote: “Justice delayed is justice denied. In the meantime, charity can provide solace to those in need.”
  • Complementary roles: Charity and justice often operate in tandem, with each playing a distinct yet complementary role in addressing societal issues. While justice seeks systemic change, the charity provides immediate relief.
  • Addressing urgent needs: In situations of dire need, such as natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies, the charity provides swift assistance that justice-oriented policies may not be equipped to deliver in the short term.
  • Limitations of justice: Achieving justice can be a lengthy and complex process, often entangled in bureaucratic hurdles, legal proceedings, and political challenges. In the interim, charity can alleviate suffering.
  • Philanthropy’s role: Charitable organizations and philanthropists often bridge the gap between charity and justice by advocating for systemic changes while addressing immediate needs.
  • Examples:
  • In cases of mass displacement due to conflict or disaster, charities like the Red Cross provide essential aid.
  • NGOs like Akshaya Patra are co-opted even by the government to offer charity to those in immediate need, while long-term solutions like affordable housing policies and social safety nets are being worked upon.


“Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” – Saint Augustine

In the grand goal of societal betterment, both justice and charity have their rightful places. Justice provides the foundation upon which we build lasting change, while charity extends a compassionate embrace to those in immediate distress. Together, they harmonize to create a world where suffering is alleviated not only through benevolence but through systemic fairness and equal opportunity.