When a tragedy occurs, we often hear pleas for justice for the victims. This raises a difficult question: Just what, exactly, is justice?
Ideally, perhaps, justice should mean the application of the law. We want to see our laws applied evenly to all, regardless of class, race, political party, or income. But what if the law itself is unjust?
More generally, we want people to be held accountable for their actions. But what “accountable” means can vary from person to person. What one person thinks is fair and just, another may think is too harsh, or too lenient.
Does the victim’s opinion on what exactly is considered just for the crime committed against them matter? What if the opinion of the victim does not match what society as a whole believes?
From a legal standpoint, the victim’s opinion might be taken into account, but the victim does not get to make the final decision on what is just. That is up to a jury and a judge. However, if a jury and judge come to a conclusion, but the victim does not feel that justice has been served, has it?
Justice is an important concept in our society. There is even an entire federal organization, the Department of Justice, whose sole job is to see that justice is done. But what recourse is there if people feel that fairness is not being achieved?
Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? Where does authority come from? How much power does an individual have? When should you not follow the law? What is the purpose of incarceration?