Justice is probably one of the most arguable concepts since views on justice may vary dramatically. At the same time, the life of human society is simply unthinkable without justice. Since ancient epoch people heavily relied on the concept of justice, even though its perception was rather natural, instinctive than rational. In the course of the development of mankind and human thought the views on justice have started to change and they have become more and more diverse. However, at the early stages of the development of mankind the view on justice were quite primitive or were basically either with the revenge on those members of community that caused some harm to other members of this community and, as a rule, revenge was supposed to be proportional to harm and basically referred to physical punishment. Gradually, the concept of justice became more and more sophisticated and the present system of justice is extremely complicated to the extent that the society has to develop various institutions to maintain justice, including various law enforcement agencies and justice systems. Nevertheless, the society has never refused from the punitive essence of justice, even though humanistic and democratic principles are considered to be dominating in the contemporary society. As a result, the contemporary justice system is severely criticized since it does not fulfil its major function, the prevention of crime and elimination of injustice, though the latter rather refers not to criminal or legal domain but rather to the philosophical domain, which traditionally views justice in larger term than a system that maintains order and punishes for crimes. In such a situation, the question concerning the essence of justice, its purpose still remains unclear. In this respect, on analyzing the concept of justice it is very important to take into consideration the experience and works of philosophers that lived in the past epochs since through the analysis of various views on justice it is possible to arrive to some common view on this concept and evaluate it objectively, if objectivity is the term that could be applied to justice.
Traditionally, justice was one of the key concepts of the social life. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the concept of justice was developed on the eternal antagonism between justice and injustice. This means that people perceive justice in juxtaposition to injustice. At the same time, it should be pointed out that justice may be perceived on the level of human relations, such as criminal justice and on the supernatural level. As a rule, the latter is traditionally associated with the divine justice. Though, in this respect, it should be pointed out that the concept of divine justice or a kind of supreme justice which overcomes the power of ordinary humans was basically developed in response to the inability of humans and authorities to effectively implement justice. In other words, people, being deceived by the existing justice system or being disenchanted, attempted to satisfy their desire of revenge or justice extrapolating judicial power to some supernatural forces such as God, for instance. In such a way, people attempted to fill the gap between their internal perception of justice and the ineffectiveness of the existing justice system. For instance, if an individual suffered from oppression from the part of other people, he/she would naturally want to protect him/herself by means of justice. But often the justice system proved to be ineffective, or decisions of courts or any other institutions executing judicial power in society did not meet the expectations of the oppressed individual, the victim, than he/she would naturally want to protect his/her interests. In the situation, when the existing justice system did not work this person would readily accept the idea that the offenders would be punished by God or any supernatural power, which is always just.
In this respect, it is possible to refer to works of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Socrates, who believed that there exists the perfect justice, which though they could clearly identify. To put it more precisely, Socrates stood on the ground that each individual develops his/her own system of justice and potentially each person can be a kind of judge since he/she operates certain set of values, rules and norms, the obedience to which reveals the extent to which actions of people are just or, in contrast, unjust. At the same time, the philosopher was very sceptical about the power of human justice system, which could be viewed in the context of his allegory of the cave.
According to his philosophical views people live in an extremely subjective world and they can hardly perceive adequately the surrounding reality because they rather live in the world of their own illusions than in the objectively perceived, real world. Consequently, he concludes that people are simply unable to develop an effective of justice since even the individual perception of justice is just a cheap copy of the perfect justice. Naturally, such a view, which was basically supported by Plato as well as other ancient philosophers, emphasized the weakness of humans and, implicitly, such a view on human justice explained the existence of injustice in the world. In other words, through the development of the concept of the perfect justice, which is practically unavailable to humans, ancient philosophers attempted to explain or justify the existence of injustice and the inability of human justice system to be really just to the extent that it could meet the expectations of all people. As a result, human justice was imperfect and people could not even rely on their own views on justice because they were too subjective and, in all probability, erroneous.
At the same time, the view on the concept of justice and the existing justice system as imperfect system was not the characteristic of Socrates or ancient philosophers uniquely. During the epoch of the Middle Ages, European philosophers developed the view on the concept of justice in traditional theological terms. What is meant here is the fact that justice was perceived as the concept that should not be treated as a product of human thought. In stark contrast, Christian philosophy developed the concept of Just and Almighty God, who was viewed as the only real source of justice and it is only the divine justice that could be really undisputable and absolutely perfect. As for humans and their justice they were still viewed as imperfect and, therefore, unable to develop an effective justice system. However, it does not prevent the representatives of the Catholic church, for instance, from the organization of their own justice system which was created and performed as the product of the will of God, though, in actuality, it was just a system of repression which punished heretics who challenged the dominance of the Catholic church.
The view on justice had started to change considerably since the epoch of the Renaissance and the following Enlightenment. During this period of time views on the concept of justice has started to acquire new features and one of the major trends is the growing anthropocentrism in views of philosophers on the concept of justice. In this respect, it is possible to refer to works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which are, to a significant extent similar. On analyzing views of John Locke, it should be pointed out that he viewed justice rather as a product of human society and human mind. Even though he was a religious person his orientation on society as a product of relationships between humans could not fail to affect his views on justice.
To put it more precisely, John Locke was one of the first philosophers who started to develop the idea of social contract and, therefore, this idea affected the perception of justice by the philosopher. In fact, he recognized the fact that the existing justice system is imperfect, but, at the same time, he did not view humans as absolutely weak beings that were unable to develop an effective system of justice. On studying human nature, he developed the concept of tabula rasa, according to which humans being are born pure and innocent and, therefore, they are deprived of any vices and negative features (Seigel, 318). In such a context, it would be logical to presuppose that humans are originally just and it was really important to preserve this purity of human spirit and mind in the course of the development of an individual. This is actually why John Locke created his didactic works emphasizing the necessity to bring up gentlemen who lead a virtuous life and are unable to commit unjust actions or crimes.
At the same time, it should be said that Jean-Jacques Rousseau also developed a concept, according to which human beings are originally virtuous and are deprived of any vices and evil inclinations. He argued that in the course of the development, humans are dramatically affected by their environment and, as J.-J. Rousseau observed a vicious society, emphasizing the existing injustice, he argued that society produce a destructive impact on humans and, therefore, people cannot be just as they are brought up in vicious and unjust environment (Cooper, 174). In such a way, Jean Jacques Rousseau agreed with John Locke that the importance of the development of virtuous people could be determinant factor in the improvement of the existing justice system. He laid emphasis on the fact that it was necessary to eliminate the negative impact of social environment on humans. In the result, he believed, human society will got perfect and just people, who could be able to realize their innate potential.
In this respect, it is important to underline that views of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau on humans and justice were contrasting to views of Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages. The latter emphasized the vicious nature of humans that explained the existing injustice and the inability of humans to be just and create the perfect justice system. In contrast, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau insisted on the virtuous nature of humans and they believed that humans could create the perfect justice system if they managed to eliminate the negative impact of their social environment.
Later, the social aspect produced even more significant impact on philosophical views on the concept of justice. In the 19th century and the early 20th century, Marxist ideas had started to play increasingly more important role in views on the concept of justice and the existing system of justice. The traditional Marxist view lays emphasis on the repressive nature of the existing system of justice. Such a view on justice was determined by the basic ideas of Marxist philosophy which were based on the view on social development as the permanent struggle between antagonistic classes. Economy was the basis of the conflict between classes and Marxists believed that the ruling classes established their own standards and created their own ideology, which became the dominant ideology of the entire society since the socio-economic elite occupied the dominant position in society and, thus, shaped its ideology, morals, beliefs, etc. (Broad, 229). In such a context, justice was viewed as a concept created and imposed on society by ruling classes and targeting at the control over the oppressed classes. As a result, the existing justice system was viewed just as a tool of control, which protected economic interests of the ruling elite and oppressed lower classes of society.
In fact, Marxists viewed society as absolutely unjust and they targeted at the social revolution in order to change radically the existing social order and establish social justice where all people would be really equal. In actuality, such a view on justice was based on egalitarian principles which were particularly popular in the 19th and 20th century.
Historically, the concept of justice varied depending on the socio-cultural environment but, in actuality, it has never been realized. In fact, the existing ideal of the concept of justice is quite different from what people actually face in their life. In this respect, it should be said that the social position of the individual always played an important role in the system of criminal justice and in the attitude of this system to an individual and, therefore, in the interpretation of the concept of justice. In other words, in spite of the existing legal norms and basic principles justice is supposed to be equal for all people regardless their social position, level of income, race, gender, etc., but, in actuality, an individual can expect a different justice from the part of the criminal justice system depending on his/her social position.
First of all, it should be said that the concept of justice is far from perfect or ideal. At any rate, it is obvious that justice can hardly be applied equally to all people. Basically, the reasons for such a situation are quite obvious since the inequality in the treatment of people by the criminal justice system is highly dependent on the social position of an individual.
In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the social position of an individual may be a key factor in the justice he/she can expect to receive from the criminal justice system. For instance, it is not a secret that a social background often affects the decisions taken by courts and the attitude of the criminal justice system at large to an individual. It proves beyond a doubt that the attitude to an individual accused in some crime will be different if he/she occupies a high social position or, in contrast, occupies the lowest position in the social hierarchy. As a rule, the attitude to an individual with poor social background, who has low income and lives in a community where the crime rate is very high will be exposed to higher risk of getting a more severe punishment compared to an individual belonging to the social elite. What is meant here is the fact that people, including those working in the criminal justice system, are often biased, especially in relation to people that occupy lower social position. They simply believe in the existing social norms and views, according to which representatives of lower classes are more susceptible to committing crimes. On the other hand, the attitude of the general public and people working in the criminal justice system to representatives of upper classes is absolutely different from the attitude to representatives of lower classes and is basically characterized by respect.
As a result, the view on the representatives of lower classes is extremely biased. Moreover, they are believed to tend to criminal activities that are determined by their social position. This means that the fact that an individual live in a poor social environment, has a low income and some of his neighbours, for instance, are criminals than this individual is viewed as a person that is more likely to commit a crime and a representative of the middle class. In such a way, the social position and social background may determine the court decision in relation to an individual.
Obviously, the court decision as well as the position of the criminal justice system at large will be absolutely different in relation to representatives of upper classes since their social and financial successes are viewed as marks of their virtue. Consequently, it is often believe that a rich person, originating from a good social background is simply unable to commit a crime.
However, the real situation is quite different. In actuality, it is obvious that the social background of an individual cannot be a determining factor in the justice he/she can count for from the existing justice system. Needless to say, criminals cannot be classified according to their social status since representatives of all classes can commit crimes.
This is why it is extremely important that the existing criminal justice system was free of biases and prejudices based on the social position of an individual. In this respect, it is necessary to remind that the criminal justice system should be highly objective and primarily focus on the real evidences and proofs before the final decision concerning to an individual accused or suspected is made.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that human views on the concept of justice varied consistently. Nevertheless, people always readily implemented their own justice system punishing those who did not meet the established social norms, rules and standards. At the same time, justice system has never been perfect and, in spite of significant changes and improvements, it still remains to be far from perfect.