John Locke, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Jeremy Bentham were the four runners of this conception. In contemporary times, Issiah Berlin, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Hayek are main proponents of individual’s justice. “It has been alleged by these theorists that if people are left free to themselves, individual justice can be achieved in the society.
View of Locke:
In his “Two Treatises on Civil Government (1689) visualizes government as a trust whose function is only to secure the natural right to life, liberty and property.
View of Adam Smith:
In his “Wealth of Nations” (1776) locates a natural attributes of trade and commerce in human beings. He believes that individuals self interest automatically promote common interest. As such, he assigns three roles to the state: (1) Protection (2) Justice (3) Policy decisions.
View of Bentham:
In his “Introduction to the principles of Morals and Legislation” (1789) says that every policy must ensure “Greatest number”. For this purpose, the Government’s main function is to make those laws that do not interfere in free activity of individuals.
View of Spencer:
Contrasts political life with Darwinian notion of natural selection in his opinion, states welfare measures are an obstacles in the social evolution to see contradiction between social justice and the individual justice.
View of Berlin:
In his “Two Concepts of Liberty” holds that if justice is to be achieved in a society, the individuals should be left to their own discretion the availability or non-availability of means is entirely the individual’s concern and that the state has no responsibility of making the required means available to him.
View of Hayek:
In his “Law, Legislation and Liberty” (1976) holds that the Conception of Social Justice is meaningless. Justice implies noninterference of state.
As he says “individuals differ in their talents and skills, and their equality before the law is bound to create inequality in their actual position in terms of their material status”.
View of Friedman:
In his “Capitalism and Freedom” holds that any society should be judged by the extent of freedom enjoyed by family and individuals the “Government should take upon itself, only those functions which cannot be tackled by the state or which incur heavy expenditure”. Its work is to sustain the market and not to control it.
View of Nozick:
In his “Anarchy, State and Utopia” (1974) bases his view on those of Lockes he says “acquisition or transfer of property without Force or Fraud is just, but not otherwise”.
To him, the inequalities of wealth and power are the product of individual differences in talents and efforts and that it would not be just to remove or reduce these inequalities by transferring property.
The concept of social justice may be traced to Plato’s “Republic”. But, it remained absent till the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. The liberal thinkers like T.M. Green and J.S. Mill espoused the positive functions of the state which gave way to the welfare state in the twentieth century.
As opposed to liberalism, Marxism is primarily committed to a conception of social justice. To Marxists, economic equality is the basis of social justice.
Which can be achieved only in a classless society? Its vision of classless society is marked by common ownership of property guided by the principle “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need”.
It will abolish the private ownership of the means of production and establish an egalitarian society.
In recent times, John Rawls has articulated a conception of social justice within Liberal framework. To him,
1. The problem of justice is the right distribution of public good, viz., income, wealth, rights, basis of self-respect etc.
2. Justice is the first virtue of social institution. If the institutions are just, their control would be just and thus justice in society would prevail.
While the conception of individual justice is primarily directed at liberty of individual, social justice implies some restrain on it. The latter is more concerned with the aspect of equality. John Rawls have evolved a novel scheme to reconcile the competing claims of individual and social justice to ensure working basis for social cooperation in modern liberal democratic societies.