What Is the Difference Between Law and Justice?

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Law is the body of rules that govern a society, while justice is a standard of morality that determines what is right and what is wrong, according to Santa Clara University. Laws are made with the intent of establishing justice within a particular geographic region.

The Canadian Department of Justice delivers a fitting summary of law, defining it as “rules meant to control or change…behavior” that are “enforced by the courts.” Law keeps society from degenerating into chaos. There are laws that establish punishments for criminal behavior, laws that prescribe the responsibilities of parents to their children, laws that guide the settling of disputes and laws that govern the allocation of community resources. An important characteristic of law is that it applies equally to all people living within a country.

Justice, on the other hand, is less tangible. The University of Tennessee Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that the definition of justice has been under debate since ancient Greece. Typically, however, justice evokes ideas of fairness and equity. It is “the right thing to do.” Because justice determines proper social conduct, it has immense political implications.

A society’s conception of what is just influences the laws that it passes. For instance, Santa Clara University observes that one of the most pervasive ideas of justice comes from Aristotle’s statement that “equals should be treated as equals.” Modern American politics embodies this notion of justice, with specific laws widely prohibiting political, workplace and academic discrimination based on gender, race or other factors.