I study organizational justice as part of my research. Organization justice perceptions influence a lot of important outcomes in the workplace. For instance, a worker who feels as if he or she is treated unfairly will likely not be satisfied, committed, or even a productive worker. The notion of justice (and it’s components or types) has been studied by psychologists since at least the 1960s. However, I found recently that the ideas underlying our notions of justice are much older. Aristotle wrote about distributive justice in his Nicomachean Ethics:
Of particular justice and that which is just in the corresponding sense, (A) one kind is that which is manifested in distributions of honour or money…” (Chapter 2, Book 5).
His notion of distributive justice is startlingly similar to the contemporary conceptualization used in psychological research. Essentially, people get angry when their outcomes are not equitable. Following from Adams’s Equity Theory, people want their output (e.g., pay) to be commensurate with their input (e.g., effort). If these are out of of balance, the person will perceive distributive injustice. This is a clarity of the ancient Roman notion of justice from the Justinian code: “…the constant and permanent will to render to each person what is his right.” This is vague from a legal and philosophical stand point, but cast in the light of individual perception, equity theory can be applied. A person’s due (and their right to it) stems from their idea of what they think is an appropriate outcome given what they put in. This seems troublesome given an reliance on individual perception, but psychologists study the individual and the relationships amongst their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The objective fairness is immaterial when a person feels slighted, the guy reaction of “That’s not fair!” kicks in; that impulse is precisely what leads to the outcomes that I discussed earlier.
These ideas are not new, per se, but I feel as though there is progress being made. Aristotle did not take about procedural or interactional justice; these are more contemporary discoveries.
More musings to follow on justice as I work through Rapheal’s “Concepts of Justice,” and various book chapters and articles from the psychological literature.