Originally written in November 2012
It’s a truism that equality is justice. What is equality?
Is it equality when everyone is rewarded equally, or it is equality when everyone is rewarded according to their potential?
Say, worker A is physically strong and can do X amount of work in a day, whereas worker B is physically weak and can do Y amount of work in a day. X is greater than Y. That means worker A does more work than does worker Y in a day. Wouldn’t it then be fair that worker A’s daily earning is more than worker B’s daily earning? Most people would say yes, that would be fair.
But then A and B will have different and unequal standard of living.
Assume further that the difference in their physical and mental strength is vast, and their earning being proportional to their natural potential (i.e. physical and mental endowment), A is rich and B is poor. It is a state (with rich and poor) which we view as inequality.
Most people, however, agree that it is fair that A should earn more than B.
Most people would agree that if we redistribute A’s earning to B to make the income of both equal (to bring about equality) that would be injustice to A, because A’s higher earning is deserved by him since he has higher potential. The logic used in deriving the conclusion is this: It is fair when someone who is naturally endowed with more (physical and mental) potential enjoys higher benefits/well-being than those he is superior to.
I would call it the state of natural inequality. It is also the state of justice.
The state of nature is the baseline for equality and justice, because the state of nature is by default a just state where every creature gets according to their potential. Battle is the reality of nature. Whoever is physically and mentally more powerful would prevail over others. We used the same logic in the workers example above and it seems perfectly fair that A gets more benefits with higher earnings than B because he physically and mentally more endowed.
But we don’t live in the state of nature. And physical strength and mental strength don’t always go hand in hand. And that’s where defining justice in human society becomes more complex.