Toward A Buddhist Theory of Justice

James Blumenthal

Abstract


For more than twenty years key thinkers of Engaged Buddhism have used terms like “justice” and “social justice” quite freely.  Yet despite more sophisticated discussions of other philosophical topics, Engaged Buddhists have  not clearly defined what they mean by the term justice. Given that the term is one with a rich philosophical history in the West and has no direct parallel in Buddhist thought, it is incumbent upon Engaged Buddhist theorists to define what they mean when they use this term if they are to engage in any sort of meaningful dialog on justice and related issues in the international community. In this paper, to illustrate how Engaged Buddhists might begin this important line of work, I would focus on two cases. First, I will discuss John Rawls' theory of "justice as fairness" and compare that with some traditional Buddhist ideas and explore potential Buddhist thinking, responses, and adaptations. Second, I will discuss a relatively new model known as restorative justice in opposition to the pervasive use of retributive models implemented around the globe and consider the ways that Buddhism seems to lend itself quite well to "restorative" models, particularly with regard to criminal justice.  Both examples are merely beginning points for discussion used to illustrate how and why Engaged Buddhists ought to participate more directly in global philosophical discourse on justice.

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Copyright (c) 2015 James Blumenthal

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