The idea of Justice

The idea of justice?

 The Constitution of India begins with the promise  “ to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political…….” and this clearly indicates that the idea of justice is multi-dimensional and complex. 

The idea of justice changes with geography and time. Einstein would have appreciated the statement that justice is a function of space-time. 

The Manusmṛiti (मनुस्मृति), is an ancient legal text.  It was one of the first Sanskrit texts to have been translated into English in 1776, by Sir William Jones and was used to formulate the Hindu Law by the British colonial government.

It  is variously dated to be from the 2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE, and it presents itself as a discourse on topics such as duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and others. The text’s fame spread outside Bharat (India), long before the colonial era. The medieval era Buddhistic law of Myanmar and Thailand are also ascribed to Manu, and the text influenced past Hindu kingdoms in Cambodia and Indonesia (

The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia dated to about 1754 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi enacted the code. Code of Hammurabi :

Today, approximately 282 laws from Hammurabi’s Code are known. Each law is written in two parts: A specific situation or case is outlined, then a corresponding decision is given.

One of the best known laws from Hammurabi’s code was:

Ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”

Well, Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t on board with that. His quote “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is saying that if we keep punishing those we deem cruel, then we’re no better than the bad guys ourselves. It’s the whole “you can’t solve violence with violence” spiel. Many civilised countries have abolished the death penalty, but blood thirsty societies still crave lynching by mobs and ‘encounters’ by the police. 

Sir Henry James Sumner Maine,  is famous for the thesis outlined in his book “ Ancient Law” that law and society developed “from status to contract.” According to the thesis, in the ancient world individuals were tightly bound by status to traditional groups, while in the modern one, in which individuals are viewed as autonomous agents, they are free to make contracts and form associations with whomever they choose. 

The Idea of Justice is a 2009 book by the Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen. The work is a critique and revision of the philosopher John Rawl’s “ A theory of justice”  (1971). In the book, Sen makes a radical break with the traditional notion of homo economicus, or ‘rational economic man’ as motivated mainly by self-interest. He points out that children have strong notions of fairness and acute aversion to manifest injustice. In his introduction to The Idea of Justice, Sen states that “the strong perception of manifest injustice applies to adult human beings as well (as children). What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just – which few of us expect – but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.”

One of Sen’s main arguments is that the project of social justice should not be evaluated in binary terms, as either achieved or not. Rather, he claims that justice should be understood as existing to a matter of degree, and should correspondingly be evaluated along a continuum. Furthermore, he argues that we do not need a fully established abstract ideal of justice to evaluate the fairness of different institutions. He claims that we can meaningfully compare the level of justice in two institutions without positing an ideal, transcendental idea of justice. 

Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” is one of those uniquely breathtaking books that comes along but rarely. It’s broad, but scientific. It seems to be influenced by  Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel and other similarly broad-yet-scientific works with vast synthesis and explanatory power.

One of the reasons why Homo Sapiens dominate the earth is according to Haraki, their ability to imagine intangible ideas such as the idea of human rights. 

In the present digital age driven by Artificial Intelligence, the role of algorithms is an essential element of the applications of the concept of justice. One of the challenges in delivering justice is to distribute a scarce resource to a large population. One of this is going to come up very soon with the availability of the Covid 19 vaccine. Eventually it will be an algorithm that will used for this. 

In the mid nineteen eighties, I had tried to raise the question of whether the random number calculation algorithm of Maruti allocation of cars was violative of Articles 14 of the Constitution of India. 

Weapons of Math Destruction is a 2016 American book written by the Mathematician Cathy O’Neil about the societal impact of algorithms. It explores how some big data algorithms are increasingly used in ways that reinforce preexisting inequality.  

O’Neil, a mathematician, analyses how the use of big data and algorithms in a variety of fields, including insurance, advertising, education, and policing, can lead to decisions that harm the poor, reinforce  racism, and amplify inequality. 

Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.”

She posits that these problematic mathematical tools share three key features: they are opaque, unregulated, and difficult to contest. They are also scalable, thereby amplifying any inherent biases to affect increasingly larger populations.

This year the 2020 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded for the model /theory of auctions ….. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2020 was awarded jointly to Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.” 

We may expect innovations in democratic processes beginning with choosing the population’s representatives and the algorithms of collective opinions and decision making. 

Algorithms that are ‘just’ is the next step in the ‘idea’ of justice. 

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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