Justice arises because people cannot have it all, that is, they must choose between competing “goods.” Different forms of justice arise because people find themselves constrained to choose among many kinds of goods—public goods with distributive justice, human rights with social justice, enforcement of norms with retributive justice, and prospective potentials with formative justice.

Formative justice arises as persons and groups, facing their future, find more potentialities confronting them than they have the energy, time, ability, and wherewithal to pursue. They must make choices, deploying attention, habits, effort, skill, and thought towards some possibilities, not to others. Appetites urge here and there; emotions amplify now one and then another; thought modulates it all—formative justice continually integrates drives, feelings, and reflections into a flow of existential choices that form the course of life.

Contributors to this blog examine formative justice in contemporary life and culture. We seek to clarify the concept of formative justice and with it, to sharpen awareness of how people pursue their aspirations in personal and public life.

  • What is formative justice and how does it work in the lives of persons? How can each exercise formative justice in the conduct of life and avoid formative injustice?
  • How does the public ethos strengthen a person’s capacity to exercise formative justice? What public practices spread susceptibility to formative injustice?
  • Are schools and colleges, and other institutions with formative purposes, enhancing justice? Or are they perpetrating significant formative injustices? What would make them more conducive to the full achievement of formative justice by all?
  • What are the formative consequences of prevailing social, economic, and political practices? How do they strengthen and weaken the attainment of formative justice?

These questions deserve vigorous, prominent examination. With fuller, better responses to them,  we can promote the education and culture that all persons merit.

People exercise formative justice as they continually mix drives, feelings, and thoughts in the course of shaping their actions, and in doing so they form their unfolding lives. Considerations of formative justice turn on principles that might guide how persons and publics should best determine their many controlling aspirations. And in practice, formative justice, as well as injustice, arises as people allocate their effort, attention, skills, resources, and considered thought, trying to fulfill themselves, as persons and as publics, making their lives in the face of an indeterminate future. Exercising formative justice proves difficult because people must make consequential choices with the outcome uncertain, possibly successful and sustainable, or failing and instable, and exercising formative justice has great importance because persons and publics suffer, or enjoy, as the case may be, the lives they thus form.

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