What Is Justice?

6, 7, 8

Learners compare the meaning of justice with fairness and distinguish the meanings of fair, just, equal, and equitable. They write a definition for each term and display it on the wall for the duration of the unit.

PrintOne 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • articulate the meanings of justice.
  • compare and contrast the terms just, fair, equal, and equitable.

PBS Crash Course video: “What Is Justice?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0CTHVCkm90


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Say the Pledge of Allegiance with a group. At the end, ask,"What were the last four words?" (And justice for all). Daniel Webster, an American statesman who lived between 1782 and 1852, said that “justice is the great interest of man on earth.” Discuss why that might be true. Discuss the meaning of justice and whether it means the same as fairness.

  2. Read the following paragraph aloud and tell them to be ready to discuss and write definitions of fair, just, equal, and equitable.

    “On a public blog, a nine-year-old girl stated that justice means equal treatment for all—no matter what. She was asked, “does that mean if ten people want to share a cake, they should all get an equal size slice, even if some are two years old and some are five and some are forty?” She said, “That’s right. Justice means they all get the same. If they want to share their piece, they may.” The responses to her blog came from students and adults all over the world. Professors, lawyers, and other people praised and argued against her statement. Do you agree that justice is the same as equal treatment? Are there times when equal treatment is not fair or equitable?”

  3. Working in small groups, learners are assigned one term (fair, equitable, equal, or just). They look up and discuss their term and compare it to the definitions of fair, just, equal, and equitable. Here are some sample definitions:

    • Equal means the same. You can divide a cake into equal parts; have two glasses with equal amounts in them; and treat two different people equally, the same. 
    • Equitable is more about needed treatment. If you have a hungry 16-year-old and a hungry baby, it would be equitable to give them the amount of food they each need, but it probably won't be an equal amount. It is equal but not equitable to give people of different heights the same stool to reach a high shelf. 
    • Fair is the deserved treatment or action. Something unfair is something not deserved, like a tornado knocking down a house. 
    • Justice is a moral choice from an externally held source.  
  4. Each group writes a definition of their term and illustrates it in comparison to another of the terms to make the meaning clear. Have the teams display their definitions and illustrations for all to see. 

  5. The groups walk by the definitions and talk about the meanings with the people they are doing the gallery walk with.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.