An introduction to Catholic Social Teaching Part 3: What are the three kinds of justice? (CST 201)

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Last week we introduced a basic definition of justice as giving all that is due to God and others. This week let’s take it a little further and explore the three different categories of justice.

Commutative Justice requires respect for the rights of others and its foundation is the Seventh Commandment.

Specifically, promises must be kept and contracts strictly observed. Commutative justice requires:

• safeguarding property rights
• paying debts
• fulfilling obligations.

The Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steal

Legal Justice is what the citizen owes to the community, whether it is organizations or states or society-at-large.

In other words, it means that every individual is obligated to obey laws that serve the common good.

The demands of legal justice include the obligation to contribute a fair share of one’s time, talent and money to the common good.

These were given to each of us in order to share, after all, and not so that we hoard them for ourselves.

Distributive Justice is sort of the reverse of legal justice. While legal justice refers to what individuals owe their communities, distributive justice, on the other hand, regulates what the community owes its citizens.

How should the benefits of society be distributed in such a way as to respect the rights of all? The priorities of distributive justice have been drawn on the level of greatest need, privileging the meeting of the basic necessities for life (such as food, shelter and clothing).

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