Justice seems not to be for all: Exploring the scope of justice

Finally, a third proposed antecedent is a lack of identification or perceived dissimilarity between target and perceiver. This was shown by Opotow (1995) to be an intriguing antecedent of exclusion from the scope of justice. In the experimental study that she carried out, it was identified that a perceived similarity to the beetle per se did not predict inclusion in the scope of justice. However, in low-conflict scenarios, participants who perceived the beetle as similar were more likely to believe that considerations of fairness could be applied to the insect.

Inclusion in or Exclusion from the Scope of Justice

People can either amplify or restrict their boundaries of the scope of justice by including some groups in their moral community and excluding others. The decision of whether to raise or lower the scope-of-justice threshold depends on (1) how the perceiver believes that considerations of fairness should (or should not) apply to the perceived group; (2) whether or not he or she wishes to allocate a share of community resources to the group; and (3) whether or not he or she wishes to make sacrifices to foster the well-being of the perceived group (Coryn & Borshuk, 2006; Deutsch, 1990; Hafer & Olson, 2003; Opotow & Weiss, 2000).

Accordingly, for the group that is inside the scope of justice, concerns about fair treatment are salient, whereas for people that are outside the scope of justice, concerns about fair treatment are not applied or they are perceived as irrelevant (e.g., Deutsch, 2006; Opotow, 1990). A typical example of the way in which we include or exclude someone from our scope of justice is the way that we assign as much justice as we think that the other “deserves” (e.g., “This person does (not) have the same rights that I have”).

As far as inclusion is concerned, studies exist that demonstrate the effect of this side of the scope of justice (e.g. protection toward animals). In fact, there are theorists who suggest that more aspects of inclusion should be investigated: for instance, the ways in which we can modify moral justifications for social injustice, foster intergroup attitude changes or even modify the strength or scope of one’s fundamental justice principles. This could be a way to see the other side of the coin, thus providing ways to achieve social justice (Bilewicz, Imhoff & Drogosz, 2011; Opotow, 1994).

Recent theorizing about the scope of the justice concept has specified two meanings of exclusion from the scope of justice (see Olson, Cheung, Conway, Hutchison & Hafer, 2011). Exclusion means excluding a particular person/group from positive treatment that is given to others or using different rules of fairness for a particular person/group. The result is often negative treatment of the excluded people (whereas the included people are treated positively). This kind of exclusion is seen as fair (or justified on some other basis) to the person who is doing the exclusion (e.g., Bar-Tal, 1990; Lima-Nunes et al., 2013; Staub, 1989). However, exclusion from the scope of justice can also mean that the person doing the exclusion does not see justice as being relevant to the excluded person/group, in which case the actor could be motivated by self-interest insofar as his/her interests could be served by action that harms the target (e.g., Brockner, 1990; Opotow, 1995). In this paper we consider both forms to conceptualize exclusion from the scope of justice and we use them to exemplify the consequences of “moral exclusion”.

Consequences of the Exclusion from the Scope of Justice

Targets that are excluded from the scope of justice are vulnerable to harmful treatment and apathy towards such harm-doing (e.g. slavery) (Bar-Tal, 1990; Coryn & Borshuk, 2006; Staub, 1989). Some studies show how we rationalize in order to exclude a person or group:

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