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

  • Individuals excluded from the scope of justice are considered to be “psychologically distant” (Opotow, 1994, p. 59), e.g., targets have different ways of thinking or living. For instance, Bilewicz, Imhoff and Drogosz’s (2011) research into the ‘humanity of what we eat’ showed that omnivorous people might seek a justification for participating in or complying with a complex process of killing animals. Hence, omnivorous people may subjectively minimize the psychological costs of their own actions (e.g., “if animals are primitive and have no human-like feelings anyway, it seems legitimate to kill them”).
  • Excluded ones are not seen as worthy of consideration or the community does not feel a moral obligation to them. In fact, Opotow and Weiss's (2000) research shows that the denial of self-involvement in environmental conflict is a way of excluding oneself from the problem. Self-exclusion minimizes the extent to which an environmental dispute is relevant to oneself or one’s group, thus making it possible for people to exclude themselves from the scope of justice of environmental conflict. For example, by regarding themselves as “clean” and insignificant contributors to pollution, they assert their non-relevance and consequently accept no moral obligation in this controversy.
  • People excluded from the scope of justice can be perceived as being irrelevant or undeserving of application of justice. Indeed, Opotow (1993) showed that participants who read about the harmful (and expendable) beetle expressed less willingness to protect the insect. Moreover, Opotow (1997) argues that, in the affirmative-action debate, the idea that a group does not deserve to have certain benefits makes it more difficult for people to accept affirmative-action policies. This issue is related to the argument that target groups do not deserve special treatment because they are not different from others.
  • People may approve unfair procedures and outcomes for those morally excluded, i.e., procedures and outcomes that would not be acceptable if it was directed to someone included in the scope of justice. Hegtvedt (2005) gives an example of this orientation in addressing the seething hatred of Americans against Muslim extremists. Coryn and Borshuk (2006) provided further evidence for this when American participants had to include or exclude a Muslim American family from their scope of justice. The results indicate that participants who excluded the Muslim American family from their scope of justice tried to justify their decision by invoking instances of international conflict situations such as the terrorist attacks on the United States, with the revenge discourse being prevalent. Thus, the Muslim American family “had” to be excluded as a deserving outcome.

Research on exclusion from the scope of justice is mainly focused on how people act in determining the size (broad vs. narrow) of the scope and how it is related to people's self-concept. However, a few researchers have taken the victim’s perspective of exclusion into consideration (see Hafer & Olson, 2003). For example, Tyler and Lind (1990) investigated the reactions of those who are marginal members of their group. They suggested that these individuals, who are somewhat marginalized in their group, may see justice as being less relevant in their interactions with other group members compared to individuals who are less marginalized. Accordingly, marginalized individuals compared to those more central to the group may respond less intensely to their own unjust treatment. Nagata (1990) has analyzed the reactions of individuals excluded from the ingroup’s scope of justice and how their family members and possibly succeeding generations were affected by this type of exclusion.

Current Applications of the Scope of Justice

Although the idea of exclusion from the scope of justice could be useful in creating understanding of the reasons why people might resort to extreme harm-doing (e.g., Bar-Tal, 1990), its typical application in empirical research has focused on less severe responses, such as willingness to recommend punishment, deservingness (e.g., Brockner, 1990; Olson, Cheung, Conway & Hafer, 2010; Singer, 1996) and the support of discriminatory policies (Lima-Nunes, Pereira & Correia, 2013).

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