Justice is the policy of objectively evaluating people’s actions and statements and responding accordingly. It necessitates that we reward, encourage and support the good, and punish, discourage, and condemn the bad.
Justice is an aspect of rationality necessitated by the fact that we derive enormous benefits from living in society. With those benefits though, also come threats. To live effectively we must deal with these threats. The most obvious example is the threat from criminals – and justice requires that we restrain and punish those who would initiate the use of physical force against us.
But justice must also be applied in business and in other relationships, to deal with those whose immoral behaviour harms the business and/or threatens our happiness. And it is no less important to encourage and reward decent behaviour.
In business, justice becomes very relevant during performance appraisals. It is very important to gather all the evidence and evaluate the performance based only on that evidence. Unfortunately this is a skill that is rare. But its importance is expressed in this statement by the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, T. J. Rodgers: “Great people expect to be rewarded. You can’t reward great people unless you identify them fairly and accurately.” Rodgers estimated that only two thirds of his vice-presidents knew how to conduct an objective appraisal. So he set about devising a software-based evaluation system, which directed managers towards focusing on evidence and fairly assessing their staff.
Fair management is a motivator that is too often ignored. When management fails to reward good performance and is indifferent to poor performance, this does not go unnoticed. It has an enormously de-motivating effect on the workforce.
Objective and rational evaluation means that justice should ignore accidents of birth – such as considerations of race or class or gender. Evaluation is done only on the basis of rational criteria – namely, the virtues that we have been discussing.
T. J. Rodgers of Cypress Semiconductor stood up for this principle when he made this statement in a letter to all the company’s shareholders after being criticised by one of them for not including any women or members of minorities on the board of directors: “Bluntly stated a woman’s view on how to run our company does not help us, unless that woman has an advanced technical degree and experience as a CEO. We would quickly embrace the opportunity to include any woman or minority person who could help us as a director, because we pursue talent – and we don’t care in what package that talent comes.” He went on to point out the immorality of the suggestion, writing “Choosing a Board of Directors based on race and gender is a lousy way to run a company. Cypress will never do it. Furthermore we will never be pressured into it, because bowing to well-meaning, special-interest groups is an immoral way to run a company, given all the people it would hurt.”
Justice also requires that we are accountable and accept responsibility for loss or damage resulting from our mistakes. But we must keep in mind that people are not omniscient, and that mistakes are unavoidable. All we can ask of people is that they take reasonable precautions to avoid making them, and having made them, that they compensate when necessary, and that they learn how to avoid repeating them.
The principle of justice supporting a proper relationship is the trader principle. “The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash – that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value. The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.”