A Brief History of Social Justice

>Social Justice:  From Plato to Present Times

The social work profession is grounded in the concept of social justice: a belief that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and right to lead a healthy and productive life.

It’s the basis of a value system that has been studied since the days of Plato. His famous writing from 380 BC, The Republic, spoke to the four virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Moderation, and Justice. As mankind evolved, so did the idea of justice. The tenets of fairness, sharing and equality were embraced by all of the world’s major religions, heralding justice above profit and greed.

The actual term “social justice” was first used in the 1840’s when members of the Jesuit religion introduced the phrase as being associated with teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The concept fully took hold and expanded outside of religious circles to be a concern of all peoples, in all societies. Social justice has long been a pillar of movements for a fair economic, political, and social system that works in cooperation for the greater good.

It is easy to see why this value system is fundamental to the social work profession. While studying for your social worker degree, you will come to understand the different ways that social justice applies to the communities around us. It can mean having a shelter for the night and enough food to eat, knowing where to access basic healthcare, or finding protection from violence.

Social workers also advocate for social justice on a global scale. Homeless, hunger, poverty, disease, violence, and discrimination are a way of life in foreign countries and war-torn regions where refugees number in the millions. Differing political arguments swirl around the right for social justice in other lands, but the premise of human dignity is not debatable to those who devote their lives to opportunity and fairness.

Wherever social work is underway – around the corner or around the world – there is an ongoing a quest for peace and a balance of power. Social justice is a still-evolving process. The shared vision of social workers can help to create solutions to the problems of our time, as well as those that wait on the horizon.

Social work is a profession dedicated to enhancing the quality of life, the pursuit of social justice, and helping a wide range of individuals to reach their full potential. Offered by the School of Social Work at the University of New England, the Master of Social Work online option is open to students from a variety of educational backgrounds. The program envisions a world where social workers are at the forefront of advocating with individuals and communities for human dignity and social inclusion by mobilizing efforts to end inequalities, exploitation and violence.


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