Seeking the good in education through a positive conception of social justice

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Many Schools and Faculties of Education in the UK and in the Western world have ‘social justice’ written into their mission statements, and some departments and research centres based in Schools of Education include ‘social justice’ in their department names. But are they concerned by questions of social justice in education, or has the term become somewhat vacuous and devoid of substantive meaning? The present article subjects recent discourses about social justice in education to scrutiny and finds them wanting in various respects, in particular when juxtaposed with historical accounts of justice by philosophers such as Aristotle or Aquinas. Among the complaints made here is that most educational accounts (a) make do with a ‘negative’ conception of social justice as focused on specific cases of injustices without any positive conception of what social justice means in its entirety, (b) foreground institutional justice at the expense of justice as a moral or civic virtue, (c) fail to connect the identification of justice or injustice to an account of phronesis or practical wisdom for integrating values, (d) shy away from associating social justice with the ‘common good’ and (e) fail to get to grips with some thorny normative questions about the role of justice in the ordering of goods in a hierarchy towards the highest good. Along the way, various remedies are suggested in order to make ‘education for social justice’ a more workable ideal.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Studies
Early online date3 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Feb 2020


  • social justice
  • educational discourse
  • Aristotle
  • Aquinas
  • highest good


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