Immanent Justice and Ultimate Justice

Two Ways of Believing in Justice
  • Jürgen Maes
Part of the Critical Issues in Social Justice book series (CISJ)


In a series of sophisticated experiments beginning in 1965, Melvin Lerner was able to demonstrate impressively how beliefs regarding justice can alter human reactions toward the innocent victims of misfortune—instead of sympathizing and helping the victim, subjects can be made to belittle his plight and even scorn him (for a summary, see Lerner, 1970; Lerner, Miller & Holmes, 1976). According to Lerner’s theory of justworld motivation, people assume that they live in a just world, in which each person gets what he deserves and deserves what he gets. Should a person witness clear injustice, this (potentially vital) belief in the justice of the world becomes threatened. Thus, people are motivated to maintain or reaffirm their belief in a just world, perhaps through personal or active engagement in the preservation of justice. Because the latter may often prove costly (if not impossible), people attempt to maintain their belief in a just world by simply ignoring injustice or reinterpreting the results of events such that the consequences appear to be just. If, for example, the victim himself has contributed to his misfortune, or appears to be a bad person, one might argue that he doesn’t deserve any better; in this manner, an incident of obvious injustice might paradoxically become evidence supporting a just world, and thus validate the observer ’s belief system. In his theoretical analyses of the topic, however, Melvin Lerner (1980) expressly points out that the devaluation of innocent victims is not the only strategy by which belief in a just world is preserved. Other strategies include the construction of many different worlds, of which only one—the one most relevant for the observer—must be just, or the assumption of various time perspectives.


Partial Correlational Analysis Pastoral Counselor Mock Juror Innocent Victim Charitable Activity 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jürgen Maes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversität TrierTrierGermany

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