Justice and Self-Interest: Two Fundamental Motives

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This volume argues that the commitment to justice is a fundamental motive and that, although it is typically portrayed as serving self-interest, it sometimes takes priority over self-interest. To make this case, the authors discuss the way justice emerges as a personal contract in children's development; review a wide range of research studying the influences of the justice motive on evaluative, emotional, and behavioral responses; and detail common experiences that illustrate the impact of the justice motive. Through an extensive critique of the research on which some alternative models of justice are based, the authors present a model that describes the ways in which motives of justice and self-interest are integrated in people's lives. They close with a discussion of some positive and negative consequences of the commitment to justice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Given the broad acceptance of capitalist philosophy in most of the developed and developing world, one could expect that self-interest motives would be used to explain all sorts of human interactions with others. Further, it could be expected that such explanations would be readily accepted. Are there no situations where humans act to provide or restore justice to others without benefit to themselves? Lerner and Clayton’s work emphatically says ‘yes, there certainly are many such situations.’ The authors apply careful scientific analyses to studies purporting to support the self-interest explanation and dismantle them with surgical precision. They show that people's actions can stem from justice-seeking motives and not solely from strict self-interest.”
– Selwyn Becker, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Booth School of Business

“In a wide-ranging examination of research and theory, Lerner and Clayton provide new insights on the development and primacy of the justice motive, distinguishing it from self-interest and challenging conventional interpretations of well-known, highly regarded research on forms of justice and self-interest.”
– Ronald C. Dillehay, University of Nevada, Reno

“Most people would like to believe that the world is just, that you get what you deserve and deserve what you get. And despite almost daily indications to the contrary, people are generally committed to various norms of justice to guide their own behavior. A frequently conflicting but pervasive belief is that people are essentially self-interested in their interactions with others. Lerner and Clayton suggest that researchers have often misattributed their participants’ behavior to self-interest, rather than recognizing that they instead comply with social norms or manifested self-conceited cognitive schemas. They critically analyze existing research and offer an alternative preliminary model that integrates the two motivational forces of justice and self-interest into ‘a more comprehensive theory of behavior.’ Their arguments are likely to arouse controversy, and it is in the self-interest of every student of justice to read this book.”
– Kjell Törnblom, University of Skövde

"...This study goes beyond previous attempts (such as Beyond Self-Interest, ed. by Jane Mansbridge, CH, Dec'90, 28-2396) describing human behavior as being guided by a complex interaction of self-interest and public interest. A solid resource in the areas.of social psychology, social justice, sociology, and political science.... Recommended..."
—M. Bonner, Hawai'i Pacific University, CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781107002333
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/7/2011
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Melvin J. Lerner is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychology of the University of Waterloo, where he founded the Division of Social Psychology. The majority of his research efforts focus on the theme of justice in people's lives. Much of that research has been summarized in several volumes, beginning with Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion (1980), which was awarded the Quinquennial Prize from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and continuing in several co-edited volumes: with S. Lerner, The Justice Motive in Social Behavior: Adapting to Times of Scarcity and Change (1981); with Gerold Mikula, Entitlement and the Affectional Bond (1994); with Leo Montada, Responses to Victimizations and Belief in a Just World (1998); and Current Societal Concerns about Justice (1996). In addition, Lerner is the founding editor of the journal Social Justice Research and was the co-recipient of a Max-Planck-Forschungspreis and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Justice Research.
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Table of Contents

1. Contesting the primacy of self-interest
2. Why does justice matter? The development of a personal contract
3. Commitment to justice:
the initial primary automatic reaction
4. Explaining the myth of self-interest
5. Defining the justice motive:
re-integrating procedural and distributive justice
6. How people assess deserving and justice:
the role of social norms
7. Integrating justice and self-interest:
a tentative model
8. Maintaining the commitment to justice in a complex world
9. Bringing it closer to home:
justice in another 'American tragedy'
10. Emotional aftereffects:
some negative consequences and thoughts on how to avoid them.
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