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Essay 2 – Defining Justice

Unit of discourse

rhetorical part: assertion, support, explanation

analogy: pull out your gun, load, aim and shoot

An assertion is like a gun. Anyone can pull one out and start waving it around. By itself, an assertion is an opinion, all talk, lots of fervent belief, but nothing else. To make it more persuasive, all you can do it raise your voice, wag the gun more wildly.

The support is the bullets. It’s what you load your gun with. A loaded gun is a lot more threatening. It can, potentially, do a lot more damage than the gun by itself.

However, to effectively communicate, you need to pull the trigger. No matter how good your gun and your bullets, you’re never going to hit your target unless you pull the trigger. Your target is your reader. That’s a singular “reader” on purpose. You cannot shoot everyone with a gun. It’s pretty much one at a time.

Same with an essay. Don’t try to write to “everyone”. Write to one specific person, one reader. You need to explain what you want your reader to get out of the evidence. Then it’s not just your opinion against someone else’s. It’s your substantiated, explained opinion, which is more persuasive and carries more weight than the opinions of those wagging their guns at each other.


Write an essay that uses this unit of discourse to explain your ideas about justice. Instead of starting with an idea, either yours or someone else’s, start with examples and data and then think your way to an answer to the central question of this course. Look at the title of the course web: Justice, Due You?



Rhetorical situation: You’ve made friends here at Medaille with a student from another country, let’s call her Renata from China, South Korea, or Thailand. Her family moved to the U.S. only a year ago from her home country, but her English was good enough to get into college. Today, she got some bad news from home: her father, just a year in the U.S., has been arrested for hitting a jaywalking pedestrian while he was driving his car too fast. It was an accident, but unfortunately, the pedestrian died. Her father is an engineer with a graduate degree working for a company in Rochester. They live in the Rochester suburbs. It turns out that the pedestrian was the wife of the mayor of the town where they live.

Renata comes to you and asks an important question: “What is this system that my father is now caught up in? Will he be treated fairly by the U.S. justice system?”

Your audience is Renata.

She needs to know how worried to be about her father. You’re the only American she can trust. She is asking you to help her understand. What’s really going on?

You realize that you can’t just pop off with the first idea that comes to your head. That’s like waving your unloaded gun around. You’d like to reassure Renata and give her good news, but you aren’t sure whether you can. You don’t want to mislead her or give her false hopes. She is very worried and this is very important to her.

So you need some data, some bullets in your gun. You search on the Internet and come up with the data on the justice page.

The first essay about morality was more personal. What did you think about the morality of the people who ate the dog and the chicken?

This second essay is less personal and more about society — and about Renata’s Chinese/Korean/Thai father. Use the data to explain your answer to Renata’s question. By “explain”, I mean answer questions like the ones below:

  • What is justice? Who decides?
  • Is it for everyone? Are there different “justices” for different people? Depending on what?
  • Give examples of justice and injustice and explain what’s just and unjust in each case.
  • Will Renata’s father get justice? If you were accused of a crime, are you confident that you would get justice in our courts?
  • Renata’s father has money to pay a lawyer, but not very much money. Renata wants to know whether that will matter. Should she quit Medaille so that her family can pay for a more expensive lawyer? Are more expensive lawyers always better?
  • What can Renata’s father do to influence the system in his favor?
  • Could our system be made more just for people like Renata’s father? How?

The image below left shows the the results of our questionnaires at from last week. On the Justice page, you’ll find more definitions and eight relevant graphics.

These first two graphs show my score in green, liberals in blue, conservatives in red, and the class average in gray. You’ll have to return to the site to get your personal score, which is not available to me. To learn more about the different foundations: Moral Foundations Theory

Five Foundations of Morality

Five Foundations of Morality


Do we live in a just world?

Do we live in a just world?



Assumptions. For purposes of your essay, assume that Renata’s father grew up in countries with civil law, not common law, using an inquisitorial system, not an adversarial system. In their home countries, the majority of the people looked like them. In the U.S., they are among several minorities.