The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from and . The value of human life is being threatened by , , and the use of the . The intentional targeting of civilians in or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and . We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the of the human person.
The person is not only sacred but also social. -- in economics and politics, in law and policy -- directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to , seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Justice is an important aspect of many, if not all, socialinstitutions. Market economies, salary and wage structures, taxsystems, judicial systems, prisons, and so on are all in part to beevaluated in terms of their compliance with principles of justice.
In this section we have addressed the so-called agent-structureQuestion. Let us now turn in the final section of this entry to aspecific normative aspect of institutions, namely theirconformity or lack of it with principles of distributive justice.
Distributive justice is an important aspect of most, if not all,social institutions; the role occupants of most institutions are therecipients and providers of benefits, e.g. wages, consumer products,and the bearers of burdens, e.g. allocated tasks and, accordingly, aresubject to principles of distributive justice. Moreover, arguably someinstitutions, perhaps governments, have as one of their defining endsor functions, to ensure conformity to principles of distributivejustice in the wider society. However, distributive justice does notappear to be a defining feature, end or function ofall social institutions. By this I do not mean that somesocial institutions are unjust, e.g. the institution of slavery;though clearly many are. Rather I am referring to the fact that anumber of social institutions, such as the English language or eventhe institution of the university, are notdefined—normatively speaking—in terms of justice,but rather by some other moral value(s), e.g. truth. Communicationsystems, such as human languages, are arguably defined in part interms of the end of truth, but not in terms of justice; hence, acommunicative system would cease to be a communication system if itsparticipants never attempted to communicate the truth, but not if itsparticipants failed to respect principles of distributive justice,e.g. in terms of the number of occasions on which particular speakerswere allowed to speak.
In the third section a teleological account of social institutions ispresented (Miller 2001 and 2010). Teleological explanation is out offashion in many areas of philosophy. However, it remains influentialin contemporary philosophical theories of social action.
In the fifth and final section the specific normative issue ofthe justice of social institutions is explored. This section includesa discussion of intra-institutional justice, e.g. the justice orinjustice of the reward system within an institution, as well asextra-institutional justice, e.g. the justice or injustice of a powerrelationship between a government and refugees.
Social institutions need to be distinguished from less complex social forms such asconventions, rules, social norms, roles and rituals. The latter are among theconstitutive elements of institutions.
Social institutions also need to be distinguished from more complexand more complete social entities, such as societies or cultures, ofwhich any given institution is typically a constitutive element. Asociety, for example, is more complete than an institution since asociety—at least as traditionally understood—is moreor less self-sufficient in terms of human resources, whereas aninstitution is not. Thus, arguably, for an entity to be a society itmust sexually reproduce its membership, have its own language andeducational system, provide for itself economically and—atleast in principle—be politically independent.
Social institutions are often organisations (Scott 2001). Moreover,many institutions are systems of organisations. For example,capitalism is a particular kind of economic institution, and in moderntimes capitalism consists in large part in specific organisationalforms—including multi-national corporations—organisedinto a system. Further, some institutions aremeta-institutions; they are institutions (organisations) thatorganise other institutions (including systems of organisations). Forexample, governments are meta-institutions. The institutional end orfunction of a government consists in large part in organising otherinstitutions (both individually and collectively); thus governmentsregulate and coordinate economic systems, educational institutions,police and military organisations and so on largely by way of(enforceable) legislation.
In this entry the concern is principally with social institutions(including meta-institutions) that are also organisations or systemsof organisations. However, it should be noted that institutions oflanguage, such as the English language, are often regarded not simplyas institutions but as more fundamental than many other kinds ofinstitution by virtue of being presupposed by, or in part constitutiveof, other institutions. Searle, for example, holds to the latter view(Searle 1995: 37). A case might also be made that the family is a morefundamental institution than others for related reasons, e.g. it isthe site of sexual reproduction and initial socialisation.
Having informally marked off social institutions from other socialforms, let us turn to a consideration of some general properties ofsocial institutions. Here there are four salient properties, namely,structure, function, culture and sanctions.
It is sometimes claimed that in addition to structure, function andculture, social institutions necessarily involve sanctions. It isuncontroversial that social institutions involve informal sanctions,such as moral disapproval following on non-conformity to institutionalnorms. However, some theorists, e.g. Jon Elster (1989: ch. XV), argue that formal sanctions, such as punishment, are anecessary feature of institutions. Formal sanctions are certainly afeature of many institutions, notably legal systems; however, they donot seem to be a feature of all institutions. Consider, for example,an elaborate and longstanding system of informal economic exchangeamong members of different societies that have no common system oflaws or enforced rules. Again, a spoken language such as pidginEnglish, is presumably an institutions; yet breaches of itsconstitutive norms and conventions might not attract any formalsanctions.