This word demonstrates one of the important aspects of evolution of meaning.  Sometimes words don’t lose or corrupt their meanings over time, but through a process of analogy, take on deeper (and often fuzzier) significance.

‘To justify’ is to show that something is just or right, to produce a demonstration of the correctness of a thing.  ‘Just’ and ‘right’ have the same conceptual roots:  they both originally referred to the act of setting building materials at a ninety-degree angle, and when people justified, they were making sure that things were aligned to the correct standard.

To be ‘right’ is to be correct, and ‘right’ angles are the ones desired in buildings.

The key concept at the heart of the word is the establishment of a similarity between an implementation or manifestation and an absolute, objective standard.  From this we derive concepts such as justice and justification across many diverse and seemingly-unrelated fields.


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