Friday, March 5, 2010

Lecture 236: On Justice

I don't know how you think about it, but I made this project historical AND thematic on purpose. It gives me the liberty to jump on a theme when I see one in the line of history. And bingo: I got one already… justice!

The central concept in Plato's Politiea was JUSTICE. To be more precise: justice as a virtue. The basic ingredient of a society where everyone can liv ein peace and happiness.

This concept, discussed by Socrates about 2300 years ago, has never left us. It still has the focus of our attention. It was one of the main subjects of attentention of John Rawls!

John Rawls , born in 1921 - he died in 2002- was an American political philosopher in the liberal tradition. His theory of justice as fairness envisions a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights cooperating within an egalitarian economic system.

We will not discuss his ideas here now, although he is on our list of course. We will now focus on the concept of justice itself, for as the ideas of Rawls proof, it will accompany us al the way on our journey through history.

When we speak of justice as a virtue, we are usually referring to a trait of individuals, but we can also see it as a virtue of social institutions. Therefore it is an interesting question how these two meanings of justice relate to each other.

We could put it this way: Justice concerns itself with the proper ordering of things and people within a society. This is interesting, for this makes justice a kind of social, a relational concept.

This could mean, that when you live all alone on an uninhabited island, justice has no meaning. Or maybe yet? Suppose you have made some animal a pet of yours and you are eating some fruit.

The pet might be begging for a piece of the fruit. Suppose you say "Na-na-na-na-na" to the animal and eat all the fruit yourself. Just think about such a situation. Would you do that? Let me drop on term (for you to study): Inequity aversion.

Back to justice. In the first chapters of the Politeia Socrates put a number of definitions of justice to the test. Cephalus suggests the first definition. Justice is “speaking the truth and repaying what one has borrowed”.

Socrates comes with a counterexample. To return a weapon that was borrowed from someone who, although once sane, has turned into a madman does not seem to be just but involves a danger of harm to both sides.

Then the debate goes on about a modified definition: justice is “to render to each his due”, and ends somewhat inconclusive with a definition as justice is rendering to each what befits him”.

Because these definitions concern ways of sharing (of goods) among eachother, you can take the discussion one step further and say that there is a close relation between the definition of justice and our basic beliefs how we OUGHT to live together.

This shows clearly , that when we try to understand justice we are not only dealing with political philosophy, but also with fundamental moral beliefs, that underly the discussion.

When we make a big leap in time and jump directly into the 17th century - don't worry, we'll discuss the skipped period some other time - we meet a man like Hume.

Hume believes that judgments about virtue and rightness depend on our capacity for sympathy rather than on some form of reason

and holds that being virtuous depends on feelings and feelingful motives like benevolence and sympathy rather than on reason.

But the virtue of justice is not natural, but rather should be considered "artificial," according to Hume, because it depends for its existence on human conventions and artifices.

As you see, a completely different approach than in the forgoing centuries. Whether it is a successful approach we will not discuss today.

My point of today is to show you the fascinating and central role which the concept of justice plays in political philosophy.

Don't worry you will not miss anything, for, as I said before, the concept of justice will accompany us through the ages. So there is more to come….

The Discussion

[13:19] herman Bergson: So much for today
[13:20] herman Bergson: You are stunned, I guess ^_^
[13:20] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: there was one definition i liked of justice that i came across which said it is the middle gound between selfishness and selflessness
[13:20] oola Neruda: absolute justice ... would be pretty drastic
[13:20] Gemma Cleanslate: and that could go for government also
[13:20] oola Neruda: if we all got what we deserved
[13:21] herman Bergson: Your remark is a but aristotelian Gemma
[13:21] herman Bergson: Virtue is the middle ground between extremes according to Aristotle
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:21] Gemma Cleanslate: and justice is a virtue
[13:22] Repose Lionheart: Is justice a virtue?
[13:22] herman Bergson: At least it shows that we have an inclination to define the good as something as the mean between two extremes
[13:22] herman Bergson: Justice a virtue?
[13:23] herman Bergson: Well...According to the Greek it is, according to Hume it is an artificial virtue
[13:23] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:23] herman Bergson: It was interesting to discover that
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: artificial?
[13:23] Ganymede Blackburn: I want to go back to the example you gave with pets and fruit. (close to home for a semi-domesticated bird like me). It seems to me that it's still a social relation htere between you and your pet, and if it weren't, the conundrum simply wouldn't be there.
[13:23] herman Bergson: however, Hume comes close to our biological interpretation in my opinion
[13:24] herman Bergson: Yes Ganymed...
[13:24] Ganymede Blackburn: social is artificial, in that it's an emergent quality from interaction. it's abstract, i.e. made.
[13:24] herman Bergson: But I came up with the example because of Inequity Aversion
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: animals are averse to inequity too
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: a deep thing this
[13:25] Ganymede Blackburn: animals are social too.
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:25] herman Bergson: Yes, Repose.that is the point..there are some indications in that direction
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:26] herman Bergson: That is in fact why I got excited about justice...
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:26] herman Bergson: As if it is something 'wired' in our system
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: yes, maybe that is why justice feels odd
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: odd man out, so to speak
[13:27] herman Bergson: That we have a rational explanation for justice as a virtue, is ok
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: i am still wondering about the artificial?????
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:27] herman Bergson: That was the feeling in my example, Ganymed refers to...
[13:28] herman Bergson: it gives you an odd feeling not to share with who ever
[13:28] Annabelle Laminsk: I wouldn't share fruit with a strange animal that wasn't my pet.
[13:28] Annabelle Laminsk: Then it would keep coming back, expecting fruit and that means less for me.
[13:28] herman Bergson: We were talking about a pet, however
[13:28] Saxon Beresford: many people do though Annabelle
[13:28] Ganymede Blackburn just got some fruit and a cup of coffee from Annabelle
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: bird feeding
[13:29] Annabelle Laminsk: You're not a strange bird Ganymede!
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes...we fed birds all winter...
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: WaaaHaHAhahAHA! AhhhhHAhahhAHhahHAH! haha!
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: ㋡ WaaaaHooooooo
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: oops
[13:29] herman Bergson: they ate 25 kg of raw peanuts in two months in our garden
[13:30] Saxon Beresford: what have you got there Herman - pterodactyls??
[13:30] herman Bergson: But we are loosing focus now
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:30] oola Neruda: feed the squirrels all winter too...whether you want to or not
[13:31] herman Bergson: Yes, oola that is th this feleing of , thei drive to share with the other part of our system
[13:31] herman Bergson: that is what fascinated me
[13:31] herman Bergson: because, if that is true...we arent that bad in the end ^_^
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: well some liken justice as close to charity too\
[13:31] Ganymede Blackburn: By artificial, I suppose Hume must have meant created? Like, justice isn't something that has any existence in the world as such. Not an atom of justice in any book of laws or courthouse building.
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: ahha
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: ganymede
[13:32] Ganymede Blackburn: so we collectively imagine it
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Ganymed...
[13:32] herman Bergson: Hume preferred to point at sympathy as the basic drive...
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: interesting Ganymede
[13:32] herman Bergson: from that comes justice, but only as a product of social organization
[13:33] herman Bergson: While for Plato justice was the all over virtue that makes social life possible
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: that's it
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: overall
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: is it the most comprehensive and complex such category of social behaviour, i wonder
[13:34] herman Bergson: In fact I see in Hume some understanding of what we now call the structure of our central nervous system
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:35] herman Bergson: I mean..he came up with psychological interpretations while we point at neurobiological phenomena
[13:35] Athena John: There are those who would argue Justice is simple- eye for an eye, black and white
[13:35] Ganymede Blackburn: would it be fair to say that justice implies society?
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes are right..
[13:36] Ganymede Blackburn: I mean, if there's a war on, ideas about justice change radically
[13:36] oola Neruda: is mercy ever discussed as a philosophical idea or as a virtue
[13:36] herman Bergson: We have be be careful here
[13:36] herman Bergson: there are different kinds of justice
[13:37] herman Bergson: distributive justice means that everyone gets his fair share...
[13:37] Athena John: Ganymede, I disagree. Justice MUST continue unchanged in a society or it doesn't exist at all
[13:37] herman Bergson: in a sitiation of war we could speak of reciprocal justice...the eye for en eye idea
[13:37] herman Bergson: you get what you deserve
[13:37] Ganymede Blackburn: yes, athena, but what if there is no society?
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: perhaps people become less just under the pressures of war
[13:38] Athena John: Then there is no justice- only Revenge
[13:38] Saxon Beresford: surely the basic concept of justice does not change - just our reaction in war to transgressions is more extreme
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:38] herman Bergson: Very true Saxon!
[13:38] Ganymede Blackburn: what if you're in some sort of hobbesian nightmare? how does that change what's just? Does it change what's just?
[13:39] Athena John: So we allow transgressions in war to be swept under a rug?
[13:39] herman Bergson: We have to keep a sharp eye for what is 'normal' and what are exceptions?
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: i hope not
[13:39] herman Bergson: No Athena...therefore is the Court in The Hague in the Netherlands..war criminals are put to justice
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:39] Athena John: Not always
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: no not always
[13:40] herman Bergson: No..not every thief is caught either..but that doesnt prove there is no justice
[13:41] herman Bergson: That we not always behave like angels doenst prove that we are no angels.. ^_^
[13:41] herman Bergson: Like in loves to stress the idea that we are good,, but yet such sinners
[13:42] herman Bergson: So my basic idea here is....justice is a part of our system...biologically even
[13:43] herman Bergson: or should we vote about this thesis?
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: that would be just
[13:43] herman Bergson smiles
[13:43] herman Bergson: Yes Repose it would!
[13:43] Ganymede Blackburn: I think we all agree so far.
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: really?
[13:44] Athena John: I don't think it is a basic human function. Revenge is, but justice is a higher function
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes Ganymed, you wont believe it but indeed it happens now and then
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: there
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: 1 disagrees
[13:45] herman Bergson: yes...:)
[13:45] herman Bergson: higher in what sense Athena if not human?
[13:45] Athena John: It is a function of multiple humans trying to rise above our base instincts.
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: developmentally consequent, maybe
[13:45] herman Bergson: Besides ..revenge is a drive that is caused by an immense feeling of injustice, I would say
[13:46] Annabelle Laminsk agrees.
[13:46] herman Bergson: retributive justice it is called
[13:46] Athena John: For example- if you were to slap me, my first instinct may be to slap you back. However justice says we must have this person tried for assault.
[13:47] herman Bergson: Boils down to the same..retributive justice, but maybe this it was what led Hume to say justice is an artificial virue
[13:48] Ganymede Blackburn: an eye for an eye is actually just. It's the idea that the punishment should be proportionate with the offense.
[13:48] herman Bergson: yes one would see that as unjust
[13:48] Ganymede Blackburn: It's one of the earliest legal principles, from babylonian times.
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: unless the person who put your eye out was insane or 6 years old
[13:49] herman Bergson: our whole law system is based on that concept.. retributive justice
[13:49] Annabelle Laminsk found a loophole!
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:49] herman Bergson: justice implies to take everything into account
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: revenge is not just
[13:49] herman Bergson: Like in the discussion with Socrates...
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: \by the meaning of the word
[13:50] herman Bergson: if justice implies to return what is borrowed he said....should I return a weapon to an insane person that would try to kill me with it?
[13:50] herman Bergson: Am I unjust when I dont?
[13:51] Annabelle Laminsk: Just say you need to borrow it for longer? It's not like you stole it.
[13:51] Ganymede Blackburn: so revenge can be just. it depends on the circumstances.
[13:51] Annabelle Laminsk: Then you don't have to worry. =)
[13:52] herman Bergson: In fact alll laws against criminals are an organized form of revenge Ganymed
[13:52] herman Bergson: Inthe Netherlands we have even a more funny law...
[13:53] herman Bergson: criminals that made alot of money withtheir activities will be robbed of their gians by the state when convicted
[13:53] herman Bergson: A costy revenge
[13:53] herman Bergson: Or better... a well paid revenge
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: is it revenge or justice
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: the gains
[13:54] herman Bergson: It depends Gemma
[13:54] herman Bergson: A matter of definition..
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: i think it is usually justice because it was usually a crime against society.. me!
[13:54] Ganymede Blackburn: taking away what motivates the crime makes sense from a preventative point of view, too.
[13:54] herman Bergson: this kind of punishment is a 'revenge', yes
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:55] Qwark Allen: interesting, the justice as a revenge
[13:55] herman Bergson: Well is a matter wof words here only I would say
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: things to think about
[13:55] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: the word "revenge" implies an attendant passion. is such passion a part of justice?
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: time to go
[13:56] Qwark Allen: good point repose
[13:56] herman Bergson: But punishing criminals by law you could call a revenge of society
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: Thanks you, Professor
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:56] Qwark Allen: justice seems more cold and blind
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: punishment is best carried out dispassionately
[13:56] Qwark Allen: yes, got to go to
[13:56] herman Bergson: Yes Repose...that crossed my mind too....
[13:56] Qwark Allen: party soon
[13:56] Ganymede Blackburn: Revenge is supposedly a dish best served cold, too. =)
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: w0oh0o!
[13:57] Qwark Allen: eheheh
[13:57] herman Bergson: Party time is coming up...We have to dismiss class asap!
[13:57] Sartre Placebo: thx, and good night
[13:57] Qwark Allen: eeheheh
[13:57] Qwark Allen: ******* Herman *******
[13:57] Qwark Allen: ty
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: love not revenge must motivate justice, however naive that might seem to some ㋡
[13:57] herman Bergson: Thank you all!
[13:57] Qwark Allen: very interesting as always for sure
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: thank you professor
[13:57] Saxon Beresford: Thank you Herman
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: wow that was fast
[13:57] Abraxas Nagy: I bkinked and everybody was gone
[13:58] Abraxas Nagy: blinked*
[13:58] herman Bergson: yes Abraxeas.. complete collapse^_^
[13:58] Saxon Beresford: moral of that story - dont blink...
[13:58] Abraxas Nagy: wow
[13:58] Abraxas Nagy: lol
[13:58] herman Bergson: lol
[13:58] Annabelle Laminsk: I still don't get it, the birds and the fruit and the revenge and the mercy.
[13:58] herman Bergson: Keep your eyes open Abraxas
[13:58] Abraxas Nagy: I always do
[13:59] Justine Rhapsody: thanks Professor :)
[13:59] Annabelle Laminsk: And that crazy man's weapon.
[13:59] herman Bergson: Annabelle...youhave a lot to think about then...
[13:59] Annabelle Laminsk: Plenty of things to pester Gany about. =)
[13:59] herman Bergson: So you achieved a great deal
[13:59] herman Bergson: so!
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: see you all next time :D
[14:00] Annabelle Laminsk: He's the great thinker, I just keep his fruit from strange animals on the island.
[14:00] Annabelle Laminsk: =)
[14:00] herman Bergson: See you too Abraxas
[14:00] Ganymede Blackburn: come on, Anna. It's nearly bedtime... =)
[14:00] Abraxas Nagy: :D
[14:00] Saxon Beresford: take care all
[14:00] Saxon Beresford: nite
[14:00] herman Bergson: Sweet dreams Annabelle
[14:00] herman Bergson: Bye Saxon
[14:01] Ganymede Blackburn: It was nice to be able to sit in and listen to you again, Herman. =)
[14:01] Ellla McMahon: have fun everyone :))
[14:01] Ganymede Blackburn: Hope I'll be able to make it for the rest of the series.
[14:01] herman Bergson: You too Ellla

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