Circle the wagon train, boys!

Mark summarizes the disagreements so far and extends his argument.

The disagreement between Micha and me on whether Justice is subjective or objective has reached an interesting point where I need to make a self-referential statement. I don't think this falls into the trap of being a circular argument (where I claim to prove something by assuming the position I want to reach), but if you haven't been following the argument up until now, you should go back and start reading from Bill's review of a cowboy movie that inspired the discussion.

Micha has two objections to my position that Justice is an objective system based upon 1) the real-world observation that individuals have volition over their lives, and 2) the single ethical choice that the individual will respect the volition of others, so long as they show a reciprocal respect. Micha?s objections are:

1) When I talk about Justice, I am only identifying one of what may be a number of logically consistent ethical systems. It is unfair to ignore others.

2) Justice cannot be verified as Science can be. If we assume a premise and follow it through to various consequences, we have no comparison to the real world that can speak to the correctness or incorrectness of our premise.

As I said in the comments somewhere along the way, I will concede the first objection. There may be other logically consistent ethical systems that follow from a basis set of a few intuitive assumptions. I will stop capitalizing Justice. Maybe you can help me come up with a name for the type of justice system I mean. I don?t like ?individual justice? (sounds too subjective); maybe ?natural justice? if there are no conflicting uses in the history of Philosophy.

As to the verifiability of a system of justice, I realize that there is a way that I verify the consequences of the ethical choice I make. I measure them against my own personal contentment in life. This doesn?t let me speak to whether I can verify the ethical choice you make. I can evaluate the choice you make, though, to see if it is compatible with mine.

Of course, if I did have a way of verifying other individual?s ethical choices, I would come dangerously close to constructing a G?del sentence for the system?a logical conclusion that refutes the premise. I concede that you have volition. I claim to respect your volition. If I make a volitional choice, and the logical consequence of it is that I don?t allow you to make the corresponding choice in the same situation, then either you don?t really have a choice, or I don?t respect it.

But I can live with where this conclusion leads us. A cowboy walks into a saloon. He knows the local sheriff is evil. He?s seen evil and what it can do, and he?s smart enough to know that he can protect himself against it without succumbing to evil itself. But he?s outnumbered in this town, and has to decide whether his life is worth this fight, or whether he should cut his losses and ride on. He speaks plainly to the townspeople about what their choices are and waits to see their reaction. A Quaker is in the corner (what?s a Quaker doing in a saloon?), he won?t fight with the cowboy, but he certainly won?t get in his way. The sheriff recently killed a farmer. The farmer?s daughter is there, and she?s consumed with rage. She doesn?t give a damn about logic and where it leads, she just wants raw, animal revenge. There?s another five men with families that feel like the cowboy and realize that this is their best opportunity to get rid of the sheriff. One of them might not have the stomach to follow through, but if the fight goes well he will stand with them. Two of the others aren?t well trained, but the other two knew this day would come sooner or later and have been preparing for it. It?s about what the cowboy expected; he knows that there aren?t but so many ways a man can choose to live his life, and sooner or later a man knows it?s time to act on those choices or give up his idea of what it means to be alive.

The ?justice of mutual respect for all humans? is a choice we make, and it is a personal choice for each of us. Humans really do have volition, and that gives them the power to use force against each other. We can use our force within the constraints of a logically consistent system of mutual respect to defend ourselves. Understanding this relationship gives us the foresight to prepare ourselves for the consequences of an attack, it lets us judge who is a potential ally and who is a potential foe, and it gives us the ability to encourage others to make the same choice. That?s good enough for me.

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Mark, some clarification

Mark, some clarification please. It seems like there is an attempt in your second proposition to determine when it's o.k. to injure someone. You seem to want some way to make it clear that if an injustice occurs that there is some way to rectify that. In short kidnapping and theft are bad but jailing and fining are o.k.

Yes, another book recomendation. The evolution of cooperation by Robert Axelrod. ISBN: 046502122.

In short kidnapping and

In short kidnapping and theft are bad but jailing and fining are o.k.

I suppose so. Of course, I won't accept the easy answer that jailing and fining are okay because the government says so.

I am fairly comfortable with an individual responding with force to stop an attack. I can even understand the practicality of temporarily holding someone in custody until their guilt or innocence can be determined. But what happens after that? To punish an individual for a crime requires you to deliberately injure him or her.

I went back and re-read the discussion this morning from Bill's original review onward, and decided that you made a point earlier that I don't think I understood at the time.

there are two views (at least) of justice

At the time, I thought you were saying that there were at least two systems of justice, but I now think you were talking about "justice viewed as a personal code" versus "justice viewed as an institution". Is this correct?

I have a knee-jerk reaction to say that institutions are simply shortcuts in typical ways of thinking so individuals don't have to work so hard. For example, I don't think many people will argue with me if I make the observation that most, but not all, humans throughout history and across cultures have paired up into heterosexual, monogamous relationships (especially if I point out that I didn't say 'lifelong' monogamous relationships, so I am including relationships that last for only a limited amount of time). A culture might institutionalize this relationship and define who may or may not participate, the minimum amount of time the relationship is expected to last, rituals to go through to start or dissolve the relationship, and even standard contractual terms for the parties to enter into. This may make it easier for me to introduce my wife to someone and have them understand our relationship, but if the institution disappeared overnight it wouldn't change the personal agreement she and I have between us.

Another example might be the 'institution of a publicly listed company' compared to 'a general contract between willing buyers and sellers'. Having the institution defined may be a convenient way to establish a market in stock trading without large overheads for doing due-diligence on a diversity of contractual relationships, but it doesn't really change the nature of the fundamental relationship between the parties involved.

Is the distinction more important when we talk about 'justice as an institution' compared to 'justice as a personal code'?

Is the distinction more

Is the distinction more important when we talk about 'justice as an institution' compared to 'justice as a personal code'?

For instance, an individual will usually forego logical consistancy in the interest of personal survival. But it seems more of a footnote for the institution (when the accused bases his defense on 'necessity'). Is this an important distinction?

Not really. In my post I was

Not really. In my post I was trying to illustrate the subjective nature of justice.I was doing this by stating that the views of an individual may be quite different from that held by most other people in a particular society. As you noted these views can be codified by an institution. The Quakers codifying pacifism, for example. This is spite of the fact that within this society and its institutions there may be some variance of views of what constitutes justice and even pacifism.

The inherent problem I see with an objective determination of justice is that you have to make this applicable to all people at all times in all places. Let's start with my own definition of injustice, which is the purposeful intent to injure an innocent individual. You have to have a matrix in place that determines 1) purposeful intent 2) innocence and 3) injury. All three of these can be highly subjective to different people.

Furthering mudding the waters. As you also noted people really do have the power to pick up a rock and hit you with it. This means every group of people has to have a way of preventing or limiting the amount of injustice among them or you won't have that group for long. Picking on the Islamists.
If a woman has committed and is convicted of adultery, she is buried up to the neck and stoned to death. Now the woman did cause intentional injury to her innocent husband. In short she has created a form of injustice. But has the cause of justice been served? It depends on who you ask. If you use the principle of least means necessary to prevent injustice, you would probably say no. If you feel that the punishment should fit the crime or make the first victim whole, then you might say another injustice has been created because the amount of injury used in rectifying the initial injury creates an innocent victim out of the original perpetrator. You may also say that in this case the society in which this happened doesn't have a role in preventing, punishing or limiting this type of injury. The devout Muslim would say the punishment is just.

Won't be able to get to a computer this weekend, but it's been fun.

If justice (and thus

If justice (and thus morality) is subjective, then what reason is there to prefer any moral proposition to any other? Is the difference between thinking theft (...or rape, or murder, or genocide...) is wrong and thinking it isn't the same as the the difference between thinking chocolate tastes better than vanilla and thinking it doesen't?

Moral subjectivism reduces to moral nihilism.

Shadow Hunter: The inherent

Shadow Hunter: The inherent problem I see with an objective determination of justice is that you have to make this applicable to all people at all times in all places.

John: If justice (and thus morality) is subjective, then what reason is there to prefer any moral proposition to any other?

Mark: By subjective, do you mean:


A) We have no basis for comparing our ideas. Each mind is isolated with no guarantee that the sounds they utter represent the same thing as when another mind utters similar sounds. Therefore, one opinion is as good as any other.


Or,


B) We can reach different conclusions by applying the rules of logic to our observations when we use different premises.

I gave Micha the above choice for a couple of definitions of subjectivity a while ago. I think the strong (A) definition leads to the problem John is worried about. Does (B)? And is there a problem with applying a definition of justice to all people universally as Shadow Hunter says?

Well, if you try to enforce your system of justice for all people, I would guess so. That's why our cowboy has to decide whether he fights or rides on. If enough people don't share your basic assumption about right and wrong or if they haven't the resources to enforce their assumption, a consequence of your attempt to follow through on your definition with your actions may lead to nothing more than your own destruction.

I do not maintain that all people must make the axiomatic choice to respect other's lives so long as others reciprocate. Anyone can choose to think and act however they please and can even make choices which are logically inconsistent. I am not even saying that everyone within the society where my assumption of justice is enforced must make this same choice.

But, I think that universally we can observe how people act to understand what assumptions they make. I think that universally an internal contradiction in logic or a contradiction between an assumption and how the world really works will both show serious flaws in a system.

Physical science has an advantage that economics and justice do not. Until recently, one could claim that it was deterministic (that certain results would always follow in the same situation) and exclusive (that it gave the only possible explanation of the physical world) and probably get away with it. Economics and justice study human volition, which brings up questions of determinism and objectivity much earlier. In science, anyone can believe any fool thing about how the world works and take action accordingly. In economics, anyone can decide a piece of junk is worth whatever they please and barter accordingly. In justice, anyone can believe that strange monsters tell them to attack you. But does acknowledging human volition destroy our ability to decide whether an observation or a logical deduction is valid or not, everywhere, for all people, at all times?

"I gave Micha the above

"I gave Micha the above choice for a couple of definitions of subjectivity a while ago. I think the strong (A) definition leads to the problem John is worried about. Does (B)? "

No. But B applies to physics too. We can reach different conclusions as to whether the world is round or flat if we start from different premises, even if we both reason correctly. But at least one of us would be wrong.