Is a little injustice sometimes necessary for a democracy
June 30, 2018 at 3:59 pm #9899
John Rawls wrote:
Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.
This view is a direct frontal assault on “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Is it practical? Is there any such thing as a policy with no downside for some of those it affects?
Isn’t it true that every right and every freedom for one person exists by dint of denying a right or freedom to someone else?
June 30, 2018 at 4:42 pm #9901
- This topic was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Unseen.
It’s inevitable that for any given government policy, some people will be affected better or worse than others.
“The greatest good for the greatest number” is junk and it always was. If you think about it, it just doesn’t work in everyday life. We don’t follow it.
I think Rawls is referring to the same thing as Kant’s “ends and means” – that people are an end in themselves, valuable for being human, and not means to something else. In other words, the individual is inviolable under the law.
What is workable is “the greatest benefit and least harm available for each individual concerned”, and this takes account of the individual. I think this is actually a formula for fairness, i.e. justice, too.June 30, 2018 at 4:53 pm #9902
“Isn’t it true that every right and every freedom for one person exists by dint of denying a right or freedom to someone else?”
– when “you” act, each person affected by “your” actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them. This is a definition of fairness and one of the bases of ethics. Perhaps the other is “helping in response to need”, but then, the first is just a more complicated version of the second.December 11, 2018 at 2:33 pm #24871
Here is a very interesting lecture about Rawls and the social contract.December 11, 2018 at 8:30 pm #24877
So Rawls rejected traditional utilitarianism as being unsatisfactory. He proposed that a principle of state justice (which utilitarianism apparently claims to be) should be seen from the standpoint of the most disadvantaged person from behind the veil of ignorance: any of us could be that person, therefore any self-interested person would want this.
Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.
This gets round the inherent injustice of traditional utilitarianism, by treating each person as a person instead of a means to an end. It would seem to be highly compatible with an alternative version of utilitarianism which works in the interpersonal sphere: each person affected by my actions is to receive the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them.
It is not my job to actually take care of a vulnerable stranger, while it is the job of an ideal state. However, it is my responsibility to behave ethically towards others.
This whole idea is compatible with the Golden Rule and self-other equivalence: I will treat each person as I or a valued other would expect to be and benefit from being treated.December 11, 2018 at 9:15 pm #24878
I am sure Rawls must have read “The Social Contract” by Rousseau (1792) and his idea of “General Will”.
In order for a society to work its members must be prepared to give up a degree of freedom by obeying the rules of that society. By doing so they gain certain advantages, such as protection, community groups and access to shared resources. When a society strives to live by the General Will principle all its members should want what it best for that society so that is can flourish to the betterment of each individual rather than for each person’s individual (selfish) needs.
It might read better if I say that there is a trade-off made between serving self-interest which benefits the individual and serving the common good which benefits the society.
He had some interesting ideas about the fairness of the laws of that society and how they should allow the individual to be able to attain personal freedom as long as they did not encroach on the freedoms that others were trying to exercise. (Think Freedom of and from Religion). If anyone broke those laws then the society could (and maybe should) “force them to be free” somewhere else. That might seem a little unjust but it could be necessary for that society to survive.December 12, 2018 at 7:33 am #24882
all its members should want what it best for that society so that is can flourish to the betterment of each individual rather than for each person’s individual (selfish) needs.
I think all its members want to follow social norms, and following social norms is good for the society. Social norms include treating others with respect and kindness (at least in-group members).December 12, 2018 at 8:57 am #24885
Rousseau is really only talking about what is best for society in terms of its laws. Once laws are established and adhered to then social norms can develop. Not all people want to follow social norms. I ignore or disagree with many of them. Treating people with respect and kindness only becomes a social norm in societies where the rule of law and legal restraint is placed on individual freedoms. We allow must sacrifice some for the common good. Only once a large proportion of that society agrees to comply with those laws can the group flourish and gain or earn respect from other members. Respect is earned and there are plenty of people and groupings with my society that I have zero respect for. I have no problem letting them know this, especially those that want to make laws to suit their own agenda by curtailing the freedoms of others within my society. Think of religious or right wing nut-jobs for starters. The only respect they get from me is the effort it takes me to raise my middle finger in their direction.December 12, 2018 at 12:09 pm #24886
But as it says in the lecture, “there never was a [making or signing of a] social contract”, in that there was never a pre-contract phase (except pre-human) and then everyone decided to make a contract.
I think it’s much more plausible that social norms came first, and a society’s laws reflect its social norms.
I hold to the view that the social contract that exists – people inherently agree to abide by at least some laws and norms – comes from the need to make a commitment to cooperative relationships and to the right way of doing things, which includes the right way to treat others (otherwise the cooperation will fail, and I will look like a bad person). Cooperation came first, which takes commitment, and commitment to the right way of doing things, on a small scale, in small groups, leads to commitment to the “right” way of doing things on a large scale, in large groups.
there are plenty of people and groupings with my society that I have zero respect for.
Presumably you would “piss on them if they were on fire”, and I think nearly everyone has respect due to them as a human being.December 12, 2018 at 4:01 pm #24887
nearly everyone has respect due to them as a human being.
I would say “everyone”, if we follow the “veil of ignorance” and assume that any of us could have been born into the position of not being seen as human for one reason or another.April 6, 2020 at 7:33 pm #31023
This is a good question to which I have returned. “Fairness” or “justice” is made up of each concerned individual’s feelings. If one person concerned has reasonable grounds not to be happy with the benefit or harm they have received (utilitarianism), then fairness (justice) has been violated. Thus, justice and utilitarianism are connected.
It is true that utilitarianism could conflict with other principles, like rights, because it focuses on a narrow conception of benefit and harm. But we can define benefit to be thriving; “utility” (what you find useful); or goal achievement, and rights are covered under these definitions.April 6, 2020 at 8:43 pm #31024
@simon – are you thinking of Bentham and his Greatest Happiness Principle here? If the vast majority of people in that society think the decision to be fair and justice is seen by them to be served is it still not a just decision?
The person on the receiving end of the decision may feel aggrieved and feel unhappy (rightly or wrongly so) but the happiness of the majority is maintained.
Yes, our sense of fairness and justices is based on our emotional reactions to crimes and punishments but the agreed laws of society should be dispensed without emotion as if with a blindfold on.April 7, 2020 at 7:11 am #31026
But the point is, whether it’s the greatest good for the greatest number, or maximising happiness (probably the same thing) – an injustice has been done to one person, therefore the situation is unfair.
I’m saying that for justice to be done, each person has to be reasonably happy with the utility they have received. If the majority has benefited from one innocent person’s unjust misfortune, then the majority are not reasonably happy, but unreasonably happy. The innocent person is reasonably unhappy. So, overall, a crime has been done, even if it makes the majority happy.
“Reasonable” means taking other ethical principles into account. It’s effectively the same as “the maximum benefit and minimum harm available” to someone. If there was a choice over whether to frame an innocent person, then they didn’t need to be framed, more benefit was available to them, and the principle of fairness has been violated.
the agreed laws of society should be dispensed without emotion as if with a blindfold on.
It depends on the emotions. There are ethical emotions like a desire for fairness, and these need to be taken into account. What also needs to be taken into account is the effect on the victim.
How does Paul Bloom’s “rational compassion” work? I think probably he’s talking about justice or fairness, which can be reduced to a rational formula (maximum benefit and minimum harm available to all concerned or affected).April 7, 2020 at 11:20 am #31027
Judge Judy: I don’t want to make an idiot out of someone if I don’t have to.
Defendant: that’s fair.
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