Lecture 6: Justice
Login to download lecture and curriculum
Discussion of justice on an individual and corporate level.
Political Philosophy and the Christian Worldview
I. Towards a Definition of Justice
A. Aristotle - Justice is giving people their due.
1. Universal Justice
2. Particular Justice
a. Commercial Justice
b. Remedial Justice
c. Distributive Justice
B. Two Principles
1. Formal Principle
2. Material Principles
a. Inappropriate Material Principles
b. Appropriate Material Principles
II. Justice and Love
III. Recent Theories of Justice
A. John Rawls - A Theory of Justice
B. Robert Nozick - Anarchy, State, and Utopia
Course: Advanced Worldview Analysis
What I want to do next I want to go on and talk about justice. And this would be chapter 3 in the Social Justice and the Christian Church book. Now, let me tell you why the concept of justice is important. It's important because liberal statists continue to use the abstract notion of justice as a way of defending the growth of statist power. Whenever some liberal gets up on the floor of Congress and says we need a new program. We need a new program that will cost millions of dollars. They always end up by saying justice demands that we do this. And yet let me tell you there isn't any one such person like this who has the faintest clue what the content of justice really is. Not one of them. If you ever were in the presence of one of these people and say, "You know, I here you talking a lot about justice". If you know what I'm doing here, I'm paraphrasing some of Plato's writings. "You talk a lot about justice. I'm sure you wouldn't talk about justice unless you know what you are talking about. Now I don't happen to know what justice is. So, would you please enlighten me and tell me what the nature of justice really is". You know who couldn't answer that? Ted Kennedy couldn't answer that. Hillary Clinton couldn't answer that. Al Gore couldn't answer that. Well, I'll be honest. George W. Bush couldn't answer that either. But I'm honest, right? The number of people in Washington DC who could tell you the true nature of justice can be counted on the fingers of 1 hand. I think I’d ask Clarence Thomas. I think I'd ask Antonon Skeleido???? Maybe, I don't know? But, I'll tell you this. By the time we leave this class, every one of the 500 people in here will know what justice is. Each of you will know more about the true nature of justice than anybody in Washington DC. Or if we want to expand our horizons, you'll know more than anybody in Beijing, than anyone in Havana, then anyone in North Korea. You'll be a pretty select person.
Now, I have here a few overheads. And I'm not going to pretend that all this is original with me. But I've learnt well from some very well educated people. And let's get going here. I'm going to skip some of the stuff from the chapter. I want to go all the way back to a writing by Aristotle. Now, I don't mean Aristotle Onassis here. I mean Aristotle the great philosopher, the great student of Plato. The man who founded his own university in Athens. The man who did more to tell the world about the law of non contradiction. And that's the subject for another course. OK. The great Aristotle. Now, Aristotle wrote a book called Nicomachean Ethics, apparently named after his son. Just talk about Aristotle's Ethics, but there are really 2- the Eudaimonia Ethics. Yea, I think that's right. I may be a little wrong there. But the Nicomachean Ethics, I think it's along around Book 5. But you can read this. I hope you'll look it up. You can understand this. You can read Aristotle. Now, what Aristotle did first of all, was to say that justice is matter of giving people their due. I don't have that on my screen. But that happens to be a pretty famous and representative Greek statement. When you give people something that they are due, you are treating them justly. When you deny people what they are due, you are treating them unjustly. That's the general idea of what we call the Classical Greek concept of justice, giving people their due. After saying that Aristotle goes on to make some distinctions that I've put on a chart here.
Under the word justice I have a 2 fold division. On the left side I have a little box that has in it the word Universal Justice. And on the right side, I have another box that says Particular Justice. Let me explain these 2 divisions of justice first of all. What Aristotle calls Universal Justice is best understood as righteousness. Being a righteous person. Example. The book of Genesis calls Noah a just man. What does that mean? It means that humanly speaking he was a righteous guy. He was a righteous dude. And you know what movie I've taken that from? I can't remember the title of it yet. He's a righteous dude. Good guy, means he kept the law. He didn't cheat. He didn't steal. He didn't lie, humanly speaking. That's what righteousness is, being as good a person humanly speaking as we can be. Now, this second type of justice on the right side is called Particular Justice. The reason for that name is this. You cannot practice this Particular kind of Justice unless you happen to be in a right kind of setting, the right kind of situation. It is Particular Justice because only particular people can do it if the situation is appropriate. Now, whereas Universal Justice is righteousness, let me add 1 more point here. Another reason why Aristotle calls it Universal Justice is because this is the kind of justice that we normally, typically, properly expect to receive from people. We expect people to be treated fairly. We expect people to be honorable. So it's Universal because there are no restrains on it. You ought to treat people in a righteous way. But Particular Justice you can only do it when you are in a right kind of a situation.
Therefore, in my little chart here underneath Particular Justice, we have 3 more boxes, with connecting lines. And maybe the many people listening by tape can figure out how this must look on the screen and maybe they can draw it themselves. Now these 3 boxes, going from left to right are called Commercial Justice, and then in the middle Remedial Justice, and then Distributive Justice. Now, I want the people listening by tape to sense how brilliant my students are. What kind of a setting do we usually expect to find Commercial Justice. Business transactions. 500 voices spoke in unison there. You'll find Commercial Justice when people are engaged in trading, in buying and selling. Commercial Justice. We expect business people to be honest. We don't expect them to have faulty scales, in fact you wouldn't have trouble finding a whole lot of verses in the Old Testament taking about Commercial Justice. Don't cheat your customers. If you tell them you are giving them a quarter pounder, make sure it's a quarter pounder before cooking.
Now, in the middle we have Remedial Justice. Where do you hope to find Remedial Justice? In a court of law. Again, what a class, man! Wow! And what are the basic rudiments of Remedial Justice? If the man is innocent, don't punish him. And if he's guilty, stick it to him, in a just way. Don't punish the innocent. Don't release the guilty. Don't give pardons to crooks on the night before you leave the Presidency.
Finally, Distributive Justice. In what kind of setting do you expect to find Distributive Justice? Redistribution of, well, let's not jump all the way to the Redistribution of Wealth. Look, all of us can expect to be some time in life in a situation where something that's good, or something that's bad has got to be distributed among 2 or more people. Now, I have a cartoon here. It's from Hi and Lois. This is an example of Distributive Justice. Hi and Lois have 2 children. They're twins. One is a girl, one is a boy, and the girl is slicing up a cake, a chocolate cake. And she says, "I get the big piece because I'm older". And the little boy says, "Only by 5 minutes". See they are twins. And he comes out to his mother and says, "It's not fair!" That means it isn't just. We have a case of Distributive Injustice here. And the mother says, "Is Dotty pulling rank on you again because she was born first?" And he says, crying, "If I'd known it was a race, I would have tried harder". And she says, "You tried hard enough, believe me". Distributive Justice. Situations in life where you have something that's good or something's that's bad that's to be distributed among 2 or more people.
And, a lot of that would have to do with pieces of a pie on Thanksgiving Day when you've got an overweight brother who hasn't worked in the last 10 years. And mother is used to giving him one half of a whole pie. Or all the white meat on the turkey or something like that. Distributive Justice and Injustice. Now there are other examples- serving in the military, the draft, things like that. So, notice this, all the Aristotle really, really knew what he was doing. If Universal Justice is righteousness, something that we expect to get from anybody in any situation, just to be treated fairly. I mean, to be treated justly and honorably. The particular point about Particular Justice is that it is justice as fairness. We have a right to expect that people are going to treat us fairly in business transactions. That people are going to treat us fairly in matters of law. And that people are going to treat us fairly in issues of distribution.
One more point on the chart. Underneath Distributive Justice, I have another line and another box and that box includes the word Social Justice. Do you ever hear that word? All the time! And I often hear a theory as to what people probably mean by Social Justice. I think Social Justice is a species of Distributive Justice. And it is a species of Social Justice in which some good must be distributed or some burden must be distributed that has political and social consequences. That typically Distributive Justice occurs within a family settling or a small setting, but when you start to talk about justice on a national or a bigger scale, then we are talking about something like that.
Now, the next overhead. What I do on this next overhead is distinguish 2 principles of justice. One we call the Formal Principle of Justice, and the second one we call Material Principles of Justice. First let's talk about the Formal Principle of Justice. And this comes right from Aristotle. Aristotle said "Justice means that we treat equals equally, and treat unequals unequally". Now, before I explain Aristotle's position, let me contrast Aristotle's position with a liberal theory. Liberals would say, "Justice means treating everybody equally". You treat everybody the same, treat everybody equally. Now, I've got 2 comments about that. No. 1 it is impossible to treat everybody the same, it's impossible. Every time you give someone an advantage you have to take something away from somebody else to make that advantage possible. You can compare the liberal view of justice, that is treat everybody equally, to squeezing a balloon. What happens to a balloon when you squeeze it? You just push the air somewhere else. Now we have a name for the liberal view of justice. We call it Egalitarianism. That's from the French, Egalitarianism. We could also call the liberal view Equalitarianism. But again I tell you, that even though Egalitarians say we want to treat everyone the same, they do not and they cannot do that.
Now, let me explain the genius of Aristotle's view. Let me go into a little more detail here. First of all, he says, "Let us treat equals equally". That means when we find that 2 people are the same in what we take to be important respects then they have a right to claim that they are due similar treatment. On the other hand, if we find that 2 people are different, they are unequal, they are dissimilar in important respects, then we may have a basis for treating them differently. You get instances of injustice whenever2 similar people are treated differently, or 2 dissimilar people are treated the same. At this point I usually ask my students to consider some of the egregious instances of injustice in their own personal lives, and I guarantee you can even give me examples if you wish. I guarantee whenever you thought that you were similar to somebody else and you got treated differently, you thought you have a claim for injustice. And likewise whenever you thought that you and somebody else were differently and you ended up being treated the same, that was injustice. OK. Treat equals equally and treat unequals unequally. That is true. That's.. I almost say that's gospel. That's the essence of justice.
However there is one little problem with the formal principle of justice. And you know what it is, I bet. What? Of course, the problem is how do you determine this similarity or this difference is relevant to the justice that we are trying to practice. That's when the Material Principles of Justice enter the picture. Now, here's what the Material Principles of Justice do. They recognize there is a gap up here and so these Material Principles of Justice turn out to be all of the important criteria by which different people have at different times identified which similarities or difference among people are relevant. Now, here's what I do. I first of all identify inappropriate Material Principles of Justice. That is any attempt to justify equal or unequal treatment based on these criteria are clearly wrong and clearly unjust. Let me name some of them. First of all, eye color. Who's going to differentiate people on the basis of eye color? But that's a good place to start because it would obviously be so wrong. Can you imagine a country saying, "We are only going to draft for military services people with blue eyes". My goodness, that would be wrong. Or my second example. Baldness. Nothing makes me more angry than discriminating against people on the basis of baldness. Race. This is serious. But the reason I started with these is no one would accept discrimination on the basis of eye color, nor would they accept discrimination on the basis of baldness, but what is the difference between discriminating against people on the basis of baldness or hair color, and discriminating against them on the basis of race. That's clearly an inappropriate criteria. Or sex.
However now, there are times, here me out here. Don't criticize me before I make my whole point. There are a few cases in life when baldness or race or sex is relevant to some distribution. For example, suppose some Hollywood producer is planning to make a movie about Don Rickles. Don Rickles is of course a bald headed comedian. So, it would require a bald headed man, I would think to play Don Rickles in a movie. I suppose the actor would also have to have some other characteristics like aggravating people to death and so on. And if you want to know the truth they have approached me playing Don Rickles in a movie. Oh, you don't think that's funny. Now, race. Suppose they are casting a movie on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. You obviously got to have a Black actor to play that role. Clearly race in that case is relevant. And in the case of sex, if the position you are filling is that of middle line backer for the Pittsburg Steelers, I would say that the Pittsburg Steelers are probably right not to employ a woman to play that position. Anybody want other than the exceptions that I have made? Does anybody dare to try and justify eye color, baldness and race and sex as a Material Principle of Justice. Of course not.
OK, now also inappropriate is wealth, or social position. The reasons here are a little different. Oh, I guess I've got to give you a reason. We are born this way, and we had nothing to do with it. It has no relevance to merit, demerit or anything else. Now, if you are a US Senator, you can correct the baldness by having hair implants and we won't talk about sex changes and things like that. But you get the point here. Now, why is wealth an irrelevant Material Principle? The answer is this. Somebody may have acquired his wealth in an unjust way. One could have earned his wealth in an unjust way, therefore you can't make wealth a condition for treating people justly. And social position could also be acquired in some dishonorable way. So, those are the inappropriate. Now, here are the appropriate Material Principles of Justice. Now, let me read them all. Merit, desert with 1 's', achievement, effort, need. Question. Of these appropriate principles of justice, which one do the liberals go crazy over? Need. Liberals, they talk about equalitarianism, and they talk about need. Need is not a particularly good principle here because need is something that can grow and develop. Example from my grandson. Now, he's outgrown this and if Angel?? ever listens to this tape, I love you buddy. This really happened when you were 7 years old. We go to his house for Christmas and we watch the kids open the presents, and pretty nice presents. And on this particular Christmas every package he opened he said, "Oh, I needed that. I needed that". And he didn't need it, but he got it, and great toy.
People's needs change. And the needs of a below middle class American today would be luxuries 100 years ago. 2 television sets, 3 cars, cellular phone, oh men yeah. Yes, I can't believe the people I sometimes see in the mall with a cell phone. Well, ok, now, I have a theory here. See if you agree with me. No one of these principles always deserves the top position in the scale of appropriate Material Principles of justice. There's a kind of situation relativism with respect to these Material Principles of justice. And you have to take each case on its own ground. I remember teaching at Western Kentucky University, and football players would come to me the first day of class and they would say, "Coach", they always call me "Coach". I think it's because I look like Knute Rockne. They say, "Coach, I need an 'A' in this course". I said, "I don't care what you need. 'A's are distributed in this course on the basis of merit, and accomplishment and achievement". "What's that mean, Coach?" And I said, "You earned it. It's like Smith Barney and money. We make money the old fashion way. We earned it". But if I don't get an 'A' in this course, I won't be able to play in the National Football League". I said, "Get out of here. You'll never going to play in the National Football League. Get out of here".
So, sometimes merit is relevant. Sometimes desert is relevant. It would be interesting to know what the difference between merit and desert is. Sometimes achievement is. Sometimes effort is. I'll let you in on a secret. There have been times when a particularly weak student, maybe weak only because of a bad background has shown me that he really, he would really put everything he's got into a course and I've been known to give a student like that a little higher grade. But if you are ever a teacher, let's say you are teaching in a lower grade or something, and you've got a kid who's really working hard, but he just [can't get it]. Maybe someday, he'll make that leap one day and wake up to be a real budding scholar of some kind, but he just can't get through that reading class in the first grade or something else. What you would want to do is kind of give him an encouragement. Just a 'B' at the right time can just give a kid the right motivation. And I know some people around here don't think I've got a heart. But I've surely done that once or twice in my life, that ought to indicate some kind of a heart.
Here's 1 more example. If what we have here are several people with kidney disease and we got to back 20 years where we only had enough, what do we call those machines that filter out.., a dialysis machine. There was a time when access to dialysis machines was very hard to get. And so, you try and figure out how would you distribute access to a dialysis machine. Well, I'll give you the first criterion. You don't put people on a dialysis machine if their kidneys are perfectly healthy. They have to have need. You disagree with that? I hope not. I had a doctor call me a couple of days ago, and he was talking about the ethics of distributing certain access to certain treatments. And he used this example. He said, "What if you got 2 patients and only 1 of them can get this treatment and 1 of them is a contributing member of society. He has done enormous and great deeds for his community and he's a Christian. And the other candidate for this treatment is just a bump. He has no future, he has never made any contribution to society. He has no future. Maybe he's dying of AIDS or something else". And I said, "It wouldn't be hard for me to figure out who get the treatment". And he surprised me. He said both I and my friend who is the dying Christian here, we both agreed that the non Christian should get the treatment. Well, I didn't want to appear stupid on the telephone. So I just sort of, "Hmmm" and he told me why. He said, "If my friend dies, he's going to heaven. It's the sinner, if we can give him a few more years of life and keep witnessing to him, maybe he'll find the Lord". And I felt a little ashamed. I didn't feel ashamed very long but I did feel ashamed, because there was something there that I had missed, right?
Now, here's Aristotle. Suppose the thing we're distributing are flutes. Did you say flute? Yeah, F-L-U-T-E. Now, who distributes flutes? A band director. And let's say that you're the director of a high school band in which everybody in the band wants to play the flute. But you've only got 5 flutes. I held up 4 fingers but you've only got 5 flutes. So you need a criterion of distribution. What would it be? What is the only proper, relevant criterion for distributing flutes? The wealth of the parents? No. The social status of the parents? The attractive appearance of the student? Musical ability. You give the flutes to the kids who can play the flute the best. That's Aristotle. Now, here's this pagan. He knew nothing about special revelation. But I'm telling you that Aristotle came to recognize principles of justice that I think are consistent with Scripture.
If you will find the page in your handout in which we talked about Justice vs Love. Let's talk about Justice vs Love. Let me read some of this. This is good stuff. Discussions of the Bible's teaching about justice eventually turn into a consideration of a relationship between justice and love. It should be obvious that in some senses love and justice are closely related. But serious questions about the relationship of love and justice can arise in cases where justice is viewed as a necessary trait of governmental action. For example, criminal justice or governmental control over distribution of some good or burden.
It often seems in such cases, that evangelical liberals are prone to a confusion of justice and love. They do muddy the waters. And the kinds of liberals that we are thinking about here will be named in a few weeks. I'll write their names on the board, if nothing else. Here's the reason why the confusion of justice and love reduces the evil by its very nature the state is an institution of coercion. That's the first thing we learned in this course. The state must operate through the use of force. Furthermore if the state is to appear just, it must operate impersonally. Not to act impersonally would be to discriminate among persons. To the extent that governmental regulation and action is relevant to the particular senses of justice. That justice can only be effected, brought about through a state which uses force that is dispensed impersonally and in accordance with law. But this analysis of justice conflicts with the nature of love. 2 ways. Love by definition must be given voluntarily. No one can be forced to love. I'll tell you this. Anybody who wants to object to that statement is going to be in real trouble. You cannot coerce people to love. Whereas the state must always resort to coercion. Moreover, love is always personal in the sense that it is directed at specific individuals. Love discriminates.
One of my favorite characters is Walter Williams, until recently the Head of the Economics Department of George Mason University. Walter Williams is an African American, grew up in the black ghetto of Philadelphia, joined the army without a High School Diploma. Then when he got out of the army, he went to Temple University and he ended up with a PhD in Economics. But whenever Walter Williams talks about discrimination he says, "Listen, there's nothing wrong with discrimination. When my wife accepted my proposal for marriage, she thereby discriminated against every other Black man in the world. In fact every other man, white, Black, Red, whatever. When she chose to marry me that was discrimination. What's wrong with that? We make choices". This is Walter Williams talking. Such discrimination on the part of the state would be a paradigm of injustice. If the state treats people in that personal [way], that's discrimination. And finally love should be willing to sacrifice, to go beyond the ordinary moral and legal requirements of a situation. A necessary coercive state cannot serve as an instrument of love. It can't. The state requires the use of force is incompatible with the nature and demands of love. As soon as the coercive state enters the picture, love must leave.
Now, none of you are old enough to remember what I'm going to talk about. Technically, I'm not old enough to remember either. But how did poor people survive in this country before we had the welfare state? You know the answer? The church, and community. I hear a lot of people and they are not necessarily conservatives who point out what the welfare state did was destroy one of the most important functions of the church, and the community, which was ministering to the needy on a face to face basis. So the people who received grace and love from a religious community would then have an opportunity to express their gratitude and perhaps change their lives in the process. What we have done is depersonalize welfare. And you'll only find out the depths of that mistaken behavior by reading the statistics. Such as that 80% of all births within inner city areas right now are illegitimate, and things like that. We have simply helped proceed more rapidly the moral deterioration of our society.
Well, 1 more thing. There is a passage somewhere in this other section where I talked about the Robin Hood state and the comparison between. But the difference is, of course that Robin Hood and his merry band of outlaws stole from the rich to give to the poor. The welfare state steals from everybody in order to give to a whole lot of people who don't need help sometimes. And here I'm thinking of politicians. I will say a little bit more about that in the next chapter just in case someday somebody listening to this gets some access to the book.
In the next chapter, or 1 of the next chapters, I talked about 2 major theories of justice that became very popular about 25 years ago. And it just so happened that the 2 books were written by colleagues in the Philosophy Department at Harvard University. Not exactly a citadel of pro religious sentiment. The author of the liberal book of justice was a philosopher named John Rawls, who perhaps still is one of the most highly respected philosophers in America. The title of his book was "A Theory of Justice", it is a long dry boring essay defending what amounts to the view of justice held by typical liberal Democrats. The welfare state. It's got a very interesting theory. But for reasons of time I'm not going to be able to go into any of that detail unless one of you pushes me, and I'll be glad to do it. The other book was written by a professor at Harvard named Robert Nozick, N-O-Z-I-C-K. It's title is "Anarchy State in Utopia" and it argued for the precisely opposite position. Rawls was the consummate statist, Nozick was the consummate anti-statist at least at that time. Later events seem to suggest that Nozick didn't really have much personal concerns about these. He was just putting his views on paper. Nozick's book was published by Basic Books, I think. And I think that's all I really want to say. If you ever get a chance to read that chapter, I obviously explained both positions in my eminently fair way. I treat them both justly, I explained their positions. Then I pull out a lot of overwhelming criticisms against Rawls that are not original with me but they really are devastating. And I also then explained Nozick's position and there are lot's of problems with Nozick's position as well.
But for those who read that chapter, I think it is still, let me just say this, in the 25 years since those 2 guys published their books, there hasn't been a public debate about justice to equal what was going on 25 years ago. And I guess there is no need for anybody to write new books because Rawl's and Nozick's positions have become somewhat paradigmatic of the whole debate on that matter. And even today, we are still going to have to end up on the statist side or the anti-statist side. And that's all I really plan to say about Nozick and Rawls. There're some very fascinating arguments in those books, although in Nozick's case, there are a little easier to follow than Rawls' case.
If you are enjoying this lecture, would you consider making a donation so others can learn from it as well?
BiblicalTraining is a non-profit and relies on its users for support.