I watched a programme on BBC 4 recently called ‘Justice -a citizens guide‘ by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel who is a political philosopher. It was beyond excellent, even though Sandel is a reluctant communitarian, which I am not.
It was the first time in my life I had actually considered what the word ‘Justice’ means, because well, we all sort of know what justice means, it usually means in common parlance dishing out revenge and getting the State to sort it out, or getting recompense from somebody that has treated you in that currently over used word ‘unfairly’.
Well there were two things that I learned immediately, that for Justice to exist there has to be a common framework that we philosophically all agree on, to the extent that it becomes second nature or ‘natural’ to use.
Secondly there is no such thing as natural Justice, it differs across cultures. I am not talking her about the severity of punishment differing between say Iran and Britain, or China and America, but the basic concepts differ as a result of our ideas or concept of ‘Justice’.
On that basis I find it very difficult now to understand how the differing concepts across Europe can ever be brought together in one European code. I also saw yesterday convicted perjurer Tommy Sheriden promising to come out of jail to carry on fighting for Justice !
The only natural ‘Justice’ that exists is that of the Jungle. If you upset a Lion as an antelope you will get eaten, no fairness, you will get eaten because you are weaker as an antelope. The Strong with sharper teeth get the Justice.
In Britain we appear to have adopted the utilitarian concepts of Jeremy Bentham.
Justice is what is required to keep the majority of people happy. The example used was if a jumbo jet full of people is known to have a bomb on board ticking down to zero, and you have captured the bomber – is it right to torture the bomber to save the three hundred people on board? The answer most people gave was ‘No’ – it was not right to torture, and that the three hundred should be sacrificed so that we could be ensured of not being tortured by the Government.
The utilitarian argument was served by the majority having the greater happiness knowing they would not be tortured, than the three hundred who would die. The utilitarian model we follow dictates ‘Justice’ for the majority and the bomber, and ‘injustice’ for those at the hands of the bomber.
You then have further complications – as with the Pan Am bomber – released to allow British citizens and companies to have the greater happiness of Libyan oil.
In Germany they follow the Kantian Philosophy of ‘Human Dignity’. It is enshrined in the German constitution.
This is where the citizen is deemed to have transgressed fundamental codes of behaviour if it diminishes Human Dignity. If your husband/lover/partner is being chased by somebody who wishes to kill him, he hides and tells you to answer the door, do you say ‘he is not here’ to the murderer and tell a lie thus diminishing your human dignity or say ‘yes, he is under the bed’. In the latter case you have not diminished your human dignity by telling the truth in Kantian terms.
This was teased out further by a real case in Germany, were a child was kidnapped and the kidnapper was captured on collecting the ransom, he then refused to say where child was being held. The local police chief concerned that the child would starve to death, threatened the kidnapper with dire punishment. In the event the child was already dead, murdered soon after the kidnap. The Kidnapper was prosecuted and jailed, as was the Police Chief punished by a Court for breaking the law and diminishing the ‘Human Dignity’ of the kidnapper. The premise being that by acting in such a manner he had diminished the human dignity of the whole society by his actions.
The third was the ‘Aristotelian’ – that we should all develop a sense of the ‘virtuous’ as citizens, and take part in virtuous development as people and society, by partaking in debates on all aspects of society and thus be virtuous as citizens. The Athenians following Aristotle’s principles, debated for three days whether it was morally right to fight Sparta that was invading its lands.
The further example used was that the students that took to the streets in Athens were morally right to protest and to seek ‘justice’, but morally wrong to use violence and to firebomb a bank and kill people to seek ‘justice..
The Benthamite philosophy is the one that fits the social democratic model (demos=rule of the mob) we live by. If you are in the majority view you get justice as you are in the majority, if not tough, you will not get justice if you are in the minority, or the utilitarian model deems that the greater happiness lies in Libyan oil, you will not get nor should expect justice because it is not in the interest of the ‘greater good’
Aristotle only applied his principles to an elite, (aristocracy) no women, no slaves. Only the virtuous (or righteous) . Much of this can also be seen in British justice. The elite make the laws to control the unvirtuous, hence we hear of ‘public service’ from the elite and civil servants. They are merely an elite seeking the maintenance of the elite and to stop the plebs destroying each other and the elite.
So if you ever hear people say there is no ‘Justice’ they are right because there are many kinds of Justice, it just depends where you are in the scale of things in terms of power. Laws are just written extensions of a philosophy. We have very little way in Kantian fundamental principles of behaviour.
Fascinating stuff, for justice and injustice to exist you have to have ‘society’ and somebody to determine who the winners and losers are in ‘justice’.