Monday, August 14, 2006

Define Justice

Justice is when an action occurs in an arena over which an agent has an established hierarchic governance and, regarding which action, the ruling agent has previously expressed its will to the citizens of that arena, said agent awards benefit or applies detriment to the actor discovered to be responsible in a measure proportioned to that actor's contribution and intention of cause.

Is it justice if an action measured is only possible?
Is it justice if the less measures the greater?
Is it justice if an agent not governing that arena executes a decision?
Is it justice if the actors are unaware of the ruler's will?
Is it justice if the ruler does not consider responsibility?
Is it justice if causality is not the measure of responsibility?
Is it justice if measure of responsible cause does not include degree of intention?

If I am wrong and one hundred percent causal for the above statement, by what definition of justice could I be blamed?


Mark said...

I'm sure when you were in the tub ruminating over this post it made sense.

Lincoln Davis said...

Excellent. Two suggested modifications:

First, I think it is necessary for the citizen to have knowledge of the governor's will in order for the reward or punishment of his actions to be just--it would not have been just for God to punish Adam and Eve's nakedness before they knew it was wrong.

Second, as to the distinction between contribution and intention of cause, it would seem that intention is the only thing that matters. For instance, if God proscribes not only lustful actions but lustful thoughts, then it is just for Him to punish the man who has lustful thoughts; the intention itself is the transgression. If I try to murder someone and fail, I may be culpable under the law (and before God) just as if I had succeeded.

John Barry said...

Davis, regarding your second point, this principle may be distilled from Paul's comment in 2 Cor 8:12, "for if the willing mind is present, according to that which any one may have it is well-accepted, not according to that which he hath not;" (YLT)

The Oracle said...

"has previously expressed its will to the citizens of that arena" is all that is necessary to your first point. If I visit a country other than mine own, it is not incumbent on the governors to inform me of their traffic laws, it is incumbent on me to find them out as they are expressed. Punishment will vary according to knowledge ("those that did not know and did not do what the master ordered will receive a light beating." "the times of ignorance God has overlooked.")
On your second point I don't think you allow for things like manslaughter. If my axhead flies off and kills a man, I am 100% causal with 0% intention. Justice takes that into consideration.

John Barry said...

Evan, How do you understand the "unwitting sins" in Leviticus for which a sacrifice is prescribed? Is there guilt for such sins?

If there is guilt for such sins, as the prescribed sacrifice seems to imply, I believe the ignorance must have been *wilful*. In other words, the offense is not in failing to do what was required, but in being wilfully ignorant of what was required.

If you unwittingly break a traffic law of a foreign land, although on the surface the penalty may be worded as pertaining to, say, going the wrong way up a one-way street, this is not where your guilt actually lies. You are not guilty for going the wrong way up a one-way street, because you were *ignorant* of a particular sign's meaning. Your guilt lies in your (presumably) wilful ignorance of the law.

The Oracle said...

Good comment and a reference which has bothered me whenever I hear it used. "Unwitting sins", I believe, are of that category which fails to discern between Law and Grace. The person was unwitting of what the Law required (which was understandable) and had a sacrifice appropriate for that failure to note the Law. Christians using this command fall into the usual hole that Judaizers fall into. They do a direct transfer from the Law to the Heart as if the Heart in the New Covenant would say the exact same thing. In the New, the unwitting is only the unregenerate. Only people who have to refer to an external law can manage to be unwitting.

Lincoln Davis said...

Regarding the citizen's awareness of the ruler's will, your definition of justice is in full comportment with Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence where "ignorance of the law is no excuse." But is it in comportment with the Scriptures? Again, is it correct to say that Adam and Eve were not culpable for their nakedness until they came to the knowledge that it was sin?

Along with this, there is an element of "knew or should have known." I may culpable under the law of the state of which I was unaware because I could have assumed there was a law that I should have searched out. What makes Adam and Even not guilty was that they neither knew of the law nor could have been expected to know of the law. Perhaps this principle can be incorporated into your definition.

The reason we punish for manslaughter isn't because we blame a man for pure causation, but we attribute intention to him. The flying axehead might not have been something he deliberately intended or knew would happen, but rather he was reckless (knew of the risk and was indifferent) or negligent (should have known of the risk). Still, manslaughter receives a mitigated sentence because the intention behind the action was not as severe as in murder.

Morality is measured by intention, and consequence measured by causation.

John Barry said...

Davis, Where do you get the idea that Adam's and Eve's nakedness was sin? Is not nakedness a *condition*? How can a *condition* be sin?

Lincoln Davis said...

Mr. Barry,

The idea is implicit in the text--after Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they know they are naked, and are ashamed. If the tree gave them knowledge of Good and Evil, and they were ashamed, it sounds like they realized that something was wrong with the nakedness. Indeed, they actually took the right action, because they covered themselves.

As to a condition being sin, this is partially a semantic matter. The US government, for instance, does not punish status crimes--we do not punish someone for BEING a drug addict. We do, however, punish them for using drugs. This is funny in some ways, because you cannot become an addict without using drugs, so you are culpable--not for the condition, but for your act or failure to act.

Similarly, once they had the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve could be punished for the action or inaction of putting on or taking off clothes. Before they had that knowledge, it could be said that their action or inaction was wrong, in the sense of not being in harmony with the world as God made it, and yet before knowledge came, they were not culpable.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Davis, but if it was a sin for them to be naked, doesn't that imply that God made them broken?

Perhaps they did not know that it was wrong for them to be naked, and so they were not to blame for it, but God certianly knew it was wrong. Is God to blame?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Evan, does God command things because they are good, or are they good because he commands them? You vehemently assert against Calvinists that God commands them because they are good. But if God commands things because they are good, then they are good whether he has power to enforce them or not. But that means that if God did not have power, and someone acted evilly yet that person was not punished, but rather got lucky and was "rewarded" injustice would have been done. Therefore if God commands things because they are good, justice is not contingent on power. But you make justice contingent on power. Therefore your definition of justice is false.

Lincoln Davis said...


The rhetorical questions you have asked me may just as easily be answered by you--the text makes it clear that their nakedness was in some sense wrong, and yet this was a state that God placed them in. We know that God did not make the Creation broken, so your suggestion that the incorrectness of their nakedness implies brokenness must be incorrect.

It was not a sin for Adam and Eve to be naked, because they did not know of any command such that they could transgress it, and if it were a sin, the fall would have come before eating of the tree.

However, their nakedness must have been in some sense an evil--remember that they only discovered the problem of their nakedness after they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Regarding God's purpose in all of this, I can only guess, and poorly. But we must accept the text for what it says. I'm not making a fancy argument here, I'm just laying out what's in the Scripture.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Then could you distinguish between wrong and evil and broken? It seems to me that they are synonymous. But on your account God made there be something wrong and evil in the garden. But that seems to me to be equivalent to saying God made something broken.

There are other readings of the text. You say, “they learned of knowledge of good and evil, and this caused them to be ashamed of their nakedness. Therefore there was something shameful in their nakedness.” Why can I not say, “they sinned and this caused them to be ashamed of their nakedness, therefore there was something in their sin which caused nakedness to be shameful”?

I used “sin” because you said “Again, is it correct to say that Adam and Eve were not culpable for their nakedness until they came to the knowledge that it was sin?” But this does not say that they did not sin till they ate the fruit, but that they sinned without culpability prior to eating the fruit. But that is just a semantic matter.

John Barry said...

Isn't justice something like "rendering to every man according to what he has done"?

The Oracle said...

Good comment. It picks up on those lateral things that need to be addressed. I don't believe that there is a "good" that precedes God to which God adheres. I also don't believe that whatever God does is "good" sophistry should be used to get out of difficult moral moments. There is a standard of good to which God adheres but its presence is the result of an omnipotent creator creating consistent with His character. That universe, in which we dwell, can look back upon God and understand that He will act "morally", consistently with what His creation has defined. His character defined the "ups and downs" of creation. It is the shadow of His holiness and He expects to be understood and measured by it.
Your suggestion of "possible worlds" in which God did not have power is rejected out of hand. The gods are defined by the height of their power. The Most High God is precisely that, the Most High. It is like saying,"yes, my vow to my wife is binding but what if it wasn't? Could I date?" Illustrations of possible realities is a better course. Parables from unrealities can make suggestions without self-evident plausibility. Try one that we can believe (like using parents or kings) in which we can imagine the problem you suggest happening. You also seemed to subtract my phrase "established hierarchic governance" and then say that its absence disproved my definition.
My last comment in the post asks by what judgment is my definition assessed? Did you appeal to the ruler of this arena, Reason? Yes you did. Were there laws of Reason which you averred that I had violated? Yes, there was. Was discipline invoked? Yes.
It sounds as if you use a very similar definition of justice. What is it?

Gauloise Smoke said...


[if the discussion is still on] the definition seems tautological without a further elaboration of the notion of "established hierarchic governance", take the States for instance, it did not have such a thing in 1790-s, does this make the Constitution unjust?

The Oracle said...

Mr. Smoke,
Sometimes what some of us see as self evident still has to be stated because some doctrines of some traditions go all Zen when something like "justice" is used in a defined way. My phrase "established hierarchic governance" is my fancy way of saying that we are considering that justice has to derive from the agent who has certain claim to the fief in question. You are correct re. the dicey-ness of the American Rebellion.
I already have defined moral problems with the American Revolution let alone its claim to justice before it had established itself. Overthrow (rather than some form of inheritance of power) always encounters suspicions of its right to rule. It is like a sixteen year old smoking a pipe. He may really like it but we'll see if he is still smoking at 35. As you asked, the Constitution is part of the path to justice. It was, in broad sweeping terms, the revelation of will of the rulers to the citizens.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

My response was about a page long, so I posted it here.

Gauloise Smoke said...

1. For an action to constitute justice, it must occur "in an arena over which an agent has an established hierarchic governance"
2. "established hierarchic governance" = agent has a "certain claim to the fief in question"

'kay, we're getting somewhere, but it's still too vague to provide any meaningful insights

"certain claim'? I claim Latah County. Because I say so. Now what?

It seems that you do not view [the Constitution a couple of hours after it was ratified] as a code presented by an agent with established hierarchic governance

It seems that you do view [the Constitution now] as a code presented by an agent with established hierarchic governance.

When did the switch take place?When did the US Government become an established hierarchic governor? 1795? 1812? 1916? 2001? Or did it become progressively more established and hierarchic, and the Constitution become progressively more just?

The Oracle said...

Mr. Smoke,
Although life is vague at times and attempts to measure these changes of governance are difficult I would suggest first that when I say "certain" I was referring to a place in time when the citizen is convinced that the claim is objectively true. Those intermediate and transitional times are definitely a problem, at least as our knowledge of them would guide our ethical choices (of submission and justice etc.). The circumstances or year of validity I am hard pressed to say but I would say that certain principles would be met. The war with England was the ouster of the previous claimant. That recognition by Britain acknowledged the United States and the vacuum created was naturally filled by the colonial government. It might not be that they had a real claim to all the territory that Britain held but if no one else stepped forward (say the French or the Indians) to claim, by force of arms, the disputed, the society in the colonies found themselves citizen of this new country and that patiently endured state of being gave the fledgling powers time to demonstrate , to the citizens, that their claim was certain.