What does justice mean to you?

November 1, 2013Jake DiMare

In a recent post about jury procedure law blogger Scott Greenfield suggests there are many people who haven’t thought very hard about justice.

“People like justice, though few have given it enough thought to realize what a ridiculously meaningless word it is.”

I agree with the notion that people like justice and I don’t disagree with the second part of his statement. Many people give very little thought to anything besides what’s directly in front of their face. We should strive to resent the masses less over this. Western society is not structured in such a way as to leave people with much time or incentive for contemplation while powerful moneyed interests work very hard to ensure most people are as stupid as possible. Fewer still, who ever show any interest in philosophical inquiry, will have the resources to expand their understanding by connecting with other deep thinkers.
I do, however, have a big problem with Scott’s assertion that the word is without meaning. Though, it’s not surprising to me that an officer of the court system in this country would feel disillusioned about what justice is and isn’t. I have given the concept much reflection, and I have decided there are certainly two versions, with very different meanings:

  • The justice of men, established by corrupt institutions such as governments and churches.
  • Empirical Justice

In the case of the former, I certainly agree, it’s pretty hard to put your finger on meaning. After all, this is the justice established by powerful men with rules crafted specifically to ensure they are able to maintain power with impunity. The kind of justice that encourages stealing land from native inhabitants, building fences around it, and determining it should be for private use only. Maybe throw a few slaves out there for good measure. (By the way, if you think slavery doesn’t still exist…you’re not thinking hard enough.) The kind of justice where millionaire gamblers bring the world economy to it’s knees, while ruining the lives of millions of our fellows, and get by with a slap on the wrist while they are bailed out by poor people. Yet men are thrown in cages for inhaling the smoke of burning weeds.
The other kind of Justice, genuine empirical Justice, is certainly not a current trend. It asserts that all men and women are truly created equal (not the bullshit equality in the Constitution…Real equality) and are therefore owed an equal share of their birthright, the wealth and resources of our combined home, this planet Earth we live on. It asserts we are all due equal treatment from one another…Fairness. I can understand why a man who works in the American version of justice may have lost sight of the word’s true meaning…But I hope humanity never passes a point where it is too late for real Justice to make a comeback.
Empirical Justice* is most closely aligned with John Rawl’s Theory of Justice but, I think, even he gets it wrong. A key tenet to his thinking is that we start with people of different class distinctions who must imagine their circumstances from an original position, that is a superposition in which they do not know if they are rich or poor, and decide what the right system of distribution should be.  Again, this is man deciding what is just.
Empirical Justice is far less complicated: You were born, therefore you have rights to an equal share of the gifts and fair treatment we all deserve. Can you work hard, and, through a market free from coercive power, convince others to give you some part of their birthright? Yes. In fact, this would be a necessary system for progress to occur since some people will undoubtedly still be better at making shoes than plowing fields. But it will be their choice to give up some of their inherited wealth in exchange for time to do nothing, or something else. In modern society we all start with nothing…A status which is the result of the coercive effects of society. Not nature.
So I wonder, what does Justice mean to you? Does it matter?
*Originally read: “In my estimation, empirical Justice…” It was rightfully pointed out that something being ‘in my estimation’ devalues the meaning of empiricism and I therefore edited it.

Comments (6)

  • shg

    November 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    “In my estimation, Empirical Justice is most closely aligned with John Rawl’s Theory of Justice but, I think, even he gets it wrong.”

    Perhaps you should ponder the irony of this statement for a while when considering your contention that empirical justice has meaning. You’re a bright guy. You’ll get it. Eventually. Just be patient.

    1. Jake DiMare

      November 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      That’s fair, but does this rhetorical mistake erode the entire foundation of my belief? Or is it the very fact that it is my belief which makes it meaningless?
      Or perhaps, it is that in order to be meaningful justice must be enforced through coercive power and therefore there is only the justice of powerful men?

      1. shg

        November 1, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        You’ve leaped over a core problem, defining “justice” in an applicable fashion. We in the “justice” biz have people come to us all the time, asking to purchase “justice.” And we’re happy to sell them as much “justice” as they can afford. Sometimes, we even validate their parking.
        The beauty of it is that the guy on the other side is selling “justice” too, except it’s not the same as our “justice.” Different colors, sizes, shapes and smells. But their customer wants their flavor of “justice,” while our customer wants ours.
        Justice. New and improved. Now more expensive and in handy bite-size.
        We all “know” what “justice” is. It’s just that tends to differ from person to person, situation to situation. Kinda like sweet and sour chicken, provided your not vegan. Does this help?

        1. shg

          November 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm

          And fix my typos, dammit. What am I paying you for?

        2. Jake DiMare

          November 3, 2013 at 1:38 am

          Yes… to an extent. But what outside the justice business? Assume for a second I am humble enough to admit it’s not my flavor… is there any such animal as universal justice?

          1. shg

            November 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm

            Is there? It would seem as if there should probably be some things that we can all agree are “just,” such as not sending an innocent person to execution. Yet, Justice Scalia doesn’t seem to agree, arguing the finality and the efficacy of the process trump the killing of an innocent.
            I’m not excluding the possibility, but noting that justice is normative, and anything normative is a matter of personal perspective. So is there such a thing as universal justice?
            If so, tell me. I’m all eyes.

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