Saturday, March 31, 2012


There are some intellectual giants who have the perfect knack for putting the truth out there just right. I have always found it helpful to look for them and, whenever possible, let them lay it out there. So, here you go... we'll open by letting the smartest man to ever live define it for us.

~~ "Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him." --Saint Thomas Aquinas ~~

Simple, eh? Just do what you ought to do. Period.

Simple, that is, until we actually think about it. When we try to imagine all the times we did not do what we ought to do, it begins to make us feel pretty lousy, eh? No worries-- St Thomas was not saying that we always do what we ought. He was certainly not saying that even he always did what he ought. Instead, he was doing what all good philosophers do: identifying and describing the virtue so that it can be examined and, ultimately, sought out in ourselves.

Still... I feel I need more to go on. Who decides what we "ought" to do, anyway? Us? How do we figure that out if we're still struggling with the basic concept? Until we know what it is, then we can't really answer any other questions about it. The problem is, the very question "What is Justice?" is a non-empirical one. It has been said that Justice is Truth in action... but there again is the problem. There is not really a recognized method for for getting to the answer. So, I think we need to run down some other thoughts.

First, we will establish that Justice is something good and important that we should want to attain.

~~ “Nothing is to be preferred before justice.” --Socrates ~~

~~ "I think the first duty of society is justice." --Alexander Hamilton ~~

Agreed. Next question: is it a societal attribute, or an individual virtue? I think that, like many other virtues, we have to have it in our private hearts and then live it every day in our society. Then, without doubt, it will become a social norm. If the individuals that make up society are found to be lacking in Justice-- or any other virtue-- then it will surely be in short supply in the State. That concept should be intuitive to all of us, whether or not we have read Plato.

~~ “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens” --Plato ~~

Justice is not so easily defined and understood as we made it seem above, I fear. In fact, I submit that Justice is that thing that many people call for on a regular basis without having a good grasp on what it actually means. If they did have such a grasp, they would probably not be so quick to shout for it. Politicians believe that they are all over the Justice thing... so they legislate and legislate and legislate... and we are no better off then before they did that-- and actually, some would insist, far worse off. After all, Cicero warned us that the more laws there are, the less Justice there would be. That thought is not so counter-intuitive as it may seem at first blush.

Here are some things that Justice is not:

Justice is not revenge.

Justice is not compassion.

Justice is not necessarily equality.

Justice is not necessarily fair.

Justice is not necessarily pretty.

Moving forward, we can see that Justice, once attained, brings a strength to any other characteristic or virtue that they would not otherwise have. For example:

~~ “Without justice, courage is weak.” --Benjamin Franklin ~~

~~ "Knowledge without justice ought to be called cunning rather than wisdom." --Plato ~~

~~ "In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?" --Saint Augustine ~~

~~ "Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful." -- CS Lewis ~~

...and on and on. Let that soak in a moment. Justice brings rectitude to other virtues. That is, if it is attained and practiced properly. We keep coming back to that, don't we?

Like the people mentioned above, I want Justice. I want it for myself and I want it for my family and my country. So... where do I get it? Who owns Justice and where does it come from? Some will say that it is just a thing that is floating out there somewhere for anyone to grab as they see fit. To me, these are the same people who live their lives attesting that there are multiple truths-- your truth, my truth, their truth... and we should not force our truth on them. That is, in itself, an entire essay, so I will pass on it for now.

Let's proceed on the non-empirical, but imminently intuitive, path that God owns Justice.

~~ "All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory; they have no power over the substance of original justice." --Edmund Burke ~~

That sounds perfectly right, but is it a comfort to know that God alone owns Justice, and we only attempt to borrow it? It certainly should be... but is it? I think the more you know about the true nature of His Justice, the less you may be comforted. Until you begin to practice it the way He wants you to, that is.

~~ "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." --Thomas Jefferson ~~

If we want Justice, then we must be prepared for it to come to us; and when it comes, it will come in its own way, with little regard for our personal notions of "fair" and "equal" and so forth. We must be ready to both stand with Justice and to stand before Justice. If we can learn to do that, then we will be on solid, if somewhat frightening, ground. If we can embrace it, then Justice will strengthen our core and bring to fruition the seeds of morality that are inside each of us. I do believe this.

~~ "At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst." --Aristotle ~~

All right, all right... now we want Justice, don't we? Of course we do. Our very souls are hard-wired to seek it. That is something that pagan and Christian philosophers alike have always agreed on. We have to seek it and we have to administer it as best we can, both as individuals and as society.

We must be bold in our quest and we must be ready to live with the consequences... and there will always be consequences when real Justice is applied. Those who seek to serve it have to be energetic and steadfast-- and they must be ready to fight for it at all costs; always checking the moral compass to ensure the cause is still in the realm of true Justice.

~~ "Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical." --Blaise Pascal ~~

~~ "...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." --Barry Goldwater ~~

The real trick, of course, is in being sure that we are on the side of true Justice before we even think of trying to administer it. Even this very day, there are people in the streets calling for it-- and yet, they will shout and cry foul if it comes in its true form. They will shout and cry because they will not recognize it. They call for Justice, but what they really want is far more personal and selfish. We are all guilty of this at times. We are often like the parents Bill Cosby mentions who are not so much interested in Justice as they are in peace and quiet. So this is why we question and examine and search. To try to get it right.

~~ “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” --Blaise Pascal ~~

I would offer a final note on recognizing Justice. I believe that the aforementioned hard-wiring comes with a serious glitch. Sometimes, it seems so obvious to us that Justice is this way or that way... and before long we have succumbed to the great trap of finding truth in a mirror. To us it seems so, but we have not truly examined it and held it up to scrutiny that is not subject to our personal predispositions. This is the essence of objectivity, and it is quite elusive, indeed. I have come to avoid posting links, but I will add this one so that all who read this can take a moment for a reality check by one of the great masters of thought.

The truth is, our search for Justice is not easy and is not often kind and gentle. Getting to it requires the kind of discernment that means an open heart and an ear cocked toward Heaven. In other words, the answers are out there if we seek them in the right way.

Finally, just so we are all clear on our imperative mandate to embrace Justice, I close with the ultimate Word.

~~ "In all the communities which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes to administer true justice for the people. You must not distort justice: you shall not show partiality; you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes even of the wise and twists the words even of the just. Justice, justice alone shall you pursue, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD, your God, is giving you." -Deuteronomy, 16: 18-20 ~~


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