Saturday, November 20, 2010

Induction of Justice

[Previous post in the series: "Reduction of Justice"]

After breaking down the idea of “justice” and understanding what is required to reach the idea of it, it’s time to induce the idea that justice is important.

The induction will take four steps:

(1) Things have consequences: because they have consequences, things can be good or bad for us, and that’s why it’s important to judge them.

(2) People have consequences too, and we’ll have to judge them.

(3) Once we judge them, a certain kind of action is crucial, which brings in rewards and punishments.

(4) Something about man or the situation brings about the idea of deserved behavior.

(1) The first step is the need to evaluate ordinary things. We start with the same value-judgments we had in the earlier induction that “reason is man’s means of survival” and that “egoism is good”: food, clothing, and shelter. Oranges provide strength, vitamins, etc., but if they’re rotten, or infested with harmful bacteria, then they’re bad. A big coat in cold weather keeps you warm and is good, but wearing a bikini in near 0°F temperatures is disastrous and bad.

From this, we can reach the first-level induction: things are not neutral, and they have good or bad consequences. The right things foster your values, and the wrong things endanger your values, and this is available to perception. You can feel the severe cold of chilly weather and know that the situation is bad for you, or you can know that a certain food is good for you by how your body reacts to it. So, it’s important to judge things because they have consequences, good or bad.

(I mean “judgment” as knowing something for what it is, enough to deal with it successfully, and enough to be able to evaluate its future behavior and results.)

Is it enough for our values to only evaluate? No: it would be foolish to think, “the weather looks really awful today,” and then proceed to go swimming as if it isn’t about to become very dangerous. Obviously, evaluation isn’t enough—we need to take corresponding actions as well. If we evaluate something as good, we use it, enjoy it, take advantage of it; if it’s bad, then we avoid, isolate ourselves from it, and protect ourselves from its harmful effects.

The normal and proper course is to evaluate before we act and as a guide to action. If we act impulsively, one action can lead to the end.

(2) This brings us to the second induction: people are just like things in the respect that we have to evaluate them as good or bad and act accordingly. We already know of people who give us beneficial consequences, and bad people from whom we receive negative consequences. Just like the induction of “egoism,” we’re assuming a certain common-sense morality, such that a kind and nurturing teacher is good, the beneficial is the good, and a fearsome bully or dictator is bad for you, the detrimental is the bad, evil. Really, we’re presuming a sort of Western civilization moral view, not the Kantian view that the good can be harmful to you and against your values.

The inductive rule of contrast is helpful here. The method of agreement: with good people come good consequences, whether knowledge, time, money, friendship, or new opportunities. With bad people come bad consequences, whether deception, a frightening social climate, loss of freedom, loss of money, and even death. Even little children learn this basic distinction of good and bad from their daily dealings with people, and will learn which people they think are good and those whom they think are bad and scary.

(3) The next step is to connect our earlier realization that it isn’t enough to evaluate: we need to act accordingly, as well. Humans are not neutral, either: they have consequences, good or bad on your values. If you’re going to interact with people or be in their vicinity, then you need to understand people, and be able to predict to some extent what they will do in the future (e.g. a bully will, in all likelihood, continue bullying).

Here, we can use the genus method:

“What’s the contrast: judging others is important, as against what?”

The genus will be: people need a policy of dealing with others. The three species then are:
(1) Evaluating them.
(2) Refusing to evaluate: agnosticism, “judge not that ye be not judged.”
(3) Anti-evaluation: nihilism, egalitarianism, extol the evil and crush the good.

For (1), evaluating men, we can make a further contrast:

(1) Honest and reasonable evaluation.
(2) Pretend and unreasonable evaluation.

Even if we can think of why evaluation is important in judging people, what makes us think that the action component is important too? What we precisely need to know is why must we act on our judgments such that the results are rewards or punishments for other people. If judgment is to precede and guide action due to the consequences of good and bad things on us, what kind of action is required of us?

For inanimate matter, we noted that bad things should be stopped or avoided, and that good things should be enjoyed and partaken of. And not always simply enjoyed or avoided: if it’s good, then you maximize the value, improving its quality and quantity, and you reduce the quantity or quality of the bad thing, taking action to prevent its spread to your values. This is learned by induction.

The same point should apply to our dealings with men: If good men promote our values and lives, we should promote them, deal with them, maximize the power we gain from the good. The exact opposite goes for the bad: we shouldn’t put up with the bad, but rather deter its influence on our lives.

How then do we apply this principle of supporting the good while opposing the bad? Should we deduce the principle’s applications from the nature of human beings, and thereby determine what will encourage or deter any of them? Certainly not: we need to observe reality, and see not only what kinds of behaviors are directed towards good and bad people, but also the results and consequences of such behaviors. The procedure to determine this is to accumulate many instances across a diverse range of data, and then abstract and induce a governing principle from what the data suggests. It’s easier to grasp the issue if we start with examples that should be familiar to us on a daily basis, and then move on to more abstract examples in politics and history.

A young, aspiring basketball player practices, studies for her exams in school, does good work generally, and is rewarded by her parents and her coach (say, like extra practice sessions to hone her skills). All other things equal, she will flourish under these conditions, becoming a better basketball player, student, and person.

On the opposite side, take a similar girl who has parents and a basketball team who favor the weak. They continually pester her with questions about why she has to feel superior to all of them. Her parents treat her with disdain as a show-off, while her coach completely ignores her so that he can work with the other players, which retards her growth as a player. The first example was a good kid with good actions who was rewarded for them, whereas this example is a good child with good actions who is punished for them. All other things equal, this will depress and suck all of the fun out of the kid, and stamp out her motivation to strive harder in the future. That isn’t a set-in-stone law because of free will, but we’re analyzing the extent that external circumstances can influence a person’s will and motivation, and what results that can lead to.

Let’s take it a step further and observe an unproductive kid who doesn’t really want to play basketball but joined anyway, and does things at home with as little mental effort as possible. She is told to come to extra practices to make up for deliberate slow-progress, or kicked off the team to prevent a bad apple from spoiling the rest of the team. She’s punished by her parents for her procrastination. Contrast that with the parents and basketball coach who favor weaknesses or defects, who shower this girl with rewards and special treatment. This would be bad actions being responded with good results and effects. The first example would deter the bad qualities in the girl, while the latter would encourage and invite more of them.

So this is the range of data being induced from: examples of the good being showered with good consequences, and the good being given bad consequences; the bad being greeted with good consequences, and then bad ones. Two of the cases illustrate the importance of judging people: supporting and maximizing the good in your actions, and doing the opposite, which is upholding the bad. These two indicate what justice and injustice in action are, and a flood of examples should come to you of this contrast.

A political/historical example: the institution of African slavery. People who hadn’t done anything wrong are forced to leave their homes, were sent to another country, and forced to work on the lands of their new masters. Contrast to now when African Americans are treated with respect, and have a choice as to where they want to work, for how long, and with whom, to everyone’s benefit. (I’m sure the amount of respect would be debated among those knowledgeable of Black History, but I’m merely contrasting the degrees of respect between blacks being enslaved, and how that isn’t the case now.) The point is that there are examples from fields like business, science, politics, and history with volumes of examples showing that to further your values you should support the good with rewards and to deter the bad from damaging your values, you should punish the bad: this is the induction we wanted to reach.

To recapitulate: (1) the actions and characters of human beings have consequences on you, and it’s important to judge them because it makes a difference to you that some are good and some are bad, and you should know this. (2) Your action in response to people has consequences for your values, and thus it is important to take action on your judgment accordingly when you deal with them. (3) The last point is the synthesis: judge what the entity does and then act accordingly: support and maximize the good and deter the bad, and there are analogues for this in cases of both rational and non-rational things, whether they are inanimate objects, animals, or plants.

(4) There’s something else we need to reach the field of justice: we reward and punish animals, but there’s no desert, they didn’t “have it coming to them.” For people, there’s something that we integrate with rewards and punishments, people, their actions, our actions in response, and our values that leads to the ideas of “desert” and then the idea of “justice.” And that something is “volition,” or “free will.”

Once we integrate our knowledge of volition with what’s been said about the components of judging people, the reach the realization that people’s goodness or badness is chosen, it is self-made. They chose the characters they have and actions they took, so they are responsible for them. Knowing that someone is responsible for his actions brings with it a whole new category of relationships and responses to people.

If a pet or some instrument does the opposite of what we intended, then we may feel some dissatisfaction, but it isn’t nearly as emotionally-charged as witnessing a negative action of a human being. We never feel like we need to admire, exalt, or revere non-human things, or the need to condemn, debase, or denounce them. Those sorts of emotions and responses depend on the knowledge that the individual’s actions and character were the result of his own choice.

The role of volition in human action is how we reach the idea of a “just” response. When we evaluate human beings, we evaluate someone who could have acted differently because of his free will. When we act in accordance with our evaluation, we act on the premise that the person asked for it, as his actions are self-made; this makes our responsive action, in effect, self-made by him, in other words, he brought it on himself through his choices. In that way, then, he “has it coming to him,” he deserves it. The idea of an appropriate response, evaluation and/or action, to a volitional being is inherent in the concept of “desert.”

The definition of “deserve” we used in the reduction was, “to become worthy of reward or punishment according to one’s good or bad character or conduct.” Your actions, put together with the fact that you chose them, is what makes you worthy of either rewards or punishments. This is the rudimentary version of justice.

Justice in action is recompensing a responsible agent for what he’s chosen to do, rather than for merely the consequences of his actions that redound on everyone else in the future.

One last contrast: philosophers debate over whether justice is future-looking or past-looking. The future-looking viewpoint is similar to the utilitarians, who hold that justice is all about the consequences; we reward and punish merely to bring about certain consequences. It is true that consequences matter: if people had no consequences on our lives, there would be no point in judging them, just as we don’t judge the actions of distant stars. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that matters.

The past-looking are like the adherents to Kant’s moral philosophy, in which you condemn or praise by taking note of what was done in the past, not what will happen in future consequences. The responsible agent took a certain course, and no matter the result, he deserves the recompense for whatever he intended. There’s some truth to this as well: the intentions and choices of the agent matter to determining what he deserves. The contrast helps reveal that it’s futile to simply focus on just the future or just the past.

The truth is that a person has chosen a certain behavior, chose to inflict its consequences on other people, and has chosen their response to his actions—desert and justice are a unity. A choice without consequences is a choice not worth evaluating—there’s nothing to evaluate. And consequences which are not chosen bring us to back to the judgment of non-rational things, who aren’t responsible for their behavior and thus don’t “deserve” anything. Choices exist, and consequences exist, and neither can exist without the other for human beings—the contrast simply points us towards what represents the reconciliation of the future and past-looking views.

If you choose to be good, then you will benefit people necessarily in the long run and have consequences; and if you benefit people, leaving aside accidents (the sorts of things outside of morality), then it’s because you made the choice to be or act a certain way. If you choose to be bad, then you will harm people in the long run and again have consequences; if you harm people, barring accidents, then you will have chosen for certain negative effects to happen by acting a certain way. Free will, or volition, brings in the notion of “desert” to our previous understanding of “justice” without contradicting our emphasis on rewards and punishments and the realization that they are crucial.

It is for all of these reasons that justice is important. Justice is evaluating a volitional being for what he chose to do, good or bad, and then administering what he deserves as a reward or punishment. Justice is important because it rewards good people for their self-made, beneficial actions, and punishes bad people for their self-made, harmful actions.

[Next post in the series: "Reduction of Objectivity (Aristotle)"]

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