Thursday, July 14, 2011

The ZigZag Café

We will be convening here at the ZigZag café, Suisse, on Thursdays for conversation and dialogue. I invite you to stop by every Thursday for the question of the day. Your thoughts and participation are most welcome. Pull up a stool, avec un café, un thé, ou un chocolat chaud, et un croissant, and join in here on Thursday at the ZZ café.

For today:

Aristotle thinks that, if we are to be just, politics should have an influence and impact on people for good, whereas Kant argues that this is not its role and any political imposition would be detrimental to our freedom. What are your thoughts on the role of politics in matters of justice today?


Jason said...

Interesting question, could you describe what politics meant for Aristotle and Kant? Or what you mean by politics? What do you mean by justice (is it the good or freedom)?

Also, are you asking what do I think the present relationship actually is between politics and justice, or what do I think the role of politics should be regarding justice, or both?

To turn the questions on myself, I think that politics is a series of personal relationships, each which form into a larger series of negotiations by a "group" of intra and inter community relations.

Practicing justice is promoting the good, but justice is not that which should always be done. That is, perhaps justice is just insofar as it is capable of refraining from always being just, or of making justice an imperative. ... The good is not always just.

At any rate, however I may differ, out of the two I side most with Aristotle. Justice in politics is to nurture what is good. But politics does not always have to be just to facilitate the good.

err, I think...

Greg said...

Thanks for your questions and perceptive comment. Welcome to Living Spirituality.

Well, basically politics for Aristotle was the state and how the state was to function for good in the lives of its citizens. Kant lived under an aristocratic regime and thought the state should not influence its citizens, but merely set out a framework in which they could then choose the good.

Justice is more difficult to define in a short space and of course Aristotle, Kant and others have different views - to mention four: - the teleological - goal or purpose of what is fitting is just - the utilitarian (SEE last weeks discussion on ZigZag) - consequences of actions for the most people for pleasure or pain are just - the categorical - there is a right irrespective of the consequences that is just - the egalitarian - fairness is just.

I was asking what the role of politics (the state) should be for its citizens in matters of justice. That is, should it influence people concerning the right things to do - in a large sense of that.

Perhaps, you could elaborate about justice promoting the good, but that justice should not always be done. What conception of justice are you working with?

Jason said...

Okay, thank you Greg, I will try not to follow too many bunny trails in thinking about the role of the state, citizens, and justice.

It seems that the practicing of justice is only good if a person or a state is aware of limits to that justice. Justice is a framework of judgments about what is right that are applied within a community as a whole (broadly defined - I am including the state and individual as potentially in the same community). The good as it applies to a community may transcend this framework of judgments of the just. I conceive of justice as subordinate to, and always attempting at the good.

It seems that the good is made up of things other than justice, mercy being one and humility another. A justice that is informed by mercy has the potential to render a judgment that in hindsight may not have been just, but was nonetheless good. For example, Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem criticizes the trial of Eichmann as being unjust in intent, the purpose was not primarily justice but constructing an Israeli national narrative and legitimacy, and in fairness for Eichmann who had been illegally captured in Argentina and had come to trial with his guilt already assumed. The trial and execution of Eichmann was not utilitarian since only a minority of people internationally would have materially benefited, and Eichmann had posed no threat living in obscurity as he was. Categorically, the case of Eichmann was too unique. It was Eichmann’s complete lack of mindful thinking that led to his part in the holocaust, but there are potentially many superficial, un-thoughtful people who do not deserve to die just because of an amazing lack of thoughtfulness in following orders. Arendt nonetheless believed it was right to kill Eichmann because he was not a person she could imagine herself, or anyone else, wanting to share the earth with. It was out of leniency for the living, those having to live with Eichmann, that his death was justified. The most merciful thing for the world, and for Eichmann, was to kill Eichmann as an exception to the regular rules of justice so that we would no longer have to live with him. Mercy in this case allows for an exception to the rules of justice.

Finally, allow humility to inform the just as it is performed politically by state or non-state entities. Humility is the ability for one to say ,“I do not know,” and the recognition that sometimes it is not one’s place to say what is just or right – which is more or less my feeling on the trial of Eichmann. Having justice, mercy, and humility informing one another in the activity of political jurisprudence seems to be an aspect of that which is good. In this way the state is responsible for implementing the good in terms of legislating what is right, insofar as they are considered in community with their people and allow legislation to be informed by the extra legal concerns of mercy and humility.

I think that it is a vague and idealistic conception of the state and justice that I am working with, but it is the best I can think of at present.

Greg said...

Interesting and well put thoughts. I wonder if it could be said that justice carried out is a mercy. I'm not convinced that an obeying orders strategy of defense is adequate to absolve one of responsibility for one's actions. The testimony of thoughtlessness not only requires trust, which in Eichmann's case would have been hard to accord, but its appeal seems to lack sufficient evidence to back its claim.

I like your point about mercy and humility and think they are valid informers for justice, though I suppose that your words about idealism would be an appropriate caution.

I think I agree with Aristotle that the state should have a role in shaping its citizens for good, although today's state may be far from having the capacity to accomplish this. Of course, good for who is an important issue and good seems to need some referent that goes beyond human definition.

Jason said...

Point taken, but it was not Eichmann’s testimony that he was thoughtless. He did testify, attempting to excuse himself of responsibility, by saying that he was only following orders and that no one had mentioned to him that facilitating genocide might not be the right thing to do. His arguments are of course difficult to believe. It was my interpretation of Arendt’s thinking about Eichmann that led me to conclude that he did not think of, empathize with, the majority of the lives he effected (he did think of his family, his fuehrer, and himself), and that (among other things) was at the root of his evil actions.

I am getting off topic, and I talk too much. I enjoy the blog, keep it up!