This is just an essay that I had lying around. It needs to be shared because justice is a controversial topic yet not enough attention is paid to it.
“The just … is a species of the proportionate…” (Aristotle 2009: 85) This is Aristotle’s view on distributive justice. This, however, is a topic of much discussion. What is justice and which is the best way for property to be distributed? Should it be distributed equally as Aristotle suggests? Or is there some other way for justice to be maintained? As Friedrich Hayek1 claimed, people are unique beings and should they be treated equally, the result would be inequality in their respective positions (Dupré 2011: 13). This brings us to Michael Walzer, who proposed a theory of justice that seems to reach a middle ground about distributive justice.
2. Egalitarian Foundation
Walzer starts his theory of justice by claiming that all spheres of the social life function autonomously (PLS3705 2012: 42). Furthermore, each of these spheres has their own pattern of distribution, which is arrived at through the shared understandings of the community. This belief of shared understandings is a product of the particularist view. This is not the only viewpoint adopted by Walzer, however. He also supports the pluralist view, which endorses the separate delineation of distribution patterns of the respective spheres of justice (PLS3705 2012: 43). Walzer’s view of community is squarely based on egalitarianism; he claims that justice is found in shared understandings and that society is distributive in nature. He proposes a form of pluralistic egalitarianism, which he claims is the foundation of a good society.
3. Complex Equality
Walzer supports the value of egalitarian reciprocity but endorses a specific form of egalitarianism, called complex equality (PLS3705 2012: 44). By complex equality he means the autonomous functioning of the different spheres of justice. This is best explained when distinguishing between the concepts of monopoly and dominance. According to Walzer dominance occurs when the control that one has over one social good is used to obtain control over some other social good (PLS3705 2012: 44). Now, if one could divide property equally, as one would in a system of simple equality, then it may solve the problem of inequality but not of dominance. Following Hayek’s2 train of thought, if money or some other form of monopoly were to be divided equally the outcome will not remain equal as some may use their goods to accumulate more, while others spend their goods. Through this, we can see that simple equality could only be maintained in a political structure where intervention of the state is enforced; this, however, is exactly what communitarian principles try to avoid.
4. The Common Life
Thus, how can a society be just? Walzer proposes an ideal society called the common life. The common life is characterised by the full participation of all members of the community in shaping the culture of the specified community. It possesses a political sphere that governs adequate patterns of distribution within other spheres of the community; these patterns of distribution are in accordance with the views of the community. Although the political sphere in the common life protects its members from dominance, it can only provide them with assurance of equality of access and opportunity and not of outcome (PLS3705 2012: 52). One of the shortcomings of the common life is that critical assessment cannot take place outside of the shared understandings of the community. This may lead to inequality and discrimination within the community, which may only be dissolved through immanent criticism or acculturation.
5. The Spheres
How would one ensure equality within a community? The answer to that hinges upon Walzer’s analysis of the different spheres, namely membership, security and welfare and money or office. As the core of Walzer’s theory, the sphere of membership takes priority. It is characterised by equality of access to opportunity seeing that anyone is at liberty to obtain membership to a community. This supports the pluralist sense adopted by Walzer. He further goes to say that members should have “…respect for shared values” (PLS3705 2012: 54) and that “…a readiness to reciprocate equally in all spheres…” (PLS3705 2012: 54) should be evident. This follows the basis of egalitarian reciprocity, which also advocates that exclusion of members is unacceptable.
5.2 Security and Welfare
Within the sphere of security and welfare, the pattern of distribution is governed by need (PLS3705 2012: 55). Walzer maintains his concept of complex equality and egalitarianism when he claims that it is unjust to allow one’s status in one sphere to influence position in another. By this, he means that one should not get preference for medical treatment because of one’s ability to pay for it.
5.3 Office and Money
Within the sphere of office, Walzer proffers that equality should be treated in accordance with desert (PLS3705 2012: 56). This, however, is problematic to situations in the real world, as our taking of office is dependent on our honours and not necessarily on desert. Conversely, in the sphere of money, desert should be the just principle of distribution. It is important to note, once again, that dominance in one sphere of justice should not influence one’s status in another sphere, as it is very easy for this to happen between the spheres of office and money.
Walzer’s theory does not come without problems. One of the major issues of his theory of justice is the problem of seepage. Walzer’s theory is based on the autonomous functioning of spheres; yet he observes that “…the balancing of spheres … may require their overlap…” (PLS3705 2012: 61). Furthermore, he claims that principles of distribution are based on the shared understandings of the community. How do we arrive at shared understandings though? Discourse is an indispensable way to reach a consensus on transformational principles. In order for principles of distribution to be just, the political sphere should not be influenced by cultural factors such as religion and other customary laws (PLS3705 2012: 62). However, cross-cultural discussion may require that some beliefs be bracketed. This leads us to the concept of politics of difference. Young claims that majority groups covertly set the bar for what is acceptable (PLS3705 2012: 63). This in itself is unfair towards minority groups. Egalitarian reciprocity is at the base of these discussions; it is implemented by the political sphere to ensure fair discourse. Throughout these discussions, one may note that although Walzer’s theory has some validity, he leaves many questions unanswered.
Justice is a subject that leaves many questions to the imagination. It is a multi-faceted concept that changes with time and so, our understanding of it should change over time as well. Walzer provides us with an understanding of how an ideal society should function. However, it is near impossible to implement. In the real world, principles of distribution are unjust and constantly influenced by different spheres. His theory may have had some validity in history but not in current times.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.– Marcus Aurelius
The essence of genius is to know what to overlook.– William James
Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions.– Frater Ravus
It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.– Epicurus
There is nothing in the world so much admired as a man who knows how to bear unhappiness with courage.– Seneca
Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.– Kant
Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.– Kant
In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy. These are the words of Rev Karl Reiland. Why do we have an inherent need to help others? And why does it have such a positive effect on our well-being? Through experience, it is evident that the best way to come out on top and be successful is to act through self-interest. Yet, humanity stills leans towards helping others even if it is detrimental to us. This is found at a national level too. Powerful countries that have self-interest as a major motivator tend to get more powerful. They “help” poor countries by lending them funds but they are gaining through the transaction by acquiring interest and profit. So, what is helping and why do we do it? More importantly, I would like to answer the question. Are we hardwired to help others?
Suppose that, as many psychologists believe, we have an inherent need to help others. Where, then, do phenomena such as the bystander effect come in? The bystander effect occurs when there is a crowd of people witnessing someone in need of help. The more people that are present, the less likely it is that someone will help the person in need. If, for example, one person sees another in need, that person will help the one in need! Why is that? I would attribute this to another psychological phenomenon called social loafing but most psychologists do not see this connection. I would imagine that is mostly due to the many anomalies in the research surrounding altruism. Many patterns have been discovered in the act of helping others but no definitive, general pattern has been established; patterns such as helping those similar to you, whether the similarity is race, gender or nationality. People tend to help friends or even people that remind them of close friends or relatives more than they would help someone that has no relativity to them whatsoever. Furthermore, more attractive are more likely to receive help than less attractive individuals.
On a more philosophic note, the concept of altruism takes many forms. One of those forms is Utilitarianism. According to Mill, the father of utilitarianism, we should act in a way that serves for the greater good of humanity. Given the scenario of a hostage situation, the philosophy of Utilitarianism suggests that, should the lives of the hostages be in danger, the lives of many are worth more than the life of one. An opposite philosophy, such as communitarianism, would suggest that each person has the right to live and that no person should be stripped of that right even if other lives are in danger. This leads to a problem of justice and capital punishment, which is a discussion of its own.
I would like to bring self-interest into this discussion. As I mentioned in my introduction, self-interest serves a purpose on a national level. But does it benefit humanity on an individual level? Ethical egoism suggests that if one acts through self-interest then one is benefitting society. Is the health of a society then, not measured through the well-being of its members? I have found myself saying, on more than one occasion, that if everyone looks after himself or herself better then the world would be a wealthier place. Even though this argument has its flaws and limitations, if it is applied correctly it would benefit many societies. I should point out the flaws and limitations of my argument. Firstly, one should not harm another person in order to benefit oneself; by harm I mean, the other party being in a worse position than he or she would have been had the act not been performed. Secondly, one should not allow another’s rights to be taken away from him or her; this one is a bit more complex. Let me explain, if no harm will be done to you or your rights not interfered with then help should be given. However, should you be harmed or your rights taken away in the process, then you have no moral obligation to help. This requires a complex structure of reason and judgment and it is entirely situational.
In conclusion, we have no moral obligation to interfere in another’s business so long as no party is intentionally harmed. There is much room for discussion on this topic and there is so much material on this. I encourage everyone to go out there and discover what their moral obligations to society are. Only you can decide how you want to live your life