Thursday, January 08, 2004

My brother sent me a link to an interview with author and philosopher John Kekes on the subject of what has come to be called "social justice," which got me thinking about that term specifically. I've never thought about it much, since it's simply used as a meaningless slogan designed to rev people up. (I have always been revved up in the opposite direction by it, having to fight an immediate, instinctive hold-onto-your-wallet reaction on hearing it spoken aloud).

To me the biggest problem is with the concept itself. The context of the term "justice" is above all that of the individual:

Justice:The rendering to every one his due or right; just treatment; requital of desert; merited reward or punishment; that which is due to one's conduct or motives. (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1995)

There are no relatives in the term, no generalities. "Justice" in its purest sense is essentially a mathematical equation, where punishment fits crime precisely.

To add a "social" component muddles everything up. Everyone knows there is no such thing as pure, perfect justice on this side of the grave. But socializing justice makes the term absolutely meaningless: individual accountability disappears, and with it any meaningful definition of ancillary terms like "innocence" and "guilt." "Social justice" is nothing but an oxymoron.

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