Law and Justice – Introduction – 1.2 Defining Law and Justice & Aristotle’s Categories of Justice

Law and Justice – Introduction – 1.2 Defining Law and Justice & Aristotle’s Categories of Justice

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>>>>Dr. Harper: Throughout this course we’ll
be using the ideas and the vocabulary of the classical Greeks and above all, the philosopher
Aristotle. Aristotle lived in the 4th century BC. He’s one of the most influential political
thinkers, political philosophers of all time. And throughout the course we’ll be using his
vocabulary, the Greek vocabulary. And in fact it’s inescapable. Our language and our concepts
of justice are so deeply suffused with the Greek influence that you can’t escape it,
it’s everywhere around us in our politics. In fact our very word “politics” comes from
the Greek. Greek, “polis” which means “the city-state” like Athens or Sparta, those are
city-states. And those are the, the unit of Greek community, of Greek political life and
politics means “the things of the polis”, it means the things that any community living
together has to settle. And so our vocabulary, words like democracy, words like tyranny,
words like philosophy are Greek. They come from Greek roots, and that’s indicative of
the influence of Greek philosophy. And nobody’s been so influential as Aristotle. And so to
launch us on our discussion about justice it would be helpful if we have some shared
vocabulary. And so we’ll learn from Aristotle the basic categories of justice. Aristotle’s
political philosophy is preserved principally in two of his most influential works. A work
that’s called the “Politics” and a work that’s called the “Nicomachean Ethics”, both ethics
and politics are Greek words. And in fact Aristotle’s most extended discussion of the
nature and purpose of justice is preserved in the “Nicomachean Ethics”. And there Aristotle
says something that’s actually very profound and very useful as we, as we have a conversation
about justice. He says that there are essentially three domains, three areas, three types of
justice: corrective, distributive, and transactional. And it’d be helpful if we define those categories
of justice. First, corrective justice. Well this is what we mean when we say the, the
correctional system or when we even say the justice system: the system of police and courts
and judges and prosecutors and jails that deal with crime. Aristotle says when a human
injures another human, involuntary victim that is a matter for corrective justice. And
every society must grapple with how it will administer, how it will deal with the problem
of corrective justice because humans are flawed creatures and they will injure one another,
and so societies must set up some system effectively to correct wrongs that have been done. And
so every day in our society and every county across this country there is a justice system
at work deciding hard questions of corrective justice, and we’ll talk about the kinds of
principles, the kinds of problems that arise when a society must decide how to correct
wrongs that have been done. What is, what is the proper role of punishment? What’s the
proper level of punishment? And Aristotle begins to help us think about a proper amount
of punishment, a corrective punishment being a punishment that fits the crime. And we’ll
talk about what that means. Aristotle says distributive justice is a second fundamental
domain of justice. And in fact, in some ways it’s the most fundamental problem of justice.
Whether we realize it or not, almost all of our major political debates whether it’s the
taxation system or the health care reform or education funding, all are fundamentally
questions of distributive justice. Distributive justice Aristotle says is– comes from the
fact that there are certain things, especially two things, honor and property, which are
finite. They exist only to a certain extent and any society has to decide how will these
finite good be distributed? Let me give you an example. Honor. It’s not necessarily intuitive
that’s its finite, but in fact it is. Take for instance the OU Women’s Softball team,
recently won the national championship. With that national championship comes a trophy,
which is a a symbol of honor, comes parades and celebrations and the lifelong honor of
being a national champion. That’s a finite good. Imagine the alternative scenario that
after the game is over and one team wins, the officials announce that nevertheless both
teams are champions. Now this would totally fundamentally undermine the very point of
being a champion. In other words it would remove the honor if both of the teams were
given the honor, then it really ceases to be an honor at all. By it’s very nature it’s
a finite good. Now in the case of sporting events it’s actually quite obvious how you
distribute honors because there are very clearly established rules and the victor gets the
honors. But in a society and with other kinds of goods it actually becomes more complicated
quite quickly. And property is the perennial, the persistent problem of human justice. In
all societies the distribution of property always finite, something that people always
want more of, raises fundamental questions and so throughout this class we’ll be asking
– what is the proper way to distribute property in a society? There are fundamentally different
ways, different principles, different reasons and we’ll explore those across this class.
Finally, Aristotle’s third category: what we will call transactional justice. Aristotle
says that human societies have various kinds of exchanges and in fact exchanges are fundamental
to our way of life. We don’t even think about them they are so fundamentally, they’re ubiquitous,
around us everywhere. People make exchanges and Aristotle says that for an exchange to
be just the value of the goods exchanged must be equal. That if you’re going to give everyone
what they are due, then in any transaction the value of the things that are transacted
have to be equal for it to be a just exchange. Aristotle says that this is true even where
it’s a voluntary transaction. And in fact we can already begin to see that this will
raise fundamental and perennial questions about the very nature of transactional justice.
Let me illustrate it with an example. Imagine that there are two little boys, brothers,
one’s four years old and one’s ten years old. And for their birthdays their parents get
them, Mickey Mantle rookie cards, very valuable baseball card. It’s worth thousands of dollars.
One day the boy, boys are having ice cream and the older brother says to the younger
brother, I will give you this delicious chocolate ice cream cone if you will just give me that
little piece of paper, that Mickey Mantle rookie card. And the four year-old looking
at the delicious ice cream starting to melt agrees to the transaction and makes the trade.
He gives his brother the rookie card and eats the ice cream. Well, now imagine you are the
mother. Inevitably about an hour later the ice cream has worn off and the younger son
begins to regret trading away that little rookie card, and so he comes to his mother
and says, “This is a grave injustice that has to be rectified. I did not exchange something
of equal value for that rookie card.” And the mother is then faced– and imagine you’re
in this situation. You have two different principles at stake. Two different claims
about what the nature of transactional justice is. What is the older brother say? It was
a fair transaction, fair and square. He voluntarily agreed to it, now he has to live with the
consequences. The younger brother says, “But this was clearly an exchange of goods of unequal
value. It’s unfair, he got my rookie card and all I got was ice cream.” The mother has
to decide this question and it raises fundamental questions about what justice is, and as we’ll
see when we turn away from examples like baseball cards and ice cream it raises profoundly difficult
questions that we in fact face in our society all around us. So throughout this class we’ll
be exploring these three domains of justice: corrective, distributive and transactional
that go back to Aristotle’s systematic thinking about the nature of justice.

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