Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Important terms for studying justice

Here are some important terms that every political science student should know when studying concepts of justice - whether it is procedural justice or substantive justice.

The definitions may be a bit round-about, but they are synthesized from a lot of readings. The definitions of these terms are based on the following readings: J. Rawls, Schaar, Sandel, Ostrom (Governing the Commons), Kant, Aristotle, Plato, Tocqueville (Democracy in America), and Isaiah Berlin. They are commonly accepted definitions and can help any student get more meaning out of reading about justice and right in these theorists, which are hard enough to understand.

cooperative ends vs. constitutive ends
Cooperative ends are ends in which people are simply working together but not engaged together as individuals; there is nothing about an individual identity to which they are engaging – they are simply together, working together. Constitutive means are a combination of the two above distinctions; they are both a means to an end, and a component to that end. This is possible, in the case of Aristotelian natural-end ethics, because of the inclusive nature of eudaimonia; it isn’t a dominant end that everything else is a mere means to, nor is it a simple and monistic goal. Rather, eudaimonia is inclusive and pluralistic; it is composed of the various goods (health, wealth, friendship, pleasure, etc.) and virtues (rationality, productivity, pride, justice, benevolence, etc.). Thus, being just, for example, is both a means to the ultimate end of eudaimonia, and an end in and of itself (because part of one’seudaimonia is being just).

“The polis is prior to the man”
The Greek idea of the polis as described by Aristotle and Plato is the conception of the highest virtue, a conception of the city-state and individual that meant achieving the polis was the highest expression of the common good, it was a moral good. Aristotle said that the polis is prior to the man: that this good exists before the individual. This is because, for Aristotle, the whole has to exist prior to the individual parts or else the individual parts have no meaning because meaning of individual parts is only derived from their working and their power – and individual things can only have work and power within the body of the whole. For man, who is a political animal (according to Aristotle) this means that the man as an individual can only have meaning within the state – so the state, the polis, is prior to the man.

Tocqueville’s formidable alternative
Tocqueville says that the formidable alternative is the decision a society must make about equality: whether rights are given to all or to none – for this is the only way Tocqueville sees that a government can be equal. When rights are given to none, Tocqueville describes this as domination and a single person with absolute power. Tocqueville says that even if rights are given to all, there is a drive in people for power, and that when rights are given to all, no one can stop someone from rising to absolute power unless they stop that person as a group. Americans, according to Tocqueville, have been exposed to this choice, rights given to all or rights given to none, and have chosen to give rights to all. Furthermore, having been exposed to this choice, Americans have managed to escape the absolute dominion of one man by their moral standards and intelligence. This is the choice a demand for equality forces on a society, and how Americans have replied to Tocqueville’s formidable alternative.

“The right is prior to the good”

“The right is prior to the good,” is a statement about the difference between procedural and substantive justice, although there is a value statement inherent in this distinction. When philosophers say the right is prior to the good, they mean that everyone is free to pick their own good – their own end – and that we need to have the “right” – procedural justice – to allow everyone to do this. Saying that “the right is prior to the good” means that the way to get to the ends, the procedures used, need to be “just” so that everyone can get to their end. However, by making this statement – that it is the right thing to do to provide everyone the freedom to choose their own ends – you are inherently making the value judgment that procedural justice is more important than defining a substantive justice, a good end, and that is a notion of substantive justice in an of itself – that the “end” that needs to be just is the “procedures” that allow someone to choose their own end. In this sense, the rights of individuals cannot be sacrificed for a good, an end, and the rights cannot be premised on any particular definition of the good life.

the meritocratic model of society

The meritocratic model of society is one espoused, somewhat sarcastically, by Shaar but with more enthusiasm by Plato. A meritocratic society is one in which people achieve a position based on merit – based on their individual qualities rather than on privileges of birth. Plato espoused this type of society when he divided his society into levels and said that each individual must serve at the level they are best suited to, and this sometimes means a child of farmers will be a guardian and sometimes the child of guardians will be a farmer. For Plato, a meritocratic model of society was ideal and helped achieve the common good of the state. Shaar was sarcastic in his idea of a meritocratic society. Shaar sees a meritocracy as a society which simply gives false hope to the poor that one day they can be in a higher class if they just work harder; he thinks that a meritocracy which says there is equality of opportunity (everyone can rise to the levels of their talents) doesn’t really exist. For Shaar, what a meritocracy will eventually develop into is a way of identifying, from an early age, those who are the “best” and giving them more resources – which doesn’t really enable everyone to rise to the level of their talents because not everyone is given an opportunity to use or develop their talents to the level they might be capable of. Shaar is being more descriptive of what America is like in his day, in comparison to Plato who is being descriptive of what a meritocratic model of society should look like.

the idea of a procedural republic
The idea of a procedural republic is a classical liberal idea. It is an idea that focuses on how just the procedures are that allow an individual to choose his ends. There is no notion that there has to be a just, or a good, end – simply that in a procedural republic everyone has to follow. A procedural republic is one in which the rules are not based on a sense of morality, that every individual should reach a certain end, but rather has rules which allow the individuals the freedom of choice to reach their individually desired ends.

the tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons is the idea that there are certain public goods that are consumable (they can be depleted) and that individuals, when acting on their own in their own rational self-interest, can take actions that will deplete this shared, limited resource even when that is not in the long term interests of the individuals.

a common pool resource
A common pool resource is a resource which is rivalrous and non-excludable. For a resource to be rivalrous it must be a resource that, once used by someone, leaves less to use for others. For a resource to be non-excludable it must be something that is not private property, that someone cannot say (legally) that you don’t own and don’t have a right to. An example of this would be the ocean. For a common pool resource, until an organization or institution is created, you cannot exclude people from its use but it does diminish. Organizations and institutions, for Ostrom, are seen as necessary in order to protect common pool resources.

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