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Establising A Just Society

How do we determine the kind of legal system that is best able to provide justice to all members? Based on readings from Matthew (80 A. D. /2003) and Plato (360, B. D. /2003), this paper addresses questions required to answer the question. What is human nature and what is justice? For example, if the human brain is predisposed at birth to being kind, generous, etc. , few legal restraints would be needed. On the other hand, if our brains are predisposed towards being selfish, aggressive, etc.

, without strict legal restraints, life would be one of constant danger. Similarly, if justice is used to mean the equal treatment of all members of society, there would be different laws than if justice were used to mean protecting weaker members of society from exploitation by stronger members. Human Nature and Justice According to Glaucon (Plato, 360 B. C. /2003) Glaucon’s view is reminiscent of the “id,” a Freudian term that has become a part of our language. Infant human nature is essentially that “I want whatever I want and I want it now.

” As infants grow up, they enjoy experiences when they’re able to do to or take from others whatever they please and based on Glaucon’s view of human nature, they would continue doing so if they could. However, they also have painful experiences, where others do the same things to them. Since the painful experiences feel worse than the enjoyable ones feel pleasant, people agree to cooperate in the form of obeying enforceable laws that prevent stealing from or causing harm to others (p. 314).

However, Glaucon must also believe that some people come to internalize these laws so they believe they reflect their own preferences (what else can he mean in distinguishing between those who are “just” vs. “unjust,” p. 324? ). Empirically, most people probably do think of themselves as generally respecting the law, although those at higher levels of moral development also recognize there are circumstances that warrant breaking a law (for example, when Rosa Parks refused to move from the section of the bus that by law was reserved for white people).

The problem, however, is finding people who think of themselves as Glaucon describes the “unjust. ” We know that people won’t admit to others that if they knew they wouldn’t be caught, they’d rob the poor, rape, ravage, or kill those who annoy them. But what do most people admit to themselves? Incidences such as money being stolen from a jar intended for donations to help pay for a child’s surgery suggest there are people who really do think of themselves as Glaucon proposed, although we don’t really know what kinds of excuses these people may be making for themselves.

Human Nature and Justice According to Christ (Matthew, 80 A. D. /2003) Compared to Glaucon’s view of human nature, Christ’s view, contrary to conventional interpretations, seems reminiscent of the behaviorist position which is in the tradition of the “mind as a blank slate. ” In other words, the direction of human development is determined by whatever behaviors and even thoughts an authority promises will be rewarded or punished. Christ’s view of justice presumably is that it is just, for example, for a person who utters the words “you fool” to be punished by “the hell of fire” (p.

26). There is no question that many, probably most, of the rules Christ orders people to follow are admirable – being kind, generous, forgiving of others. However, the only reason ever offered for obeying the rules is the promise of entering “the kingdom of heaven” to those who are faithful to “the will of my father who is in heaven” (p. 27). It is interesting that in Matthew, the first book of the New Testament which is not a sacred Judaic text, it is the “gentiles” – those not descended from the Jews of the Old Testament – who are going to hell (p. 26).

Presumably, the expectation was that the descendants of the Jews of the Old Testament would obey the laws of the New Testament. But the principle is clear: heaven is to be reserved for those who are faithful to Christianity. Indeed, going further than the behaviorists, Christ applied obeying the rules not only to behavior but also to thought (the phrase “your father who sees in secret” is repeated several times, p. 26). In fact, he discouraged public displays of religious behavior {“the hypocrites . . . pray in the synagogues . . . when you pray, go to your room and shut the door .

. . ” p. 26}, an interesting implicit position on items on the Evangelical Christian agenda. Oddly, there is clearly a contradiction to the overall theme of heavenly rewards and the punishment of hell to those who do and do not obey. Not only do earthly rewards seem to be promised (“Ask, and it will be given you,” p. 27) – but these rewards are promised regardless of virtue (“If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ” p. 27).

Despite any contradictions, it seems clear, based on Matthew, that a legal system that is “faith-based” would require laws with both enforceable rewards (e. g. , tax write-offs for charitable contributions) and punishments. Using Glaucon’s and/or Christ’s Theories in Establishing a Just Society Can – or should – Christian morality be the basis of a legal code? Actually, Christ answers this question when he notes that many will enter the “gate that is wide,” which “leads to destruction” and few will choose the “narrow” gate because “the way is hard” (p. 27).

The implication is that using religion to gain compliance and acceptance of one’s position in society doesn’t work (that large numbers do not choose religion as their “opiate”). There also is a question about whether we should be encouraging “obedience” to authority as an admirable value. Regarding Glaucon, regardless of what people do or do not admit to themselves, given the bloody history of civilization and the fact that every minute or every day at least one person is inflicting on another the kind of cruelty that should not occur in any civilized society, it would seem clear that there must be laws protecting people from each other.


Matthew (80 A. D. /2003). The gospel of Matthew. In D. Devine, et al. (Eds. ). Western vision and American values: The Kirkpatrick signature series reader (pp. 25-28). Acton, MA: Bellevue UP. Plato (360 B. C. /2003). The story of Gyges. In D. Devine, et al. (Eds. ). Western vision and American values: The Kirkpatrick series reader (pp. 314-315).

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