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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Universal Justice in a Global Community

In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. states that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In this global community, justice cannot be relative to cultures and societies. Universal justice must value local needs with mixed tribunals.  The “artifice” of justice is a necessity that requires our cooperation. I want to believe that justice comes from our “innate sympathy” to our community. And even if we are social animals we can go beyond a justice for “just us” to justice for all.  

According to Hume, morality principal task is to search for ways to eliminate contradictions in the “passions” of sympathetic persons, which are “aware of their own and fellow’s desires and needs, including emotional needs”. For Hume, the passion is a primitive state without control, or convention. He claims our passions are corrected by sympathy not by “law-discerning reason.” His philosophy is based on desire and beliefs. He dissociates practical reasoning from morality. For Hume, human sentiments reflect our humanity, which determine beneficial actions. "Here therefore REASON instructs us in the several tendencies of actions, and HUMANITY makes a distinction in favor of those which are useful and beneficial."(Hume)Even if reason indicates the probable ends of an action, passions incite people to cooperate to satisfy their own desires and emotional needs. The capacity for sympathy is an anchor for morality because it offers “a general good will” acting with the concern of humanity.(Hume).  Reason according to Hume is the slaves of our passions. He writes “and that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions.” (Hume). For him, justice is a virtue that requires both moral sentiment and reasoning. 

 By examining Hume’s concept of natural and artificial virtues, I will define his theory of utility, and discusses the value of justice as virtue, to demonstrate that his notion of justice is not relative to culture and society.  Artificial virtues are based on social conventions, while natural virtues are instinctively driven from our humane nature. Innate sympathy, friendship, natural affection, public spirit, and compassion are examples of natural virtues. Justice is one example of artificial virtue because it depends on social convention. Society imposes rules of action to which all members adhere given that it is an interested obligation. By writing “In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind.”(Hume) Hume introduces the concept of “public utility. He defines it as “the true interest of the mankind” to lay down his utilitarian philosophy. The public utility benefits the overall well being of members of a society. He stipulates that justice is a virtue because it serves “public utility”. He mentions that “The use and tendency of that virtue is to procure happiness and security, by preserving order in society.”(Hume) 

  Hume explains that in case of ‘unlimited abundance” justice is inappropriate because there are conflicts about property and necessity.(Hume) Or in case of “extreme benevolence” there is no need for convention to regulate social interactions. “nor would the divisions and barriers of property and obligation have ever been thought of.”(Hume)   The role of justice is to promote happiness and social order in accordance to public utility.  It reiterates his definition of utility and justice by stating that “public utility is the SOLE origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this virtue are the SOLE foundation of its merit.” (Hume) The rules in Hume’s concept of justice are based on “observance” not on “consent” to obey. Those conventions are progressively established to fit the social interactions. People tend to cooperate in order to progress toward their overall best interest. He gives the example of the language; in all language there is common knowledge of good, used as for general maxims to act morally.  Therefore justice through public utility is natural as well as an artificial virtue because our humane nature leads us to cooperate, and conventions are tools to support justice in order to promote happiness according to utility. Hume claims that justice is an appropriate virtue only among equals; the fate of Native Americans was not based on justice or “even humanity” because Europeans felt superior to them. He writes “The great superiority of civilized Europeans above barbarous Indians, tempted us to imagine ourselves on the same footing with regard to them, and made us throw off all restraints of justice, and even of humanity, in our treatment of them.” (Hume)

Conventions to promote utility such as justice are observed by all members of society regardless there cultures. In the example of language, he demonstrates that “all languages universally express the highest merit, which HUMAN NATURE is capable of attaining.”(Hume) Moreover, Annette Baier in “Hume, The Women’s Moral theorist?” explains that the “Human artifice of justice” could not be constructed without self control and cooperation. Even if it is first selfishly directed, it progressively becomes socially coordinate to benefit everyone. She offers the example of “family cooperativeness and inventive self-interested reason” to promote a mutually beneficial cooperation.(Baier) She asserts that justice is a virtue only among equals that practice self control in the interest of all members of society.
  Hume believes that men desire social virtues. Men believe that these virtues are beneficial. However, justice is the sole virtue that promote “public utility”. Hume uses the term of innate sympathy to shows that this moral sentiment is not determined by artificial virtues such as society or culture. Nevertheless it is socially coordinate to benefit all. Hume succeeds to show that justice is not culturally nor socially relative for the reason that justice instinctively driven by “human nature” which universalize it. Given that the capacity for sympathy anchors morality, Hume's justice is not relative to society because it based on “a general good will” to act with the concern of humanity.(Hume) I believe that Hume's theory of utility lays down an "rule utilitarian" form of utilitarianism. Justice serves social utility, so people observe general maxims to promote the greatest happiness as a collectivity. He clarifies that "The convenience, or rather necessity, which leads to justice is so universal, and everywhere points so much to the same rules, that the habit takes place in all societies; and it is not without some scrutiny, that we are able to ascertain its true origin."(Hume) This argument supports that the necessity rather interest obligation makes justice universal in all societies.

By Aline Diop-Nkunzumwami.

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