Friday, December 17, 2010

Justice and J.S. Mill

 I have recently been reading the material for lecture 2 of Justice by Harvard University. The reading for this lecture can be found here. Below are my thoughts on this writing from J.S.Mill.
“... a person in whom the social feeling is at all developed, cannot bring himself to think of the rest of his fellow creatures as struggling rivals with him for the means of happiness, whom he must desire to see defeated in their object in order that he may succeed in his. The deeply rooted conception which every individual even now has of himself as a social being, tends to make him feel it one of his natural wants that there should be harmony between his feelings and aims and those of his fellow creatures.”-J.S.Mill
I do enjoy the notion of creation of happiness for the whole of society. It is difficult to achieve harmony between your own feelings and the aims of others. It is rare that people will tell you what makes them truly happy. They will show you a persona of themselves. They desire to be seen as successful and important. This persona will limit their capacity to reveal their true desires, because it will also reveal what they consider to be, their own failings. You would be making decisions based on the persona and not the truth. You would be making decisions based on what you believe would make another person happy. Happiness is incredibly complex it would be very difficult to define someone else’s perception of it.

Justice as viewed by J.S.Mill

“it is universally considered just that each person should obtain that (whether good or evil) which he deserves; and unjust that he should obtain a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does not deserve... Speaking in a general way, a person is understood to deserve good if he does right, evil if he does wrong; and in a more particular sense, to deserve good from those to whom he does or has done good, and evil from those to whom he does or has done evil. The precept of returning good for evil has never been regarded as a case of the fulfilment of justice, but as one in which the claims of justice are waived, in obedience to other considerations.” - J.S.Mill
If I decided who was deserving of good or evil, who would I become? I would be evil in the presence of evil and good in the presence of those who are good. Why would I surrender my own personal power, based on the behaviour of others?
“Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right. No one has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence, because we are not morally bound to practise those virtues towards any given individual.”- J.S.Mill
How can you practise those virtues at all, if you withhold them from select individuals? If you withhold them, the behaviours associated with those virtues become acts of manipulation. They become tools to receive other things and no longer a virtue.
“It is natural to resent, and to repel or retaliate, any harm done or attempted against ourselves, or against those with whom we sympathise. The origin of this sentiment it is not necessary here to discuss. Whether it be an instinct or a result of intelligence...”
“retribution, or evil for evil, becomes closely connected with the sentiment of justice,”- J.S. Mill
Revenge is not an act of intelligence. It takes a great deal of thought and intellectual skill to control the need for revenge. We want the other person to feel our pain and we desire to inflict it. We try to convince ourselves that we do this so the other person can learn, understand and modify their behaviour. We don’t accept their behaviour and we hold on to the anger until we do. Through acceptance comes forgiveness. It is a great achievement to forgive; it is one of the hardest things you will ever do. The reward is the wonderful piece of mind that allows you to move on with your life.

Below is Lecture 2 from Justice by Harvard University. J.S. Mill is referred to later in the lecture.

Justice by Harvard University is available here.
My thoughts on the first lecture are available here.