Quora answer: Does the veil of ignorance address the problem of the tyranny of the majority?

Apr 08 2013

Such ideas as the “Veil of Ignorance” as a way of approaching the definition of Justice are Analytic tricks, merely hypotheticals in this case used to redefine Justice as Fairness. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/original-position/

The nature of Justice is the key question in Plato’s Republic and is related to virtue:

The virtues for Plato are

  • Courage
  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Wisdom

See Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia at  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-virtue/

Although the idea of social justice based in a social contract is mentioned in Plato’s Republic and was known even earlier, the Republic‘s conception of individual justice is distinctively virtue ethical. To be sure, Plato understands individual justice on analogy with justice “writ large” in the state, but he views the state, or republic, as a kind of organism or beehive, and the justice of individuals is not thought of as primarily involving conformity to just institutions and laws. Rather, the just individual is someone whose soul is guided by a vision of the Good, someone in whom reason governs passion and ambition through such a vision. When, but only when, this is the case, is the soul harmonious, strong, beautiful, and healthy, and individual justice precisely consists in such a state of the soul. Actions are then just if they sustain or are consonant with such harmony.

Such a conception of individual justice is virtue ethical because it ties justice (acting justly) to an internal state of the person rather than to (adherence to) social norms or to good consequences; but Plato’s view is also quite radical because it at least initially leaves it an open question whether the just individual refrains from such socially proscribed actions as lying, killing, and stealing. Plato eventually seeks to show that someone with a healthy, harmonious soul wouldn’t lie, kill, or steal, but most commentators consider his argument to that effect to be highly deficient.

Aristotle is generally regarded as a virtue ethicist par excellence, but his account of justice as a virtue is less purely virtue ethical than Plato’s because it anchors individual justice in situational factors that are largely external to the just individual. Situations and communities are just, according to Aristotle, when individuals receive benefits according to their merits, or virtue: those most virtuous should receive more of whatever goods society is in a position to distribute (exemptions from various burdens or evils counting as goods). This is what we would today call a desert-based conception of social justice; and Aristotle treats the virtue of individual justice as a matter of being disposed to properly respect and promote just social arrangements. An individual who seeks more than her fair share of various goods has the vice of greediness (pleonexia), and a just individual is one who has rational insight into her own merits in various situations and who habitually (and without having to make heroic efforts to control contrary impulses) takes no more than what she merits, no more than her fair share of good things. Since Aristotle treats all individual virtues as (learned dispositions) lying in a mean between extremes (courage, e. g., is between cowardice and foolhardiness), he also doesn’t think it is virtuous to take less than one’s fair share of things (though the issue is somewhat complicated for him).

However (and as William Frankena once noted), this account of justice seems circular or ungrounded, because if one’s fair share depends on how virtuous one is, the issue of what one’s fair share is cannot be decided independently of whether one is being virtuous in actually taking some particular share and the latter issue, in turn, depends for Aristotle on one’s being able to know independently what one’s fair share is. We have reason to doubt, therefore, whether Aristotle has really given us a determinate conception of justice either as an individual or as a situational virtue.

Both Plato and Aristotle were rationalists as regards both human knowledge and moral reasons, and what they say about the virtue of justice clearly reflects the commitment to rationalism. Much subsequent thinking about justice (especially in the Middle Ages) was influenced by Plato and Aristotle and likewise emphasized the role of reason both in perceiving what is just and in allowing us to act justly rather than give in to contrary impulses or desires. But to the extent Christian writers allied themselves with Plato and Aristotle, they were downplaying another central element in Christian thought and morality, the emphasis on agapic love. Such love seems to be a matter of motivationally active feeling rather than of being rational, and some writers on morality (eventually) allowed this side of Christianity to have a major influence on what they had to say about virtue.

The “veil of Ignorance” is an attempt to take out of play the connection of justice to the individual.

Nietzsche transforms the idea of virtues into values. And he then asks the question about the value of values, and comes up with the answer that Life must be the ultimate value generator, so that what ever continues to make life viable has value. And values have value only to the extent that they support life. Nietzsche was critical of Socrates and his view of human centered morality being the basis of all philosophy. http://www.mith.demon.co.uk/SOCRATES.htm, See also http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05072004-160346/

The confrontation of Nietzsche with Socratic Philosophy and his ambivalence toward it, I suggest, tells us more about justice, than these hypothetical arguments of analytical philosophy such as those of Rawls concerning the Veil of Ignorance.

Personally I think we have to go back and look at all four virtues together not just Justice.

What we notice is that what Temperance is to the individual Justice is to the city.

The individual first of all has to have courage, that is the Lion by which the Soul of the Individual is kept from being destroyed by the Hydra, and it is what allows the Humanity of the soul per se to emerge. See Plato’s Theory of the Tripartite nature of the Soul. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato’s_tripartite_theory_of_soul
See also http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/#3

So from Plato’s point of view what prevents justice from being the state of things is the Appetite Soul or the Hydra, and this is controlled by the Lion of courage based on the right use of Anger, and this allows Reason as the Human face of the human-being to appear and that appearance in the individual is seen as the virtue of Temperance, and it is seen in Society as the virtue of Justice. And it is only on the basis of the general temperance counseled by Apollo that Wisdom, i.e. the “know thyself” can flourish.

So Justice as a concept has a context in relation to the other virtues. However, if we ask What is Justice dialectically then we are drawn into trying to understand the nonduals as the kerenel of the Western worldview which are:

  • Order
  • Right = Rta = Arte = Cosmic Harmony
  • Good
  • Fate
  • Sources
  • Root

Justice in indo-european society is Dharma, in other words it depends on one’s caste. What is just for one caste is unjust for another caste. cf Dumazil. nb Mahabharata.

Like Beauty, Justice is a way to understand the nonduals at the kernel of the Western worldview.

Beauty is the archetype that leads us to the Good, the source of variety generated by the source of the archetype.

Justice on the other hand is an idea. As we say “Justice for all” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance

But just like the Good is different for everyone, it was understood in Indo-European society that Justice depends on Caste.

So in a sense this goes against the Veil of Ignorance argument. In an Indo-european context to know the caste was to know the basis of judgement so there was not a complete veil of ignorance, but a partial one.

Justice as we understand it is based on Law, and Law conforms to the caste structure of the Indo-european society, with different laws for the various castes, see the Laws of Manu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manusm%E1%B9%9Bti
So the first condition of Justice is Order within society based on Law. Laws are explicitly stated rules of conduct with associated punishments for transgression. Plato is attempting to establish those laws in the Republic and the Laws (nomos).

But real justice as we know from the case of Solomon recognizes differences, and thus takes into account the difference generation of the Good, which goes beyond just the differences of caste and takes into account the individual differences, so this is what we call the difference between the letter and spirit of the law. Solomon recognizes the mother, and thus is just by his discrimination of differences among claimants.

But Justice in an Indo-European context must also recognize fate, and how we dree our wyrd within existence. Justice pronounces fate in its legal judgments against individuals and determines fate by the punishments it meets out. And we expect those punishments to be “meet” or fitting distributing fates fairly without regard to the position of the person in Society. These punishments infringe on our Liberty, and so Justice is a condition for Liberty. And so this is why the image of Justice is always blindfolded and carrying a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.

But beyond the distribution of fates generally based on the determination of Guilt, there is also the Sources from which justice springs.

In Athens there were five law courts — differing based on the crimes. And to the sources of justice was varied, and not just a single source. The first justice was that of Drako, but then later came the laws of Solon which attempted to unify the laws, but that obscures the source of justice in the various law courts.

And of course it was mythically Apollo and Athena that established the first law courts by placating the Furies who were terrorizing Orestes. In that judgement by Apollo that Athena acceded to Women were made mere receptacles (Chora) of the seed of men, and thus the claims of Clytemnestra were not upheld by the court. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oresteia

So the root of Justice comes from Revenge, Vengeance, Vigilantism, Tribal Justice etc which is brought under control by the establishment of law courts, in the case of Athens based on the crime and who committed the crime.

So in a sense the whole phenomena of Justice comes from the struggle to replace tribalism by the polis, and sovereignty with democracy within the city as it was played out in Athens.

So Justice is a complex concept that we need to understand within its historical, philosophical, and mythic context. When we do that we understand why Plato focuses on it in the Republic (the journey of Socrates into Hell on Earth, the kakatopia, cf Sallis Being and Logos). The contrast with this Hell on Earth is the city of the Laws which is inland and not plagued by the new things, like new goddesses, that come from the Sea. Justice is a way to know the non-duals that are at the kernel of the Western worldview beyond the core of nihilism production that plagues us, and causes us to be unjust because our reason is obscured by sophistical arguments of the Lawyers (or the citizens trained in argumentation and persuasion by the Sophists) and when that is combined with the hydra of the appetites, and the ties to clan and family rather than city, then we are not only unjust to each other but to ourselves.



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