Truth and Justice

by Mark English

It seems from a slew of documents that have made their way into the public domain over the last year or so that the FBI and the Department of Justice have become unacceptably politicized, allowing political considerations to affect internal decision-making. No doubt there always has been and always will be a degree of politicization within such agencies and departments, but this tendency does seem to have got out of hand in recent years, and it is no surprise that matters are coming to a head. Juridical and law enforcement systems need to be seen to maintain a certain degree of integrity and independence from politics if they are to operate in anything like an effective way.

Certainly, one doesn’t expect a lot of truth and justice in the broader political sphere. Politics is essentially a power game and often a very dirty one at that. So, naturally, to the extent that the legal system finds itself influenced or infiltrated by political players, it loses credibility.

Lawyers I have known have, on the whole, been pretty cynical about the law and sometimes cynical in other ways too. I was shocked as an idealistic young man by the attitude of a highly-regarded progressive lawyer I once consulted. He was not much older than me, but he confided to me in a dismissive kind of way that he had given up entirely on the sort of sincere idealism that he saw (rightly) as lying behind my preoccupations of the time. His public reputation and profile belied his real views and continued to do so as he rose to national prominence.

Charles Baudelaire wrote about the way the giant wings of the albatross, which make it such an elegant creature when aloft, prevent it from walking properly. He was thinking of poets and artists unable to get by in the world of mundane reality, but the simile works just as well for idealists and well-meaning intellectuals who might seek to engage with, or who happen to find themselves caught up in, the alien world of politics – or the law, for that matter. They tend not to thrive. On the other hand, in today’s think-tank infested world, ideologues will often find a lucrative niche.

Rather than talking directly about politics, however, I just want to make a few remarks and observations about the two concepts – both fundamental to an understanding of social and political questions – which I alluded to above: truth and justice. The notions of truth and truthfulness happen to be central to my own view of things; justice not so much. Let me try to explain why.

Life, it seems to me, is deeply and irredeemably unjust, from the womb. Our attempts to “make things right” are worthy, even inspiring. But it is wishful thinking to believe that political or judicial actions can ever have more than a very modest positive effect on the scheme of things; that they can ever right more than a minuscule fraction of the countless wrongs and injustices that surround us on every side. Putting the matter less emotively, I would say that the domain of predicates such as ‘just’ or ‘fair’ is quite constrained and that related or cognate terms like ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ have very limited applicability.

High-minded intellectuals – who, along with less high-minded intellectuals, were until a century or so ago sponsored almost exclusively by churches or religious organizations – have over the centuries worked out various schemes in which justice does prevail in very significant ways. The only trouble is, these systems – whether one is thinking of the politically-charged apocalyptic literature of Judaism and early Christianity, more sober accounts of divine judgment focused on an individual’s moral choices, or Eastern ideas of karma and reincarnation – do not correspond with reality. As I see it, unless you are committed to such or similar religious notions or at least to the implicit metaphysics of the Natural Law tradition, justice is a problematic concept. Too grand, too ambitious and (in many cases at any rate) not altogether clear.

We have certain instincts that we share with some non-human animals which entail reactions and behaviors that give the appearance of involving a basic, inbuilt sense of fairness or justice, but our developed ideas of justice are heavily mediated by culture and subject to cultural variation.

The current notion of social justice, for example, is clearly culturally determined. It has a peculiar and fascinating history which I may discuss in a future piece. It is also notoriously controversial. Friedrich Hayek rejected the concept of social justice as  nonsense. Justice, as he saw it, is essentially a process and not about engineering some predetermined outcome.  In general terms I go along with this but will not attempt to defend a Hayekian view here.

Of course, in cases where there is common agreement, I’m for justice rather than against it. Who wouldn’t be? But in many cases, it is either impossible to clearly and uncontroversially define or, if it can be clearly defined, it is unattainable.

Truth does not have things stacked against it in quite the same way. Sure, it’s philosophically contentious. But so long as it is understood in an ordinary, everyday, lowercase kind of way, it is quite within reach and attainable much of the time.

I will try to spell this out a little. We often get things right in everyday life in the sense that the claims we make are in accordance with the relevant facts. The cat is in the kitchen. Dinner is served. The coffee is cold. You lied about where you were last night. Such claims, if they are in accordance with the relevant facts, are deemed to be correct or true (it doesn’t really matter which word we use) rather than incorrect/untrue/false. I am just talking about ordinary usage here. Someone accused of lying might deny it by saying: “That’s not true! I was at my grandma’s as I claimed.”

Truthfulness is quite distinct from truth, of course. It is synonymous with honesty and relates to one’s communicative intentions. One is being truthful if one tells it as one sees it, without trying to deceive one’s interlocutor in any way. The facts may be wrong, but it is the intention that counts here. Truthfulness and fallibility are quite compatible.

Truthfulness is inextricably bound up with intellectual integrity. The scientist or historian who fudges her data or distorts the facts is not a real scientist or a real historian. The intellectual or writer who presents the work of others as his own is a fraud and is rightly ostracized.

I have argued that it certainly does make sense to talk of the truth or otherwise of specific claims in the course of everyday life. But truth in its grander or more scientific or scholarly manifestations may be something of an illusion.

Although facts of various kinds may be verified by observation, experimentation, documentation or plausible testimony, how we conceive of facts in the context of scientific research is often determined to a greater or lesser extent by the theoretical framework. Cats and kitchens and coffee and grandmothers are givens within the framework of ordinary natural-language-based conversations. We are using ordinary words in ordinary ways. But when the framework is, say, a scientific theory, and we are moving beyond the normal social framework for which natural language evolved, we need to be more circumspect both in our claims and how we express them. The facts in the context of a scientific theory may be expressed in terms of the theory itself, and so become dependent on that particular conceptual framework (more or less as ordinary facts are dependent on the framework of natural language, social interaction and ordinary life). Do the English words ‘true’ and ‘truth’ carry over into a scientific context? Perhaps. But I don’t think it ever really makes sense to talk of a complex theory as true.

There is a website with the unfortunate name, Why Evolution is True. This just sounds wrong to me, a poor use of English. If ‘evolution’ is taken to refer to a process, then obviously the predicates ‘true’ and ‘false’ cannot apply. They can only apply to claims, beliefs, etc.. Even if the term ‘evolution’ is taken as shorthand for ‘the theory of evolution’ we still have problems. A theory is not a claim; nor is it merely a set of claims. It is a framework within which various claims are made and tested. Can a theory be true? This sort of statement doesn’t really make sense to me. A theory can be good or sound or well-established. Scientific theories are complex objects and they are not set in stone. There will always be modifications in the offing, of one kind or another.

Just as scientific theories are open to being shown to be incomplete or inadequate, so complex narratives purporting to be true accounts may be rejected as such if they are shown to be fictions, i.e. not in accord with certain known facts. But I think it is appropriate to be skeptical about all complex narratives. Inevitably, many quite different stories can be told which fit the known facts, and many more which fit some of the facts.

Much of our social and personal lives is driven by justificatory narratives of one kind or another. Political narratives could be seen as a subset of these: specifically as those justificatory, secular narratives which are shared (or which are designed to be shared) by large numbers of people.

I want to finish up with a few random observations on how antonyms and negation play into this discussion of justice and truth.

Just as the positive rights implicit in social justice are more controversial and contested than negative rights (like liberty), so the concept of justice is (I would suggest) more problematic than the concept of injustice or of a miscarriage of justice. You could argue about whether a person guilty of a crime, for example, ought to be punished in this way or that or punished at all or even blamed. (There might have been extenuating circumstances.) But there would be no disagreement at all about the wrongness of a miscarriage of justice, where a person innocent of a particular crime was convicted for it; or with respect to cases of a broadly similar kind but which do not involve the court system (so that the term miscarriage of justice would not apply). With respect to the latter, I am thinking of situations – not hard to find, it must be said – in which a person is disadvantaged or penalized in some significant way for what is generally accepted as honest and exemplary behavior.

Another point that seems interesting to me here pertains to the linguistic concept of markedness. Markedness phenomena crop up in many linguistic contexts, like grammatical gender, to take an example. Feminine nouns and adjectives often derive and take their core meaning from the unmarked masculine form. (A suffix might be added to signify a feminine noun or adjective.) Markedness also applies to negation. But it seems that certain negations are more uncontroversial and may be clearer than their positive equivalents. This is slightly odd given that the “marked” negative form of an expression (like ‘injustice’) is in a real sense dependent on and derives its meaning from the unmarked positive form (‘justice’). How is it then that cases of injustice can be more readily understood and less controversial than questions of justice? It is as though the semantics is pulling in one direction (making ‘injustice’ the primary term) and morphology and syntax in another.

Note that the two concepts, truth and justice, are not symmetrically related. Truth relates directly to justice. The legal process is designed to uncover the truth of what happened, and perjury is a serious offense. One talks of someone being falsely accused. But justice doesn’t relate directly to questions of truth and falsity. Claims are true or false according entirely to non-justice-related criteria. Justice (or injustice) just doesn’t come into it.

And what of truth and untruth (or falsity)? Is falsity also primary in some sense? Karl Popper – famous for seeking to replace the logical positivist verification principle with a falsification principle – certainly thought so.

Another example I have come across of truth being presented as being more problematic than its opposite is a literary rather than a philosophical one. No doubt there are countless possible examples one could give. This just happens to be one which stuck in my memory.

It comes from the author’s preface to a very controversial book by the literary academic and historian of early French cinema, Maurice Bardèche, Nuremberg ou La terre promise. The book was published in 1948. The épuration légale was still underway. The execution of his friend and brother-in-law, the journalist Robert Brasillach, had politicized Bardèche. But my point here is logical and rhetorical and any discussion of the politics involved will be left for another time.

“I do not know if truth exists,” Bardèche wrote. “Many people have tried by subtle arguments to prove to me that it doesn’t. But I know that lies exist. I know that the systematic distortion of facts is a reality.”

62 Comments »

  1. Surely the claim that there is a distortion of the facts contains the implication that there is an undistorted version of the facts from which the distortion differs?

    And if someone claims that a theory has been falsified aren’t they implying that it is possible for a theory to be true?

    At the very least a claim that a theory has been falsified implies that it is true that the theory has been falsified, thus truth is inescapable.

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    • Robin: Statements can be true or false. Theories cannot. Theories are not simply sets of statements.

      ‘True’ as a predicate can only be ascribed to something that can be disquoted, as in ‘S’ is true iff S.

      I hope we’re not going to have an endless conversation about this, now. I’ve probably had enough of those for a few months at least.

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  2. You could sum up the theory of evolution by something like “The complexity and diversity of life today is explained by some simple organisms going through a process of random mutation and natural selection so that, gradually over time, more diverse and complex life forms emerged”. I take it that when Jerry Coyne says “Evolution is true”, he means that a statement like this is true.

    He obviously does not mean that every single aspect of the theory at some point in time is true.

    If we were to find out that this process couldn’t work, couldn’t produce functional complexity that we see around us then the statement would be false.

    So I don’t see a problem with the theory of evolution being a true account of how the complexity and diversity of life came to be.

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    • So I don’t see a problem with the theory of evolution being a true account of how the complexity and diversity of life came to be.

      = = =

      Good. Mark does. For the reasons he states.

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  3. While you claim that justice and fairness have limited applicability, I try to treat everyone I come in contact with daily justly and fairly, also courteously. So for me they are guiding principles of my life. I realize, as you point out, that we are never going to right any more of a fraction of the countless wrongs which surround us, but I don’t see myself as Don Quijote, on a crusade to right all wrongs, simply as a person who strives to be just and fair in their life.

    In any case, some societies are more just than others. Denmark is more just than Somalia, and that is probably because the Danes have institutions, customs and an educational system that inculcate principles of justice and make being just a matter of common sense, of daily habit. So it seems possible to create societies which are more just, although never ones which are utopias such as that of Plato or for that matter that of Marx. That also seems worth striving for, in the sense of voting for and supporting candidates who seem more likely to take our societies in the direction of Denmark than in that of Somalia.

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    • S. Wallerstein: I don’t see anything in Mark’s essay that would suggest he need disagree with any of this. Nonetheless, Denmark is full of injustice and injustices, which was exactly his point.

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  4. Of course Denmark is full of injustices. Still, I would bet that life there is more just than in Somalia or North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

    I at no point claimed that Mark would disagree with me. I was merely clarifying my position on some points which were unclear to me in his interesting essay. If we are in agreement for once, great!

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  5. “Nuremberg ou la Terre Promise, which was an attack on the Nuremberg Trials and one of the earliest expression of Holocaust denial (…).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Bard%C3%A8che

    “1947 Maurice Bardèche, a French fascist, defends the Nazis and suggests that much of the evidence about the concentration and extermination camps was fabricated. He maintains that any deaths in the camps should be attributed to disease and starvation and blames Jews for taking action against the German people and instigating World War II.” https://www.hdot.org/denial_tl/

    “It was in France that Holocaust denial started in earnest. In 1947, Maurice Bardeche, a self-proclaimed fascist, was the first to maintain that the gas chambers that were said to have been used to exterminate Jews had been used, instead, only to disinfect clothing; that the evidence, including photos, documents and testimonies regarding the annihilations of Jews, had been falsified; and that whatever sufferings the Jews had experienced had been deserved, since they had been enemies of the German state.” Walter Reich, review of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. By Deborah E. Lipstadt. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/11/books/erasing-the-holocaust.html?pagewanted=all

    The history of Holocaust is not a “systematic distortion of facts;” the Jewish survivors did not tell lies. The legal justification for the Nuremburg Trials may have been weak, and the jurists on the tribunal worried about that; but the political and social need for such a confrontation with the inhumane and monstrous behavior – with the concrete evidence and testimony revealing the behavior – of the Nazis was very strong.

    When considering the nature of justice, it might be well to consider the needlessly slaughtered and their survivors first and foremost.

    “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time,” Elie Wiesel, Night

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  6. Hi Mark

    I think you have got the relation between truth and justice back-to-front, though admittedly your view seems plausible at first sight. My view is that the value of truthfulness derives from the value of justice and fairness. Here’s why.

    Truth as such has no value. There are innumerable useless true statements. What matters to us, what has value, is truthfulness. You and I seem to agree on this point. As you say, “Truthfulness is quite distinct from truth, of course. It is synonymous with honesty and relates to one’s communicative intentions.”

    The problem for your view, I think, is to explain truthfulness and honesty without invoking the ideas of justice and fairness. In my view a person is truthful and honest just when they are just and fair in their communications. The unjust person engages in lying and fraud to gain advantage through what they say. It is the injustice, not the falsity of the statement, that makes their action lying and fraud. Hence, as I see it, the value of truthfulness derives from the value of justice and fairness.

    (My view has the further advantage of explaining why it is not dishonest to give a deliberately misleading answer to someone intent on wrongdoing.)

    Alan

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  7. When Coyne says “Evolution is True” then my immediate assumption is that he means something like “It is true that the diversity and complexity of life came about gradually through time from simple organisms going through a process of random mutation and natural selection”.

    I would not conclude he was saying “The process of evolution is true” or “The framework in which we devise and test hypotheses in biology is true”.

    If he means what I understand him to mean then the statement is capable of being true or false and is probably true in the ordinary sense of the word.

    If we had doubts about what Coyne meant then he has written an entire book about it and early on he discusses what he means by “theory”:

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary,a scientific theory is “a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.”

    The Oxford English Dictionary has a number of definitions for “theory”, he has chosen one, as is reasonable. The word is not just used one way in science.

    He goes on to make it plain the proposition that he is claiming is true:

    In essence, the modern theory of evolution is easy to grasp. It can be summarized in a single (albeit slightly long) sentence: Life on Earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species—perhaps a self replicating molecule—that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time,throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.

    After that he breaks it down in steps as to just what the claim is that he says is true.

    The point is, to critique a position you have to understand the position in a way that the person advancing the position would recognise.

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  8. Mark,
    I was nodding in agreement for most of the essay; but you really blew it up in that last paragraph. I could see myself quoting, say, Louis-Ferdinand Celine on a host of topics, but I would only quote his anti-Semitic pamphlets to remark them as anti-Semitic pamphlets and to decry Celine’s stupidity, vulgarity, and callousness in writing them. “The execution of his friend and brother-in-law, the journalist Robert Brasillach, had politicized Bardèche.” That isn’t true – he was an open apologist for Franco and Mussolini as early as at least 1938. What it do, if reports are to be trusted, was generate something like a grand conspiracy theory in his mind absolving Germany of any responsibility and blaming the war on the Allies and the Jews.

    Why did you do this, Mark? I don’t get it.

    Holocaust denialism is among the worst forms of relativism, since no fact, no photograph, no survivor’s testimony, no document from the Wannsee Confernce or confession of an SS Guard, no bone from an Auschwitz oven can ever persuade the denialist that there is a truth before, beyond, and underlying our shared reality.

    “If reports are to be trusted,” I wrote concerning Bardeche’s Fascist commitments. But I do trust those reports, because they come from several sources and include documentation, – including the book you quote from. The relationship between truth, history, justice and politics is not as slippery as you suggest. It is difficult – epistemologically, I see many of the same issues as you do, even more. But that doesn’t deter me from my political commitments. For I also have a sense of justice – and no quibbling or relativism will shake me from it.

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    • EJ: Honestly, I didn’t make the connection with Bardeche when I read the thing, or I would not have let it through as is. He’s not exactly a household name. I’m going to give Mark an opportunity to explain himself, before I take action. But some action or other will be taken. I won’t whitewash or retroactively delete things, but I will make a very public statement of disavowal if it is warranted.

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  9. Robin

    “Surely the claim that there is a distortion of the facts contains the implication that there is an undistorted version of the facts from which the distortion differs?”

    Bardèche, who used the phrase “systematic distortion of facts”, was speaking in a social and political (i.e. non-scientific) context. So I take it this point is not about science but rather about general narratives. Obviously a fact can be distorted or presented in a misleading way. Often this has to do with implied intentions etc. in the context of a narrative. And I don’t see a problem with the notion that such distortions can be systematic. Often this is the case when ideological considerations prevail. I made the point that I am skeptical of all complex narratives because a complex narrative always goes beyond the known facts. So I don’t agree with your claim that there is an “undistorted version of the facts” if that “version” of the facts goes beyond the known facts and includes interpretations etc.. If, in other words, it is a complex narrative.

    “And if someone claims that a theory has been falsified aren’t they implying that it is possible for a theory to be true?”

    Dan has dealt with some aspects of this in his responses. I agree with what he says.

    But I too wondered whether the possibility of “falsification” implies that the thing which is open to falsification would otherwise be rightly designated as true. Not necessarily, I would say.

    “At the very least a claim that a theory has been falsified implies that it is true that the theory has been falsified, thus truth is inescapable.”

    If (hypothetically) we accept that it makes sense to talk of scientific theories as being potentially falsifiable, and if a theory is falsified, then certainly we can say that it is a fact – i.e. is true – that the theory has been falsified. So we are in agreement on this.

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  10. Mark: like EJ I am rather stunned by your closing with Bardeche, a Holocaust Denier and neo-fascist. When added to your earlier admiration of Enoch Powell it’s making me start to wonder about exactly where you are coming from. There are limits to what I will tolerate around here.

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  11. ejwinner

    If you read the actual preface from which I quote, you will see that when Bardèche says that he knows that the systematic distortion of facts is a reality he is referencing his experiences of the épuration, not the Holocaust story.

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    • Mark: I want to be clear. Were you quoting him approvingly with regard to his attitude towards l’epuration, which consisted of legal trials of members of the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime?

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  12. Dan

    As I suggested, we could talk about Bardèche (and his politics) another time. Please don’t make any assumptions regarding my personal views. I am definitely not on board with Bardèche whose views are in many ways diametrically opposed to mine.

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  13. Mark:

    I’m sorry, but you don’t get to protest people “making assumptions” about your personal views. When you write stuff like this and use these sorts of examples, you beg for it. I will tolerate a broad spectrum of views here, but nothing that smacks of neo-fascism, Alt-Rightism, or anything of the sort. There are a gazillion examples you could have used to make the point you wanted to make and you chose a French Holocaust Denier and neo-fascist, who is defending his friend, another French neo-fascist journalist. You cite his protestation of l’epuration — the French, internal version of the Nuremberg trials — as an example of the “distortion of facts.” This after you already published a somewhat admiring piece of another neo-fascist, Enoch Powell.

    You can’t possibly be surprised that this raises questions about where you’re coming from. And it’s not anyone else’s fault.

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  14. “I want to be clear. Were you quoting him approvingly with regard to his attitude towards l’epuration, which consisted of legal trials of members of the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime?”

    No. I was quoting it as a literary/rhetorical example and made it clear that I was *not* dealing here with the political side of it.

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    • Although I said it in another comment, I want to be explicit: I think the example is poorly chosen and begs people to get the wrong impression — a very negative impression — of where you are coming from. If I’d caught it, I wouldn’t have published it as is, but I will not retroactively delete it, which strikes me as dishonest.

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  15. People should understand that the French extreme right is one of my *academic* interests. Not a central one, but *one* of my areas of interest. My views are the views which I express from time to time, and not the views of people I might write about.

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  16. Mark,
    I’m not going to read that preface, for the same reasons I never read Robert Faurisson, when he was at the center of denialist debate in the later ’80s – there’s just so much crap I can put before my eyes before throwing up.

    I’ll believe you that the preface concerns the épuration – but so what? The background information is his admiration for Nazis, his anger at the fall of Vichy, and his anti-Semitism. I’m sure the loss of his brother-in-law effected him emotionally, but again – so what? From what I gather, Brasillach wrote an important film history early on, ok. but then spent the rest of his life propagandizing murderers. I’m glad he was executed. The épuration saw certain injustices committed, undoubtedly; but it served a necessary purpose at the time, reminding the French that ‘this (Fascism, collaborationism) is not acceptable!’ I wish Bardeche had spent more time in prison.

    “I was quoting it as a literary/rhetorical example and made it clear that I was *not* dealing here with the political side of it.” Twice you said this, in the essay and in a comment. Nuremberg ou La terre promise is apparently a political tract against the Nuremberg Trials! you can’t quote from it without discussing its politics, not if you want to play fair with your readers. “Literary/rhetorical example”? – of what, how well political hacks can sometimes toss off a bon mot about how unfair the world has been to them?

    I haven’t read Bardeche’s non-political work on Balzac, or on film history. But I have read his disgusting panegyric to Mussolini, and that’s all I need: given his politics – both early and late – the best to be said of him might be: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”

    I’m sorry, this really did spoil the essay for me,. You raised some very important issues in it; but now I have to think twice about why you raised those issues. That may not be fair to you; but by not discussing the politics of the book you quoted from, or going more into why that quote had meaning in the context of your essay, frankly, you didn’t play fair with your reader.

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  17. Mark,
    “People should understand that the French extreme right is one of my *academic* interests.”
    All right very well. But you should still have discussed what you were doing with that quote – again, to be fair with the reader.
    At any rate, I won’t rant on further. If I did rant, you’ll remember that rhetorical analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf – which required extensive research into the horrors of that era – was one of my academic interests – and has personal interest for me as well.

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  18. I’m afraid I’ll hare off at a tangent. Why is it that “why evolution is true” sounds awkward but “belief in evolution” doesn’t, given the context of the book (the book title was first) as a response to utterances like “Do Catholics believe in evolution?”, “Many clergymen believe in evolution”, “One-third of Americans don’t believe in human evolution”? Of course, a great many websites are now called “evolution is false” 😉 . Taking Dan K’s Tarskian approach is interesting and reads OK to me: “evolution is not the case”. Then, Jerry Coyne’s book should have been “Why evolution is the case”.

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  19. Alan

    “… [T]he value of truthfulness derives from the value of justice and fairness… Truth as such has no value. There are innumerable useless true statements. What matters to us, what has value, is truthfulness.”

    Not *just* truthfulness. Perceiving correctly, remembering, reasoning logically and with critical awareness, general astuteness of thinking: all these things have value too because they minimize error. They have nothing to do with communicational intentions.

    You quote from the essay: “Truthfulness is quite distinct from truth, of course. It is synonymous with honesty and relates to one’s communicative intentions.”

    Note that I am distinguishing truth from truthfulness, whereas you seem to want to say that truth is not important (and merge it into truthfulness?).

    “The problem for your view, I think, is to explain truthfulness and honesty without invoking the ideas of justice and fairness.”

    I don’t see why this is a problem for me. Why can’t I just say that truth (or “getting things right”) is one thing and truthfulness is another, and they both have value?

    “In my view a person is truthful and honest just when they are just and fair in their communications. The unjust person engages in lying and fraud to gain advantage through what they say. It is the injustice, not the falsity of the statement, that makes their action lying and fraud. Hence, as I see it, the value of truthfulness derives from the value of justice and fairness… (My view has the further advantage of explaining why it is not dishonest to give a deliberately misleading answer to someone intent on wrongdoing.)”

    This sounds like a plausible analysis. Is it incompatible with what I am saying?

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  20. Truth is an ideal, and so is Justice. By ideal, I mean not a concrete referrent, a so-called abstract noun. We must form ideas about them if we want to approach closer to what these two concepts entail. And if the ideas we form are to be well-grounded, they must derive from our experiences, social experiences (especially in the case of Justice). It is because of this — their ideal nature — that the markedness paradox is exhibited which you refer to. Instances of falling short of the ideals are more concrete in nature and so we can approach and discuss them (unthruths & injustices) with less difficult thinking.

    Your contrast between the the quality, the character, of Truth and Justice per se can also be seen in terms of necessary degrees of abstraction. Some of the points you assert about these two I am not readily in agreement with, for example whether they are comparatively more or less suitable as a basis of one’s approach towards life. But it is of course the case that judgements about justice must concern deeds, human social activity, usually. Truth does not have this requirement or association. Truth deals with thinking; justice with doing.

    I find that the clearest experience we can have of actually encountering capital T truth and knowing it is in the activity of doing math. I stress activity because most people have never done math in the way I am saying. To trace through, discover, and hold as a panorama of clear thoughts the elements of a sequence of ideas within a mathematical theorem is to ‘prove’ it. This comes very close to knowing truth. But it is only a kind of introductory schooling as it is much more difficult to pursue truth within other realms (like philosophy) where the ideas are less precise. In the social realm this becomes even more tangled. As noted, ideas about justice are heavily culturally saturated. This is shown in their changeability too. The legal corpus is ‘alive’, like language is. Justice is above Legality on the abstraction scale though, and we know of many cases where something is morally ‘right’ (closer to truth in a moral dimension) to a greater degree than it is legally correct or false.

    So both truth and justice we pursue, we refine our apprehensions of them; we do not grasp them. We can cultivate the richness of their relative concepts within our mind, our soul life. It interests me that both of these concepts are alive within Virtue Ethics. Truthfulness (the willed activity of pursuing and approaching and doing according to Truth) is one of Aristotle’s 12 original virtues. And Justice shows up as one of the four cardinal virtues which the twelve were sometimes condensed into. Virtues are activities towards held ideals, and it is incumbent on their practitioners to cultivate both deeper concepts about what they signify (to know) and more deliberate persistent actions in accord with them (to do).

    There are other nitpicky things, such as your certainty that more traditional or theological foundations for making an excursion into developing what Justice is offers no value. It just requires deeper thinking, more time, and a meditative approach instead of an analytic one. In particular, I doubt that you have any basis to declare that the ideas of karma and reincarnation (which concepts if developed in a thorough-going manner could absolutely revolutionize our outlooks concerning justice) have nothing to do with reality, for example. But I like the general direction of your essay and the questions it provokes. (Happily, I know little about the French Resistance etc., but I do find that just on a structural reading the essay stands better without the inclusion of the final two paragraphs.)

    Like

    • Yeah, Mark’s breezy, argument-free claims about “reality” and what it consists of have always been some of the weaker parts of his pieces. At best one gets a sort of handwave in the direction of “science,” but beyond that, nothing.

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  21. stolzyblog

    “… It is because of this — their ideal nature — that the markedness paradox is exhibited which you refer to. Instances of falling short of the ideals are more concrete in nature and so we can approach and discuss them (unthruths & injustices) with less difficult thinking.”

    Nice point.

    “Your contrast between the the quality, the character, of Truth and Justice per se can also be seen in terms of necessary degrees of abstraction. Some of the points you assert about these two I am not readily in agreement with, for example whether they are comparatively more or less suitable as a basis of one’s approach towards life.”

    I was not saying that one or other is “more …. suitable as a basis for one’s approach towards life” so much as giving a personal view on this.

    “But it is of course the case that judgements about justice must concern deeds, human social activity, usually. Truth does not have this requirement or association. Truth deals with thinking; justice with doing.”

    Or with being done to! You can see (in a sense) a lack of justice and fairness in the workings of the natural world (the good, hardworking person getting a terrible disease, that sort of thing).

    “I find that the clearest experience we can have of actually encountering capital T truth and knowing it is in the activity of doing math. I stress activity because most people have never done math in the way I am saying. To trace through, discover, and hold as a panorama of clear thoughts the elements of a sequence of ideas within a mathematical theorem is to ‘prove’ it. This comes very close to knowing truth. But it is only a kind of introductory schooling as it is much more difficult to pursue truth within other realms (like philosophy) where the ideas are less precise. In the social realm this becomes even more tangled. As noted, ideas about justice are heavily culturally saturated. This is shown in their changeability too. The legal corpus is ‘alive’, like language is. Justice is above Legality on the abstraction scale though, and we know of many cases where something is morally ‘right’ (closer to truth in a moral dimension) to a greater degree than it is legally correct or false.”

    Again nicely put. But expressions like “closer to the truth in a moral dimension” suggest that you hold to a form of moral realism which I am uneasy about.

    “So both truth and justice we pursue, we refine our apprehensions of them; we do not grasp them. We can cultivate the richness of their relative concepts within our mind, our soul life.”

    I suspect that your “soul life” is richer than mine!

    “There are other nitpicky things, such as your certainty that more traditional or theological foundations for making an excursion into developing what Justice is offers no value. It just requires deeper thinking, more time, and a meditative approach instead of an analytic one. In particular, I doubt that you have any basis to declare that the ideas of karma and reincarnation (which concepts if developed in a thorough-going manner could absolutely revolutionize our outlooks concerning justice) have nothing to do with reality, for example.”

    I realize that others are more sympathetic to religious and similar views than I am. As I personally reject religious views, any philosophical position which explicitly or implicitly derives from or depends on them in any way is not much use to me.

    “But I like the general direction of your essay and the questions it provokes.”

    Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

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  22. Mark, I took your essay as arguing that justice is difficult to define and not a goal that can be pursued effectively, whereas truth is somehow more accessible and achievable. Here’s what I was responding to.

    “Life, it seems to me, is deeply and irredeemably unjust, from the womb.”

    “Putting the matter less emotively, I would say that the domain of predicates such as ‘just’ or ‘fair’ is quite constrained and that related or cognate terms like ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ have very limited applicability.”

    “But in many cases, it [justice] is either impossible to clearly and uncontroversially define or, if it can be clearly defined, it is unattainable. Truth does not have things stacked against it in quite the same way.”

    My reply was in two parts: to show that truth as such is not an ideal, since only certain kinds of truth have value; and to show that the value of truthfulness is dependent on the role of justice in shaping that concept.

    Your reply is to agree with my second claim, but to deny that you need to deny it. Good, but this seems hard to reconcile with the claim that justice is a term of very limited applicability. Truthfulness and honesty are ideas of great scope and applicability, I would think.

    You also respond: “Why can’t I just say that truth (or “getting things right”) is one thing and truthfulness is another, and they both have value?” My objection to the claim that truth as such has value is that there are many valueless truths, and to make truth valuable it has to be relevant to some other concern of ours. What matters is getting things right in a relevant way.

    My objection to “truth as such” has nothing to do with general scepticism (or Holocaust denialism) but to the way in which often truth gets valued (as in your essay) and relevance gets forgotten. It’s a flaw in the empiricist tradition, I think.

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  23. Alan, Stolzyblog,
    thank you for rescuing the conversation! Your reactions are the sort we should ordinarily expect. The other contributions greatly disappointed me.

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    • I’m sorry if I disappointed you, labnut. But the references at the end were disturbing and not well explained. I hope you understand my concern. I gave Mark an opportunity to explain and he did. All is good as far as I’m concerned.

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  24. I hope you understand my concern

    I do. Antisemitism is the ugliest thing ever to deface humanity and every manifestation of it must be opposed vigorously. For a while it became semi-dormant then it mutated to appear under new disguises. But it is still there, as virulent as ever. We need to be sensitive and alert, to strike down this dreadful hydra-headed monster. And so I really do understand your reaction.

    I read the essay not knowing the background and it seemed to me that he had ended the essay with an apt quote. Now that I know the background it seems it is especially apt because of the unintended irony of the words:

    “I do not know if truth exists… “Many people have tried by subtle arguments to prove to me that it doesn’t. But I know that lies exist. I know that the systematic distortion of facts is a reality.”

    Knowing the source there is such irony in those words. This perfectly describes the revisionist work of antisemitism, where lies and injustice go hand in hand, masquerading as truth and justice, especially in attitudes towards modern Israel.

    Mark is a gentle and principled soul and I can find no trace of antisemitism in him. I think that his intuition suggested that quote for exactly the reason I gave above, which makes his ending rather clever. If he had been explicit about it that would have spoiled something of the ‘Aha’ moment of realisation, but would have spared you the pain that the words evoked.

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  25. I should add that subtle irony is quintessentially English and I would expect it from someone of Mark’s background.

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  26. Alan

    “My reply was in two parts: to show that truth as such is not an ideal, since only certain kinds of truth have value; and to show that the value of truthfulness is dependent on the role of justice in shaping that concept… Your reply is [not?] to agree with my second claim, but to deny that you need to deny it. Good, but this seems hard to reconcile with the claim that justice is a term of very limited applicability.”

    You interpret truthfulness (and all of morality?) in terms of a particular understanding of justice. So in your sense justice has a broader range of application than it does in the normal, narrower understanding of the term. But even if we take the scope of justice to be as broad as the scope of morality, its scope is still quite restricted. My main point (not explicitly spelled out) is that the natural world knows nothing of justice (or morality) and so to the extent that we are products and beneficiaries and victims of natural processes (e.g. natural endowments, susceptibility to various diseases and so on) we are talking about luck or misfortune rather than just deserts.

    “Truthfulness and honesty are ideas of great scope and applicability, I would think.”

    Within the context of human *communication*, yes.

    “You also respond: “Why can’t I just say that truth (or “getting things right”) is one thing and truthfulness is another, and they both have value?” My objection to the claim that truth as such has value is that there are many valueless truths, and to make truth valuable it has to be relevant to some other concern of ours. What matters is getting things right in a relevant way.”

    Agreed. This goes back to your first point: trivial and irrelevant truths outnumber relevant or significant truths by many orders of magnitude.

    “My objection to “truth as such” has nothing to do with general scepticism (or Holocaust denialism) but to the way in which often truth gets valued (as in your essay) and relevance gets forgotten. It’s a flaw in the empiricist tradition, I think.”

    Did I talk about “truth as such”? When I talk about astuteness of thought and “getting things right” and ordinary uses of expressions like “That’s not true!”, I am implicitly talking about relevant or significant truths.

    You want to make this explicit, and this is fine with me. Relevance *is* always important but relevance is not normally – or at least not necessarily – a moral criterion. You can cannot reduce relevance to the moral.

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  27. Labnut

    Thanks for your support (though I think perhaps you are giving me too much credit for subtlety etc.).

    As a result of what has happened here (my use of that particular quote and the reaction), I feel less inclined to address here a set of topics which are of interest to me and concerning which I have some knowledge.

    As I indicated in the essay, I wanted to return to Bardèche, Brasillach et al. later. I had intended to highlight their extreme *Romanticism*. I am always interested in what drives people – especially the clever and gifted – into extreme political positions.

    If anyone is interested, Alice Kaplan has academic credibility on the topic of the politics of Brasillach and Bardèche. She has written intelligently about both writers, and visited and interviewed an aging Bardèche. I recommend her work.

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    • I’m sure that you can find many other examples of creative people who adopted extreme political postures.

      As a Jew and one who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, I find Brasillach and Bardeche to be beyond the pale, so to speak.
      I feel the same, by the way, about Heidegger.

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  28. Mark,
    As I indicated in the essay, I wanted to return to Bardèche, Brasillach et al. later.

    That would be unwise. I have been re-thinking Dan-K’s reaction. Our moral outrage at those events has naturally declined over time as memories recede. But the memories of the families of Holocaust survivors remain strong and painful. We should respect that. There is the additional problem that the decline in our sensitivity to that moral outrage is creating space for antisemitism to grow, and it is indeed growing. It takes many forms, subtle and not so subtle. But as it expands it gives encouragement to the deadly enemies of Israel, emboldening them and granting them the cover of pseudo moral justification. It gives Arab extremism the encouragement to refuse consideration of any reasonable settlement and instead to fight for the destruction of Israel. It gives encouragement to Iran which has no possible need of nuclear weapons to defend itself. What will we say when Iranian nuclear bombs explode across Israel? So sorry but we didn’t do it!!!!!!!!!!! No amount of hypocritical hand wringing after the event will undo the consequences of the Second Holocaust. Who will take in the meagre band of pitiful survivors? No, not I, the Germans will cry. We have done our bit by taking in one million Muslim migrants and taking in the Jews will inflame tensions too much. And so it goes.

    So I sound alarmist! Damn right I should. The alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear. They failed to ring across Europe 85 years ago, with unimaginable consequences, and we are making the same mistake now.

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  29. What I miss in Mark’s stimulating essay is a sense of overall context that relates things like truth and justice to our lives. Let me try to supply one such context.

    Life is haphazard, threatening, hazardous and treacherous. In this sea of hazard we navigate by exercising trust. We cannot do otherwise because that would mean ceasing to act. I trust that the earth will still be there when I take my next step. I trust the world is largely consistent and predictable. I trust that my fellows will uphold their side of the mutual agreement that we call society. I trust that, for all its uncertainty, hazard and suffering that there is ultimately hope and meaning in life that will sustain me through the vale of tears.

    The most basic emotion that we feel is trust. But it is not an unfounded trust. This trust is grounded in the truths that we come, over time to recognise. It is true that the natural world is uncannily consistent and predictable, despite surface appearances. This we can call natural truth, or if you wish, science. It is true that our society works together in quite miraculous ways, and this we call ethical truth, or ethical behaviour. It is true that the majority of society finds greater hope and meaning in transcendent truth, which we might call religion.

    The perceived truths, that is natural truth, ethical truth and transcendent truth, sustain our trust in life so that we continue to live productively, hopefully and meaningfully in a synergistic society.

    This trusting life, founded on natural truth, ethical truth and transcendent truth is regulated by justice. Justice concerns itself with failures in trust where natural truth, ethical truth of transcendent truth have been violated.. We experience many departures from these perceived truths and we need justice to compensate us and sustain us. Thus when we experience a natural disaster we hope for and expect justice in the form of assistance and compensation. When we experience an ethical disaster we hope for and expect redress and justice through the legal system. But justice is seldom complete, fair and available to all. We still have to contend with suffering, tragedy and loss. Transcendent truth give us the hope, the trust, that ultimately, on a much larger time scale, justice will prevail, if not now, later.

    To sum up. We live in a trusting way. Trust is the foundation of our life. Trust is founded on perceived natural, ethical and transcendent truths. Justice is concerned with failures in trust caused by departures from these truths, and acts to restore our trust.

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  30. I respectfully disagree with Labnut.

    I think Brasillach is an interesting subject. For me it’s a mystery how educated and intelligent people like Brasillach (and Drieu La Rochelle etc.) could eagerly jump, head forward, in the trap of antisemitism. Every analysis that explains why they did, is relevant. Aren’t we all educated and intelligent and convinced that we know what’s right and wrong? Aren’t we all convinced that we are on the right side of history?

    But I don’t like the way Mark E. introduced Brasillach and Maurice Bardèche without providing the context – a context probably mostly unknown by the readers of Electric Agora. I found his reference to the épuration particularly insidious. One can have endless discussions about the justice or the injustice of the épuration after WW II, but it remains a fact that a remarkable number of people – Maurice Papon, just to name one – escaped prosecution (in the case of Papon, until Le Canard enchaîné discovered his role in the Vichy régime).
    And not only in France. Research has shown that the épuration in a country like Belgium was a relatively mild affair, and that economic collaboration with the Nazis often wasn’t punished.

    I don’t know if Electric Agora is the forum for these discussions, however.

    Like

    • Intelligent and educated people have been anti-semites in Europe since the Middle Ages, as far as I know.

      Try Shakespeare (Shylock) or Dickens (Fagin) or Dostoyevsky (myriad anti-semitic comments in all his novels).

      How about Nietzsche who although he declares himself to be an “anti-anti-semite” and says nice things about the Jews from time to time often seems like an anti-semite. What must the hardcore anti-semites have been like in Nietzsche’s day for Nietzsche (who once again talks like an anti-semite) for Nietzsche to have declared himself an “anti-anti-semite?

      Then there’s Nietzsche’s pal, Wagner.

      How about Marx and Wittgenstein, both Jews, whose writings are full of anti-semitic remarks?

      Now if minds as great as those I list above were anti-semites, we must suppose that the uneducated or semi-educated masses were equally full of hatred for Jews, as the mass genocide carried out by almost the whole German population (the Poles joined in the fun too) shows. In fact, of all the European countries only the Danes made an effort (fairly successful) to save the Jews.
      The Italians, apparently, did not really make an effort to save the Jews, but on the other hand, made little effort to join the Nazis in murdering them, which is to their credit, given the general anti-semitic climate.

      So Brasillac and Bardeche only went along with the mob. If someone wants to analyze why they did that while other French writers, for instance, Camus and with a lesser degree of commitment and risk Sartre, joined the resistance, that’s ok with me.

      Like

  31. Couvent,
    I think Brasillach is an interesting subject. For me it’s a mystery how educated and intelligent people like Brasillach (and Drieu La Rochelle etc.) could eagerly jump, head forward, in the trap of antisemitism. Every analysis that explains why they did, is relevant.

    I am torn two ways. My curiosity drives me to seek understanding. I believe in restorative justice. I believe in reformation, forgiveness and rehabilitation. On the other hand is there not a level of evil such that we dare not mitigate it in the slightest by seeking understanding? Are not the apologists for such evil at least as much to blame because they cannot claim exigent circumstances?

    We have entered the age of relativism where evil has been defined out of existence. People are the unfortunate product of their environment. They lack free will and are not truly responsible for their actions. We should not punish but instead seek understanding and rehabilitation. However hatred, bigotry, vileness and evil still exist and the danger is that they will grow to exploit the space that relativism provides.

    The collaborators in France practised relativism. This is the situation they said. We must deal with it and make the best of it. Cooperation can be to our mutual benefit. Expediency can be more important than principle. The Germans want the Jews? OK, why should that get in the way of useful cooperation. After all we don’t really know what is going on. Etc. OK, I know, I am being wise after the event, but one should be wise after the event, unlike the revisionists and apologists.

    There comes a sticking point in life, where you say thus far and no further. You summon up your courage and prepare to lose everything rather than abandon principle. This happens in small ways and large ways. It is known as integrity. Relativism does not have a sticking point.

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    • Labunt wrote:

      The collaborators in France practised relativism. This is the situation they said. We must deal with it and make the best of it. Cooperation can be to our mutual benefit. Expediency can be more important than principle. The Germans want the Jews? OK, why should that get in the way of useful cooperation. After all we don’t really know what is going on. Etc. OK, I know, I am being wise after the event, but one should be wise after the event, unlike the revisionists and apologists.

      = = =

      Well. this is beautiful and wise.

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  32. Mark: I hope you write the essay. The fact that I thought the example was poorly handled in this case (for some of the reasons raised by EJ) does not mean the personalities in question are not worth a serious examination. If you want to do serious analysis of French postwar fascist thought, I’ll be more than happy to publish it.

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  33. Labnut

    You made a brief and bold attempt to provide a neat conceptual framework which relates justice to truth.

    One point you bring out parallels one of my points: that religion or some form of religious metaphysics is necessary if we are to see our situation as being morally harmonious.

    But I find fault with your logic in one respect…

    “Trust is founded on perceived natural, ethical and transcendent truths. Justice is concerned with failures in trust caused by departures from these truths, and acts to restore our trust.”

    There may be departures from the things our science might claim to be the case or predict. But these failures don’t really have moral relevance or implications in the way you suggest (concerning trust etc.). And the so-called laws of nature which our science tries to capture *can* be trusted. There are no departures from them (by definition!).

    Your more recent comment (about relativism) I may respond to later.

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  34. labnut, Mark,
    “There comes a sticking point in life, where you say thus far and no further. You summon up your courage and prepare to lose everything rather than abandon principle.” I am in complete agreement. If I put my case too strongly or unfairly, please understand where this came from.

    Dan, Mark
    “The fact that I thought the example was poorly handled in this case (for some of the reasons raised by EJ) does not mean the personalities in question are not worth a serious examination.” I am in complete agreement with this as well.

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  35. Mark:

    You say, “As I see it, unless you are committed to such or similar religious notions or at least to the implicit metaphysics of the Natural Law tradition, justice is a problematic concept. Too grand, too ambitious and (in many cases at any rate) not altogether clear.”

    Hobbes for one provided a non-religious form of natural law, one I find very plausible and clear.

    “it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves.

    From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavour peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself.”

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  36. Alan

    I like some aspects of Hobbes’s approach (it almost seems like an early form of a game theoretic tit-for-tat strategy) but am uneasy about some of his terminology and uncertain about the soundness of his “state of nature” intuitions/assumptions. I think I would stand by my claim. *Most* natural law approaches at any rate involve metaphysical assumptions which I do not share.

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  37. Mark,
    You made a brief and bold attempt to provide a neat conceptual framework which relates justice to truth.

    My interest in this was sparked by a post by Massimo where he argued that truth was the foundation of the virtues. I found his argument contrived and artificial. I argued in reply that trust was the foundation of all the virtues(he huffily disagreed!). Every act of social significance requires trust. Our cooperative acts as a society are bound together by trust. Trust is what makes cooperation efficient. A society without trust would become hopelessly inefficient because of the elaborate and extensive mechanisms that would be required for checking and enforcement to replace trust

    But how do I know that others can be trusted? How do they know I can be trusted? The answer is that we developed systems of virtue ethics for this end. They signal our trustworthiness. Your practice of the virtues gives me reason to believe you are trustworthy. My virtuous behaviour helps you to believe I am trustworthy. Trust allows social transactions to be conducted dependably and efficiently. The short hand term for this property of people we call integrity.

    Because of its central importance we have developed the means to intuitively assess another person’s integrity from his demeanour and not only his history. We are actually quite good at doing this and can mostly detect integrity from the eyes, the facial muscles, the voice and bearing. We find it difficult to conceal deceit and easy to detect deceit(mostly).

    This is an important reason for social events. They are there to build trust. I want others to believe I am trustworthy and I want to detect the trustworthiness of others. The relaxed setting of social events facilitates this and this is especially true of business lunches and dinners. The accumulation of trust binds our social group.

    The penalties of failing trust are usually severe and the person is marked as a social outcast. This is why we more readily grant trust to those in our social grouping. We benefit from the trust judgements of others. This is also why membership of your social group is so important, so that you can benefit from the group assessment.

    Now we can bring in the concept of truth. Truth is my true knowledge of your intentions. I want to know the truth about you so that I can know that you are trustworthy.

    But if trust is so important it also creates an opportunity for those prepared to exploit it. They are the free-riders who have learned to dissimulate. To hold the free-riders in check we have been forced to introduce other mechanisms and we can collectively call this ‘justice’. Because free-riders have deliberately flouted our trust we need stronger enforcement mechanisms. Consigning that person to the status of a social outcast is not enough.

    But this does not answer your objection. I will do that in another comment. I wanted to expand on why trust is the foundation of all else before considering your objection.

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  38. Mark,
    There may be departures from the things our science might claim to be the case or predict. But these failures don’t really have moral relevance or implications in the way you suggest (concerning trust etc.). And the so-called laws of nature which our science tries to capture *can* be trusted. There are no departures from them (by definition!).

    I fear you may have misunderstood my argument. Let me expand on it.

    Imagine for a moment you live in a rubbery room. Every step you took the floor might rise to meet you, or fall away, or perhaps tilt unpredictably. The windows might move around and every time you tried to open the door it dodged away to another wall. It would be an unlivable world. In fact the world is astonishingly regular and predictable. There is no clear reason why this should be so(unless you happen to believe in God) but we find it to be so and it makes life liveable. More importantly, we trust that it will continue to be so. We trust that the sun will rise tomorrow, that cause and effect will continue to operate reliably. This trust is so strong that we call it belief but it really still is trust. This belief we invest with a quality we call ‘the truth’.

    However, disturbing things still happen from time to time that painfully disturbs this ordered world and what you trusted to happen does not happen. The truth of your beliefs are challenged. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, pestilence and disease are all examples of this. Some call this natural evil, as opposed to moral evil, when discussing theodicy, though, like you, I don’t believe this has inherent moral significance, though my response to it has moral significance.

    To understand the relevance of justice to this we must distinguish between restorative justice and retributive justice. Retributive justice is mainly concerned with moral failures of trust. But when natural evil(the bad consequences of nature) happen to us we respond in a different way, with restorative justice. We help our neighbour douse the fire in his house. We help him to recover by giving him a place to stay overnight and we help him to rebuild. We regard it as a matter of justice that others should be protected from natural evil, be restored to a whole state and to enjoy the protections that we have. This is restorative justice in a world of natural evil.

    As I said earlier:
    The perceived truths, that is natural truth, ethical truth and transcendent truth, sustain our trust in life so that we continue to live productively, hopefully and meaningfully in a synergistic society.
    To sum up. We live in a trusting way. Trust is the foundation of our life. Trust is founded on perceived natural, ethical and transcendent truths. Justice is concerned with failures in trust caused by departures from these truths, and acts to restore our trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Mark,
    The épuration légale was still underway

    There is a very interesting parallel between the épuration légale and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

    Both processes addressed the same kind of problem. There had been a sustained period of conflict, great wrongs had been committed with strongly racial overtones, there was an urgent need for retributive justice and restorative justice. There was also a need to seek reconciliation and unity. The French and South Africans addressed this in very different ways. In France there was a period of savage retribution which was only later mitigated by amnesties. South Africa instead formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission(the TRC), headed by a churchman(Archbishop Desmond Tutu) with the promise that full disclosure of crimes could earn amnesty.

    The commission was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty. To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress.

    We feared an immense bloodbath, especially in light of what happened elsewhere in Africa. That did not happen. Instead there was a peaceful and orderly transfer of power, without violence or retribution.

    How was that possible?

    A large part of the answer was the role that the churches played in opposing Apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Dennis Hurley of the Catholic Church, Rev. Alex Boraine of the Methodist Church and Dr Beyers Naude of the Dutch Reformed Church are especially notable. And there were many others. The South African Council of Churches never ceased opposing Apartheid. Consequently the churches were held in high regard and their message of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation resonated with the general population. There were exceptions of course and there were still vocal calls for vengeance. Another part of the answer was the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, who heeded the calls from the churches. His immense stature among ordinary people gave the TRC considerable weight. His decision to appoint a churchman(Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with Alex Boraine, to head up the TRC was inspired genius.

    The immediate consequence was that, unlike France, there was no wild period of bloodletting as people evened the scores. Not a single person was executed.

    Immediately following the liberation, France was swept by a wave of executions, public humiliations, assaults and detentions of suspected collaborators, known as the épuration sauvage (wild purge).[2] This period succeeded the German occupational administration but preceded the authority of the French Provisional Government, and consequently lacked any form of institutional justice.[2] Approximately 10,500 were executed, before and after liberation.

    But the longer term consequences are even more startling.

    The Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town conducted a study: Attitudes and Perceptions of Black South Africans towards Jewish People in March 2017.

    See http://www.kaplancentre.uct.ac.za/kaplancentre/news/A-Study-of-Attitudes-towards-Jews-among-Black-South-Africans

    The study contrasted the attitudes of Blacks to other population groups with their attitudes towards Jews and in the process revealed the attitudes of Blacks towards Whites. The result is astonishing, given our recent history:

    Net favourability rating by Blacks of other population groups (favourable% – unfavourable%)

    66% – Whites
    26% – White foreigners
    11% – Black foreigners
    9% – Muslims
    -4% – Jews
    -9% – Indians

    Of all race groups in South Africa, Whites have the highest favourability rating of 66%.

    How do we explain this altogether surprising result? I am not sure, but it does certainly indicate that the truth and reconciliation process was successful.

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