What is Justice? In this earlier post I attempted to find something of an answer via the dictionary and etymology, but the result was not satisfying.
It would seem to me that Justice is something we talk a lot about, but that we very rarely define. It seems to me that there are many approaches to Justice, but that we mush most of them together into one lump, then leave it to the courts to exercise one particular version of Justice.
It would seem to me that Justice starts with some basic principles. Things like 仁,rén, which is something I rambled about some time ago. Surely there can be no Justice without some measure of benevolence or humanity in society? In that post linked above I included a few quotations. Possibly the most relevant to this topic of Justice might be:
Zi Gong asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not RECIPROCITY such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.“Analects 15, Duke Ling of Wei #24
Which is fine. More than fine – it seems to be one of those rare examples of a genuinely universal value.
Keeping with the Chinese traditions for now, we can also look at Taosim. It might seem odd that a philosophical tradition that started with a very self-centred withdrawal from the world would have much to say on the subject, but it did develop some answers to these questions of how we should interact with others1.
Chapter 49 of the Daodejing seems to have it’s own variation on the Golden Rule:
The sage has no invariable mind of his own; he makes the mind of the people his mind. To those who are good (to me), I am good; and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good; – and thus (all) get to be good. To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere; and to those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere; – and thus (all) get to be sincere. The sage has in the world an appearance of indecision, and keeps his mind in a state of indifference to all. The people all keep their eyes and ears directed to him, and he deals with them all as his children.
However, when trying to apply this to understand Justice, it has to be tempered with Taoist ideas of governance. Take this from Chapter 38 of the Daodejing, for example:
Thus it was that when the Dao was lost, its attributes appeared; when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared; and when righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.
And from Chapter 19:
If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it would be better for the people a hundredfold. If we could renounce our benevolence and discard our righteousness, the people would again become filial and kindly. If we could renounce our artful contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no thieves nor robbers.
From a Taoist point of view, the Confucian insistence on benevolence, righteousness, and propriety is the very cause of disorder and crime. A truly enlightened government rules by “not ruling”, reverting to a simple, natural state.
Fung Yu-Lan, in his A Short History of Chinese Philsophy, quotes the story from Zhuangzi of the Marquis of Lu treating a visiting seabird as an honoured guest, and the seabird dying as a result, then explains:
When the Marquis treated the bird in a way which he considered the most honourable, he certainly had good intentions. Yet the result was just the opposite to what he expected. This is what happens when uniform codes of laws and morals are enforced by government and society upon the individual2.
So from a Taoist point of view, it isn’t simply the artificial imposition of by rulers of virtues such as benevolence, righteousness, and propriety that leads to disorder and crime. The imposition of these values on societies fails to allow for the individual needs of each person, and so has the exact opposite effect of what was intended.
Mozi gives us a different view, starting the chapters on Universal Love with:
The wise man who has charge of governing the empire should know the cause of disorder before he can put it in order. Unless he knows its cause, he cannot regulate it.
And what is the cause of disorder? Mozi continues:
Suppose we try to locate the cause of disorder, we shall find it lies in the want of mutual love. What is called disorder is just the lack of filial piety on the part of the minister and the son towards the emperor and the father; As he loves himself and not his father the son benefits himself to the disadvantage of his father. As he loves himself and not his elder brother, the younger brother benefits himself to the disadvantage of his elder brother. As he loves himself and not his emperor, the minister benefits himself to the disadvantage of his emperor. And these are what is called disorder. When the father shows no affection to the son, when the elder brother shows no affection to the younger brother, and when the emperor shows no affection to the minister, on the other hand, it is also called disorder. When the father loves only himself and not the son, he benefits himself to the disadvantage of the son. When the elder brother loves only himself and not his younger brother, he benefits himself to the disadvantage of the younger brother. When the emperor loves only himself and not his minister, he benefits himself to the disadvantage of his minister, and the reason for all these is want of mutual love.
Mozi develops this argument to show that the cause of disorder isn’t just a want of universal love, but a drawing of distinctions between people: “my state” vs. “that other state; “my family” vs. “somebody else’s family”; “myself” vs. “another person”. If we were to remove those distinctions and love all people equally, as we love ourselves, then there will be no disorder or crime.
The Confucians, as alluded to above, tend to put more stock in the virtues of benevolence, righteousness/justice, and propriety. Mozi found this too divisive, as the Confucians advocated for degrees of love and loyalty, depending on the closeness of relationships – i.e. more love to the members of one’s immediate family, less to strangers; more loyalty to the ruler of one’s own state, less to rulers of other states. For the Taoists, the Confucian approach is an artificial imposition on the natural order which has the perverse effect of creating the very problem it seeks to solve.
Zhang Dainian, in his Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy3, puts Benevolence and Justice （仁义） in the same chapter, Moral Ideals. On p291 he begins to examine Justice (义), starting in the Pre-Han era:
“As Confucius valued benevolence, he also promoted justice. Benevolence is the highest moral norm, whereas yi 义, what is right, refers generally to the existence of moral norms.”
According to Zhang, initially Benevolence and Justice weren’t used as a “binomial pair”. It was Confucius’ disciples who first put them together, with one of the earliest instances being in the Mean and Harmony, traditionally attributed to Confucius’ grandson, Zi Si, where the two concepts are defined homophonically:
Benevolence [ren] is to do with human beings [ren] and is most conspicuous in one’s love for relatives. What is right [yi] is to do with what ought to be done [yi] and is most conspicuous in honoring the worthy.Zhang, p293, quoting Mean and Harmony 20
And in that last quotation we see the divisiveness Mozi complained of. However, for the Confucian, this isn’t so much ‘division’ as a proper focus on the rightness of one’s relationships, and the beginning of righteousness/justice.
But what are benevolence and righteousness? We can see benevolence, 仁, in terms of The Golden Rule. Or, as in the last two sentences of Analects 6, Yong Ye:
Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. To be able to judge of others by what is nigh in ourselves – this may be called the art of virtue.
Mencius framed it in terms of an entirely natural, innate compassion, as explained in his Gong Sun Chou I:
Mencius said, ‘All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. […..] When I say that all men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others, my meaning may be illustrated thus: even now-a-days, if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress.
Mencius is clear that this “feeling of alarm and distress” is not motivated by any externalities, but is an innate response of pure compassion for the suffering of others.
So benevolence is an outwardly-focussed virtue. Benevolence is one’s attitude towards other people.
Righteousness, 义, which can also be translated as justice, is more inwardly-focussed. While benevolence is one’s attitude towards others, righteousness is one’s correct personal conduct. It can be seen as a correcting force that prevents people from doing what is wrong, as in Xunzi 16, On Strengthening the State:
A sense of what is right is to be used to stop people acting in an evil and treacherous way.4
Benevolence and righteousness are closely related, and must be kept in proper balance with each other. Zhang Dainian quotes Zhang Zai from the Siku Quanshu 9, The Most Appropriate5:
Yi (义, righteousness) is the movement of ren (仁, benevolence). Proceeding only in accordance with yi may result in harm to ren. Ren is the constant force of the body. To be excessive in ren may result in harm to yi.
So we can see benevolence as the guiding principle and righteousness as its application, with the two to be kept in an appropriate balance to prevent an excess of one harming the other. An excessive focus on benevolence could lead to unjust or unrighteous conduct, while an excessive focus on righteousness could lead to malevolence rather than benevolence.
The common theme I find in each of these three approaches is relationships.
For the Taoists, disorder and therefore injustice arises when the ruler interferes excessively in the lives of their subjects, artificially imposing definitions of right and wrong, benevolence and righteousness. That artificial imposition has the perverse effect of causing the problem it claims to solve, and a genuine solution to the problems of disorder and injustice lies in the ruler stepping back and unruling, allowing the people to fall back into their natural state of healthy, naturally-ordered relationships.
For the Mohists, disorder and injustice stems from people drawing distinctions amongst each other, thereby failing to love all others equally. Order and justice will come when people put aside these artificial distinctions between ‘self’ and ‘other’; ‘my family’ and ‘other families’; ‘my state’ and ‘other states’. Order and justice stem from all people being loved universally without artificially imposed distinction or division.
Although the Confucians draw distinctions in hierarchy and relationships, they start with the values of benevolence and righteousness being the keys to order and justice. If one’s attitude to others is guided by benevolence, and one’s conduct by righteousness, then there will be order and justice. Disorder and injustice stem from either an absence of benevolence or righteousness, or from an imbalance in the two.
Three very different approaches, but they each argue that an ordered, just society stems from correct relationships between people.
1: Selected Philosophical Writings of Fung Yu-Lan; Foreign Languages Press; Beijing; 1991; pp258 – 265
2: Selected Philosophical Writings of Fung Yu-Lan; Foreign Languages Press; Beijing; 1991; p310
3: Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy; Zhang, D, translated by Ryden, E; Foreign Languages Press; Beijing, 2002
4: As quoted in Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy; Zhang, D; p 297
5: Zhang, p303