Monday, October 18, 2004

The Best Justice


Here's a short version of an argument made by Plato :

1) The best objects are made by the best artisans (houses by builders, paintings by painters) etc - it is the nature of things to be done best by experts, rather than by people who are inexpert.

2) Something about the nature of good

3) So the best judge of goodness is expert opinion, not common sense

This, for example, is counter to the idea that any of us are very good at telling the difference between right and wrong. In a sense, this is how our society does work. We have judges to decide the guilt of many crimes, hand down sentences etc. However, we still have jury-based trials for the most serious of crimes. This is more or less accepted by everyone as being a good thing, because there is some feeling that ultimately, the judges and justice should be serving the ideals of society, rather than pursuing their own course. This kind of thinking is echoed by Nietzche when he refers to a change in paradigm about the goodness of actions. Platonic thought essentially regards the outcome of an action as the best judge of its goodness. However, we have come to understand that many ideas can be better judged according to their origins. The ultimate origin for an action is taken to be intention. Personally, I rather suspect that Nietzche merely identified intention (or perhaps motive) as a logical point at which to examine the origin of actions, and the phrase "ultimate origin" is really a little meaningless. The concept, however is the same. In modern thought, the goodness (or evilness) of an action is not considered by outcome alone, but by considering the intentions and motivations that brought the action about. When considering motive and intention abstractly, is is no longer clear that the best good comes from the best results, and one can no longer so neatly define good and evil by the positive and negative outcomes of action.

Instead, morality springs from a kind of cultural opinion about what intentions form moral intention etc. It seems to be, although I can see that it is arguable, that this might just be the effect of imperfect efficacy of desire - our actions do not always bring about their intended results. Maybe if they did, then we could truly judge actions according to their results in the Platonic sense.

I claim that this is similar to the idea of "judges serving the people", because they must now interpret the people's morality rather than creating it objectively. The rule of law is something that is constructed by those in the industry, but instead of being Platonic experts, adept at knowing the difference between right and wrong, the system is instead configured as an adverserial system whereby the rightness and wrongness of actions are not considered by the opponents - the defense and the prosecution. The judge is left to assess whether the rule of law is broken, but the equivalence of the laws to moral goodness is taken now from his hands. Instead, it is placed in our parliament, ostensibly by democratic extension, the people's will.


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