The Ideals Of Justice Essay, Research Paper
The idea of justice has been very prominent in the readings and discussions that we have had this quarter. The Old Testament and Plato’s Republic both give definitions and ideals of justice, but sometimes these ideas are contrasting or even hypocritical in their respective practices. These books both give examples of justice and how people come across their individual ideas of what justice is. I will try to explore these thoughts and explain not only what justice is, but also how individuals establish their own interpretations of the word justice. Because everyone’s’ ideas are different, we must first establish a common idea of justice. To do this we must look no further than the Oxford American Dictionary; which defines justice as “fairness.” Socrates would ask, “what is fairness and who decides that it is fair?” In the Old Testament, God would decide the definition of fairness, because what He says is right. Each of these classic texts
gives good insight on the subject of justice, sometimes they agree and sometimes their opinions are conflicting. In either case we can relate these ideas to the contemporary American society which we live in.
In the Old Testament justice is what God says it is, and gives a clear set of guidelines telling how to be a just person. In the Old Testament, if one does as God said, they are just, if they do not do not obey God, then they are unjust. The most obvious of these rules are the Ten Commandments which include: thou shall not kill, steal or disobey God. When one of these rules is broken then the person who broke the rule is said to have sinned, and by sinning they have done an unjust act. When a person sins they are punished by a deed equal to that of which they have committed. In the book of Genesis when Cain kills his brother Abel, God punishes Cain by making him wander the earth for the rest of his life. Cain responds to God by saying that men will surely try to kill him for what he has done. God answers saying, “if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” This example shows that in true justice according to the Old Testament, vengeance is required to uphold justice. Nobody will get away with unjust deeds, because justice is ideally served in the end. By “the end” it is implied that they will pay in this life
or in heaven or hell. The Old Testament gives us the idea that justice comes from the word of God and that it will be dealt to the unjust person at least as harshly as the act they committed to deserve it.
The ideas of justice presented in Plato’s book The Republic are not as clear cut as those of the Old Testament. It starts off by saying that justice is “giving everyone his due.” What that person deserves is up to the individual or the state depending on the situation. They decide that justice came into the world because people were afraid of each other. They made the case that people agreed not to harm each other and made rules to implement this idea. Socrates said that there are three parts of the mind: reason, emotion, and desire. In a just person, the reason part will always be in control of the other two parts of the mind. He compared justice to the human body when he said that justice in the mind is like health in the body. Socrates also says that is impossible to be just in an unjust society because the circumstances of the unjust affect the would-be just people and force them to be somewhat unjust. It is concluded that a just person is one with knowledge and an unjust person is ignorant.
Both the New Testament and Plato’s Republic give good insights to the definition of justice. Each makes strong points and there are many similarities between the two. In Plato’s Republic Socrates states that punishment does not harm people. The only way that a man can be truly harmed is by being made a worse man. What is really harmful is not pain but his own injustice. This is very close to Christian doctrines. In theory, one is not supposed to punish someone for his or her actions but rather to turn the other cheek. In practice though this was not always the case. The most obvious similarity is their ideas of justice both having to do with revenge. In the Old Testament there is the story of Noah. God was disgusted by the injustices that man was doing. He found Noah, a just man, and decided to save only him from the flood that would wipe out all mankind. God was acting in a way that He thought to be just, by punishing those who were unjust. This relates back to when Socrates talked about giving everyone his due. Socrates also came up with the idea that there is no pleasure in being just other than being just. The rewards of living a good life are not for what it brings in this life, but rather for when we are dead. The Old Testament is the same way because God talks about eternal life with him for being just and eternal life
in hell for the unjust. Although the two texts are similar in many ways, they also have very different views as well.
The most noticeable difference in thought between the two books is discrimination of good and bad. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and the other men are always saying how one should, through justice; benefit ones’ friends who are good people and harm those enemies who are in fact bad. This is discriminating against the people society deems bad or delinquent. It is saying that one should be punished by their enemies and benefited by their friends. In the Old Testament God punishes everyone for what they have done wrong, there is no discrimination when it comes to justice. In the story of Adam and Eve, God loves them but forbids them to eat from the tree of knowledge. The serpent persuades Eve to eat the fruit who then in turn pursued Adam to eat the fruit. After they ate the fruit they realized that they were naked and had knowledge. In the eyes of God ignorance is just. Because Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and had gained knowledge, it became unjust. This view contradicts greatly with that of Plato. In the end of his book the Republic, Socrates comes to the conclusion that justice is a matter of knowledge, and that injustice is a matter of ignorance. He comes to this conclusion by figuring that a well educated man with a lot of knowledge will have a better understanding of justice than an ignorant man who can’t tell right from wrong. Both of these books represent a good but contradictory view of justice, much like our own society today.
The ideals of justice to day in American society are more or less well defined, as they have been made into laws. These laws were more or less formed around the Ten Commandments, which can be found in the Old Testament. These laws are the basic structure of our constitution today. In Plato’s Republic Thrasumachus says that justice is what is in the interest of the stronger party. These laws are deemed just and what is just is obedience to these laws by the weaker party. This is very much the way it is in America today. The people in power, namely Congress, make the laws and we all must follow them. To think that because our laws are just because Congress said so is wrong. That is like saying that it is unjust to speed on the freeway. It is not unjust, or even just, it is only driving fast. The famous phrase “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is prominent in America today. Many people believe that whatever is done should be repaid with justice of the same consequence as the original action. The ideas of justice in America today were influenced by ancient philosophical texts such as these. And in our society today, America is complimented with having a good justice system. The ideas of Plato and the writings from the Bible no doubt played a big role in the forming of our constitution, in telling what is just and unjust.
Both the Old Testament and Plato’s Republic offer great insight into the ideas of justice. These ideas, like the Ten Commandments, have helped shape the laws in effect in America today. Although the meaning of justice is very elusive, the common idea of why a person is just is the same in all societies. This idea says that there is no pleasure in being just other than for the fact of being just. People are just because the rewards of living a good life are not for the rewards it brings in this life, but rather for when we are dead. This is why Marx called religion the “opium of the people.” Because they are willing to act in a reserved manner and be just, for something that has never been seen or proven. I dissagree with this and think that everyone who is just is so for his or her own reasons. There cannot be a set definition of justice in our free society because everyone has their own insights and acts on their own thoughts. Justice is very hard to explain because it is very abstract and has many aspects to it. The Old Testament and Plato’s Republic offer us great insights into the meaning of justice, but neither one can give a clear and flawless definition of what true justice is.