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Orlando Hawkins


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Is it possible to have a sense of justice without governments or religions telling us right from wrong

Perhaps a better way to ask this question is do we have an innate sense of justice or injustice?

Let's pretend that we are living in the state of nature or some sort of stateless society that does not rely on some sort of centralized power. Would it be possible to have a sense of justice? Can we trust people to come up with rational decisions w/o a system of government? Or would it be imperative that a system of government be established to tell us right from wrong?

Another aspect to this question would be the issue of relativism and absolutism. Let's pretend that there is a culture who's cultural norm is that "every 2nd child upon the age of 12 must have one arm chopped off". If we are a relativist how do we respond to such an issue? WE all know the dangers of absolutism (i.e. the Gulag) but if someone was to point out the injustice that such a culture is practicing a typical relativist response is "who are you to say that such cultural practices are wrong and a product of injustice"? How do we deal with this issue? Would it be imperialistic to take action?

The second paragraph may have digressed a bit from my original question but the point is, do we have an innate sense of justice (or right or wrong) and if so would we really need governments or God to tell us right from wrong or what constitutes as Justice? If it is the case that we do not have an innate sense of justice, what is the best way to establish our sense of Justice? Religion? Government? Society? What would be the middle ground?

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    Jan 6 2014: I believe that the answer depends on who you are. I have known people that couldn't distinguish right from wrong without having something else to base it on. For them, right is conformance to a law or principle, and wrong is violation of same. Without such a framework, they are at a loss as to how to distinguish between the two. They are easily persuaded by authority or the loudest voice, whichever makes the greatest appearance. And when the pressures of survival are concerned, survival of their own kind gets the greatest attention; the end justifies the means.
    I know adults that believe that you could go to jail for cutting off the tags on mattresses and pillows because that is what the tag says, even when it is their own, bought and paid for. For them, they need a reference to guide them. That is why religions and governments are so popular. They set the guidelines for righteous living by their followers.

    That being said, religions and governments which are corrupt are also very dangerous, since they can persuade others to commit acts, which by nature are evil, but seen as righteous by those who are dependent on leadership. Hitler's reign of terror, and the militant Muslims of the modern world are examples of follow the leader without personal convictions. They believe that they are innocent because they only did what they were told. They do not claim responsibility for their own actions because the decision wasn't theirs.

    By definition, it would be imperialistic to take action against a cultural standard, but that doesn't make it wrong. Many cultural standards are based on old ideologies, which may have been necessary at the time that they were adopted. Those that see the light must not hide it .

    Those who have a moral compass are not the majority. They base their moral convictions on a higher law. Some call it God, some call it the laws of nature. For me, these two are inseparable.
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      Jan 7 2014: Roy, if you've not heard of it before, you might be interested in Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. Lots of results if you Google it. The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg theorised about 3 levels of moral development that we all progress through, but not necessarily through all of them (if that makes sense - I should be in bed :)). It's interesting how closely his descriptions tie in with the observations in your first paragraph. Kohlberg might say that the people you describe hadn't moved past the 2nd level of moral development (the Conventional Level), which is kind of rules-focussed, and onto the 3rd level (the Post-Conventional Level) which is more abstract.
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        Jan 7 2014: Sara,
        I have not heard of it, thanks for the info, I will look it up when I get a chance.
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    Jan 6 2014: I think we all possess a sense of justice but I think its tied to our ego and unfortunately, more often than not, it tends to be limited in scope and related to selfishness. Maybe all structures thatseek to enforce a sense of justice have never been more than a striving for power over others, but to know that we would have to know the minds of the people that formed them and that is impossible. It is hard enough knowing our own minds. We have the potential to be a savage species, but we also have the potential for compassion (which I think is a requisite of true justice) and I think there are countless examples of both through the ages. I have hope for the future because it seems that we are headed towards an understanding that the boundaries that separate us as humans are mostly in our heads. I hope we come to toleration of other cultures and then move past it to acceptance and appreciation of other cultures and ideas. What knowledge has been eternal? What social, philosophical, or scientific idea has remained unchanged through the course of human evolution? None. As we grow we change and I think its a healthy practice to acknowledge to ourselves that none of has the whole picture so none ofus are "absolutely" right about anything.
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      Jan 6 2014: Hi Jacob,

      I like your last point when you said "what Knowledge has been eternal? what social, philosophical or scientific idea has remained unchanged through the course of human evolution"?

      I agree with you on that account but could this be the result of us continually learning? And could it be the case that some of what we know socially, philosophically and scientifically is indeed true? Could possibly be absolutely right?
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        Jan 6 2014: Id say yes to all. Ideas are fleshed out and reformed as we learn more, yes some of our ideas may be completely true but it seem limiting if not dangerous to assume so. We stop questioning and seeking when we assume we "know". Great topic, sir. You sure got the blood pumping for a lot of us!
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    Jan 8 2014: Apparently, I've come a little late to this debate, but felt like pitching in.

    Yes, it is possible to have a sense of justice without government and certainly without religion. We have to learn from others how to be a just person, given that the very definition of justice is absolute bounded by our culture and environment.

    If we did all have born with moral values there would be no difference between all of us on that matter. We would all agree what's right or wrong: just as we all have two lungs we would all think alike.

    That said, government is still the best way to assure an acceptable level of justice. As pointed out in some comments, what is considered just today was not in the past and probably won't be in the future. So, to have a society that live by the same values, it's necessary to have someone providing balance.

    Now, what really amazes me is how some people are still trying to make justice and moral behavior an exclusively religious feature. That is highly offensive, as pointed out by some fellows below and a proof that religious indoctrination is a powerful tool to control narrow-minded people.
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      Jan 13 2014: It's an interesting paradox that we are capable of being moral individuals that can be guided by reason without the constraints of government but yet we still need government to keep us in check.
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        Jan 14 2014: I don't see it as a paradox, but as the consequence of two separate issues that the proposed question raises.

        The first one is that, as a society, we have differences amongst individuals, each one with a certain educational level, a different background, a unique cultural environment and so on. It's in that sense that I put that government is still the best way to provide balance to this inequalities. It works as a safety net so to speak, to guarantee at least some justice.

        The second point is that as individuals we are capable of developing our sense of justice without the influence of that same government, just by the means of education and social improvement. In this level any kind of imposed moral values should be irrelevant.

        So what that means is that we don't get our moral values from the government, on the contrary, society provides the acceptable behaviour and the government makes laws to provide that common ground to everybody. Of course that in such a rich and diverse social structure as we had throughout time, find this common ground has been a constant and difficult struggle, specially to minorities of all kind.

        Maybe my first answer should have been more elaborate from the beginning and go something like this:
        • It's possible as an individual to have a sense of justice without government;
        • It's not possible, for now, as a society to have a sense of justice without government;
        • In both cases, religion is unnecessary.
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    Jan 4 2014: Not sure whether this point has already been raised somewhere and I've missed it, but Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all have some form of the Golden Rule in their holy writings i.e. treat others as you'd want to be treated yourself. I'd be surprised if that were limited to these religions. So, one of the things I get from that is the Golden Rule is either innate or it's an adaptive philosophy that naturally evolves within societies. Alternatively, you could argue that it's the development process of a religion that frequently gives rise to the Golden Rule as, perhaps, a result of deep reflection - but I think that still points to it being something innate.

    Having said that, we go awry, of course. Our fundamental sense of right and wrong is far from being the only influence on our opinions and behaviours. And the Golden Rule may be simple, but applying it may be complicated. That's where I think religions and good governments come into it. (Good govts = govts whose laws reinforce and don’t massively contradict that universal moral). Every now and then we need a compassionate, deep-thinking Siddhartha Gautama or Jesus or Muhammad to come along and give us guidance and nudge us back on track for a while (or a Gandhi or a ... Geldof? But, without founding a religion, their moral influences are probably less enduring). And good governments also give us a consistent and stable set of rules to deal with moral quandaries and deter more extreme violations of the Golden Rule when we need it.

    So, conclusion: we have an innate sense of right and wrong - or something like it - but as a species we still need religion, governments or some external force to counteract other influences and guide our moral application.
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      Dec 30 2013: why don't you answer directly ? I'm not that sensitive or is because you are that sensitive ?
      Look , if you don't want talk with me , it's fine , no problem , you're free to talk with anybody you want to , but do not comment about what I wrote here because in that case I'll interfere .

      Yes, an avocado could come from an apple tree , if the laws that make the apple tree to give apples stop existing for a moment , an avocado could come from the apple tree . A miracle if you want . Nobody can prove miracles don't happen , therefore logically there is a tiny possibility they might happen .

      What about lion is the supreme king of the jungle (this being the hierachy established by nature) ? Should I say 'kill me now' , too ?
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          Dec 30 2013: For those wondering what Chris linked to here's an abstract from the summary on Wikipedia:

          "Dominance hierarchy arises when members of a social group interact, often aggressively, to create a ranking system. In social living groups, members are likely to compete for access to limited resources and mating opportunities. Rather than fight each time they meet, relative relationships are formed between members of the same sex. These repetitive interactions lead to the creation of a social order that is subject to change each time a dominant animal is challenged by a subordinate one."

          And here's from Encyclopedia Britannica:

          "dominance hierarchy, a form of animal social structure in which a linear or nearly linear ranking exists, with each animal dominant over those below it and submissive to those above it in the hierarchy. Dominance hierarchies are best known in social mammals, such as baboons and wolves, and in birds, notably chickens (in which the term peck order or peck right is often applied).

          In most cases the dominance hierarchy is relatively stable from day to day. Direct conflict is rare; an animal usually steps aside when confronted by one of higher rank. Temporary shifts occur; for instance, a female baboon ..."

          It's completely out of context when speaking of TED Conversations, only that the name sounds good when claiming that he's being dominated by group mentality....
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          Dec 30 2013: I looked upon your links , the main thing it's said there is about animal social structure , I never denied it exists . I denied there is an hierarchy in the sense of 'lion being the king of the other animals ' or to be more clear in the sense of some animal is more superior than the others BECAUSE the laws of nature established that . The laws of nature are neutral , they do not establish anything like that , they just make the reality possible . Everything else are our constructs . The nature with its laws is like a brute force which doesn't take into account anything , it does not establish hierarchies on this planet , it just exists .
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          Dec 30 2013: Why the laws of nature cannot stop exist ? what about a miraculous castastrophe ?
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          Dec 30 2013: I said no hierarchy established by the laws of nature . It is different of 'no hierarchy in nature' , there is hierarchy in nature ; social structures creats them ; the laws of nature do not create them .

          It's quite easy : the crocodile .
        • Jan 1 2014: Hyena regularly attack lions, usually as a group attacking lone lions (so usually lone, adolescent males not in a pride) and take the kill from the lion. Lions statistically lose more kills to hyenas than they keep for themselves.

          Not what most people would probably expect, but there you go. Hyena are pretty nasty in a fight. Lions tend to back down unless there are a number of them to be able to face a group of hyena off with little risk of injury.
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          Dec 31 2013: Well , that's it then .
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          Dec 31 2013: Chris Kelly,
          If one believes in a god, which I believe E G does, his statement is not a contradiction of terms, as you say.

          Miraculous: "of the nature of a miracle; supernatural; working or able to work miracles"

          Catastrophe: "the final event of the dramatic action esp. of a tragedy; momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin; a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth"

          If one believes in the god of the bible, the god has been responsible for lots of miraculous catastrophes.
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      Dec 30 2013: Well, apples did not come avocados, that's true. However I do believe that you are basing this comment on your ignorance about evolution.

      So here's the scientific classification of both apples and avocados, if we compare them it's quite easy to see that they have a common ancestry.

      Kingdom: Plantae
      Phylum: Magnoliophyta
      Class: Magnoliopsida
      Order: Rosales
      Family: Rosaceae
      Genus: Malus
      Species: M. domestica

      Kingdom: Plantae
      Phylum: Angiosperms
      Class: Magnoliids
      Order: Laurales
      Family: Lauraceae
      Genus: Persea
      Species: P. americana

      So while one belongs to the phylum of Magnoliophyta the other belongs to Angiosperms.

      Their ancestry went apart very long ago.

      So even though you are right Chris, I'm most certain that you are so on the wrong grounds.
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        Dec 30 2013: That's interesting Jimmy thanks. I'm not very scientific, but I AM a gardener, and as such, I am very aware of lots of mixes and cross matches with fruits and vegetables, so to see it described scientifically is interesting. It appears that EG was simply using it as an example (a miracle as he says), and I didn't think the argument against it had much purpose. Now that I see the science behind it, I find it very interesting....thanks:>)
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          Dec 30 2013: I'm glad that you find it interesting Colleen.

          A rule of thumb for cross species hybridization is that they have to at least be in the same Family, if they are also in the same Genus hybridization is way more likely to occur then simply belonging to the same family.

          So if you are doing cross breeding of plats yourself and don't want to rely simply on luck, using Google to check the scientific classification of the plats that you are trying to cross-breed will be really helpful. :)
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        Dec 30 2013: That's right Colleen , Jimmy's argument against what I said had no purpose . I was rather talking about the logical possibilities of the miracle .

        Jimmy Strobl :
        I was basing my comment on simple logic , if the way you understand science is in contradiction with logic , then you got a big problem , no offense !!
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          Dec 30 2013: Read Jimmy's comment again E G...it appears to me that he is supporting your argument:>)
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        Dec 30 2013: It appears wrong to you he's supporting my argument , no offense . He said that apples and avocados have common ancestry , but he also said that right now is impossible to come an avocado from an apple tree .

        Logically , it's not impossible but possible . The possiblity of a miracle .
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          Dec 30 2013: OK E G, I guess we are interpreting it differently:>)

          In my perception, as a simple gardener, if plants had the same ancestry at one time, and then parted, there is still the possibility for the plants to be reconnected, because each of them may retain a trace of the original ancestry. It could be a miracle, or it could simply be how things in nature work....just my simple interpretation:>)
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          Dec 30 2013: E G,

          I was supporting you... please read the scientific classifications and compare them.

          You see, they have the common ancestry that they both belong to Plantae kingdom (meaning that they are both plants), but they went apart at the Phylum (which is hard for me to summarize what it is in basic English, I guess biology studies would be required).

          As you say you are using simple logic, but I can assure you that using simple logic without the understanding of evolution and the origins of life will get you far astray from what is actually true.

          Nothing can ever "de-evolve" and since they have different ancestry *EDIT from the phylum and onward* it is impossible for an avocado to turn into an apple.

          However there is a term that would describe what you might be thinking about and that is "Convergent evolution" meaning that things that have very different ancestry might (and will often) develop similar traits. Almost making them the same to the naked eye. And that is something that is often mistaken for de-evolution or that evolution can turn anything into anything, however when you look through the microscope you will find that even though they may look the same they are not.
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        Dec 30 2013: Jimmy, I thought you were supporting E G.....thanks for confirming:>)

        For clarity, E G's original comment was NOT that an avocado could "turn into an apple".

        His original comment is: "There is no logical relation that would lead you to the idea that an apple tree never produces an avocado".

        Jimmy, you write..."You see, they have the common ancestry".
        You also write..."Nothing can ever "de-evolve" and since they have different ancestry it is impossible for an avocado to turn into an apple".

        The apple and avocado DO have a common ancestry, which you confirm, and E G simply stated that "There is no logical relation that would lead you to the idea that an apple tree never produces an avocado".

        I suggest that with the common ancestry, and what we know about cross pollination, there is nothing to lead ME to the idea that a cross pollinated tree could not produce a cross pollinated apple/avocado.
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          Dec 30 2013: Colleen,

          Please see my comment above to you. However I think that we should perhaps stop the in-depth conversation about this as it isn't the right Conversation to discuss this topic. I will however be glad to further inform you about how it works if you can find or create a suitable conversation.
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        Dec 30 2013: I saw your comment above....thanks Jimmy:>)
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          Dec 30 2013: I wrote a long response then I realized that I was taking up space on Orlandos' conversation to no use.
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        Dec 30 2013: Colleen , you basically synthesized everything . Thanks .

        Jimmy Strobl :

        I see I misunderstood you first time , I was thinking your comment had something to do with mine (and such minded I read your comment) , it hadn't much , but thanks for clarification .
        Nothing can de-evolve and the convergent evolution do not leads to the identity between two organisms . What results is , obviously , that by the way of evolution an apple tree doesn't make avocados . I guess I agree .
        However , logically there is still the possibility an apple tree could make avocados --- and that is the possibility of a miracle .

        I don't agree that when I use simple logic I get far astray from the truth if I don't know much about evolution . It isn't possible as long as the theory of evolution is based on logic . On the contrary , if I go far enough , I might rediscover the theory of evolution .
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          Dec 31 2013: Well I guess that if you believe in miracles anything is possible...

          Logic is very useful but it must be accompanied by knowledge to be useful. Say that you didn't know about the universe, our galaxy or what stars were. What would be your logical conclusion when looking up into the night sky? I doubt that you'd think that those white dots were just a fragment of what was really out there and you would not think that they are many times bigger then the earth is.

          "On the contrary , if I go far enough , I might rediscover the theory of evolution ."

          I really like that comment, you are absolutely right. That was Charles Darwin did so now you don't have to spend your entire life gathering evidence for it, you can just order The Origin of Species. :)
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          Dec 31 2013: Thanks for the feedback E G:>)
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        Dec 31 2013: For a moment yes , I would not think those things , but in 2000 years I would probably get to the same conclusions modern science did .
        I ordered The Origins of Species quite a bit of time ago , I didn't read it all , there were a lot of stories about pigeons , and other domestic animals in the first chapters ......... it wasn't really what interested me . What interested me was the principle of evolution and guess what , I found it in the first chapters too --- natural selection with the survival of the fittest and something about different types of variations which occur in organisms .
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      Dec 30 2013: Hang in there Chris.... I did hear of a fellow who cut in an avocado branch into an apple tree trunk to see if it would grow... I don't know how it turned out... if it worked you could make the claim that avocados grow on apple trees... I have said more with less....
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      Dec 30 2013: For people who claim to not be scientists and wondering about evolution this picture might help you get a grasp on how the classification of species work. There are better pictures but then I'd have to either search longer or provide download links that nobody will use.

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          Dec 30 2013: This comment that you made was both passive aggressive and arrogant Chris Kelly. Even if you read my comment as such it was not my intention to be either.
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    Dec 29 2013: I think that humans do have a basic sense of justice. But since we do have an animal nature...ie, being alpha, being greedy and all the other more atrocious stuff we do to enhance our selves or act out anger, we do need a system of enforceable laws for protection from others who might not be as compassionate.
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      Dec 30 2013: HI Helen,

      well said! That was my one of main concerns about the question I was going to ask. If there was no system of government in place to keep conduct in order, what exactly could we do to serial killers and rapist? Is there a way in which we could tell if their actions are immoral and how would we come about this?
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        Dec 30 2013: I guess we would live like beasts and engage in vicious retribution. After all humans are or can be motivated by more than instinct. We can make choices based on reason.
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        Dec 30 2013: I might add that humans have a sense of self awareness that animals do not.
  • Dec 26 2013: Doesn't justice come from what the leader (or most powerful individual in a society) would like things to be? The populace ultimately want the survival of the group so that the leader is chosen because they can demonstrate that they have the power to ensure that food is shared, medicine administered, property divided fairly etc etc. This is to ensure the survival and health of the group. The leader is elected/endorsed because he or she can ensure the survival of the group by these methods.

    In animal groups too, the dominant male, has things the way he wants for the same able reason. He administers justice but only because the group want it.
    • Dec 26 2013: Yes, stripped of all complexities justice looks like the instinct of survival, individual or collective.
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      Dec 28 2013: In a state or government like system your analysis is correct. this is only the case when people believe that they are incapable of being reasonable with one another and therefore appoint a leader or ruler to tell them what to do.

      This can also be the case when you consider population and scarcity. Depending on the size of the population, there would need to be someone to keep count of the food source and make sure it is equally distributed.

      Personally i think all this can be done democratically or within the community. I personally believe that people can be reasonable in that way. You'll have your issues of course but for the most part I think it could work. How this would come about is something that I am not sure of.

      You are correct about what you said about the animal groups and the good thing about being human is that we have the capacity to not be all too human (or animalstic).
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    Dec 26 2013: An interesting topic Orlando. As thinking beings we are able to create logical justification for any action at all even for something that other people find absolutely heinous. So since we rely very heavily on thought processes to determine things such as justice, we tend to arrive at models of justice that fit a particular group's ideas around fairness. I would like to point out that thought itself is an an action we perform, a tool we use. Thought creates a false reality for each of us and ultimately dangerous unsatisfying societies. If anyone along this thread accepts this concept then it begs a question.what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?. It would come from a feeling instead and that feeling is called compassion.
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      Dec 26 2013: Good points Joanne, and I accept the concept you offer. Do you think/feel those who push their beliefs onto others generally have a sense of compassion? It seems that they may be so engaged with their righteousness that they do not see or feel beyond it?
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        Dec 27 2013: Hi Colleen thanks :).To answer your question, righteousness and compassion are not really the same thing, would you agree Colleen? Someone acting from righteousness is attempting an act of dominance and so its about THEM not the other. I think you raise an interesting nuance into the talk as how do we tell the difference between righteousness and compassion even within ourselves? I think most mothers and many fathers can answer that question for us as its a kind of feeling that stems from selflessness when confounded by love.
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          Dec 27 2013: Joanne,
          I absolutely agree that righteousness and compassion are not at all the same thing, and I did not suggest that at all. In fact, I perceive righteousness, when used to control and dominate others, totally lacks compassion. That is why I asked the question, because I agree with your idea that a feeling of justice may come from a sense of compassion.

          The challenge seems to be that some who try to control and dominate others by pushing their own beliefs onto others, sometimes think they are being compassionate. It seems to go back to another part of this discussion.....what is reasonable? A person who is reasonable may have a sense of justice and a sense of compassion. My perception, is that different people use a different compass to decide what is reasonable, compassionate or just.

          As I said, it seems that those who want to control and dominate with their own beliefs, may be so engaged with their righteousness that they fail to see or feel beyond it. Everyone can create an argument that supports their own personal beliefs.
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        Dec 27 2013: Hi Colleen, I think ethics is a difficult topic to discuss at the best of times. A sense of righteousness is the most common and convenient justification for any action trivial or otherwise . Hitler and Stalin felt extremely righteous no doubt, and I have listened to horrible criminals take a righteous stance too , when asked about their crimes. I think that goes with the territory. In other words its part of the mind and the way it works to use a sense of righteousness to justify actions we, deep down, know are wrong. In this sense, righteousness is the very antithesis of compassion .

        This is because we are not just our mind. Our mind is something we have evolved to assist us to work and collaborate in larger societies. Our unique mental tool actually creates a kind of false reality for us most of the time. If we are to be free, our mind should be our servant and not our master. When it becomes our master we are a slave to IDEAS and illusory consequences . When the mind is only our servant, we do not need governance.
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          Dec 28 2013: Hmm, this is an interesting conversation that is going on here for you both bring up excellent points

          There is obviously an issue here in regards to the relationship between one's motives and one's actions. Personally I do not buy into the righteousness argument too much. There could perhaps be people that are completely ignorant or unaware of their wrongdoing. When we are talking about extremely heinous crimes and just pure human cruelty, could it really be argued that some of these individuals were acting because they thought they were doing the right thing? It is true that both Hitler and Stalin justified their actions by invoking some sort of higher principle but I believe they were well aware of the suffering that was involved.

          I believe at some point, when you see another individual(s) suffer at your hands and see first hand the pain that they are experiencing, you know that what your doing could perhaps be wrong for the person who is suffering.

          Interesting comments though. Wish I would of jumped in much sooner.
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          Dec 28 2013: Hi Joanne,
          I don't agree that ethics is a difficult topic to "discuss"....we've seen quite a few conversations on that topic here on TED. It does however, seem like it is difficult for some people to apply to the life experience.

          I agree that "a sense of righteousness is the most common and convenient justification for any action". That is why I continue to express the idea that one's perception of justice/injustice may be relative, depending on an individual's personal beliefs. I too have heard offenders try to justify their crimes using their own "logic" and "reason".

          That was the reason for the "cognitive self change" sessions I co-facilitated with incarcerated offenders. We simply asked "how would you feel if someone did to you, what you did to that person"? We tried to light a little spark of compassion, and tried to get the offenders to question their actions/reactions which usually put them behind bars. We tried to get them to see and feel that the logic and reason they were using was not really very logical, reasonable or practical.

          I agree that the mind has evolved to assist us to work and collaborate in societies, and the stories we tell ourselves with mind chatter, can indeed create a false reality. Until we change those stories, we continue to function with a story that supports behaviors, and behaviors that supports our story as we have accepted it.

          If we are to be free, I suggest that it is important to KNOW THYSELF.
    • Dec 29 2013: "what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?."

      What about a group of indigenous hunter- gatherers who obviously don't overuse the ' thought ' tool ? Most likely they wouldn't understand what justice means. They have the sense ( a sense not a notion ) of of interconnectedness of all things instead. Everything is happening here and now, condensed at the present moment ; what is , simply is, it can't be unjust because it can't be otherwise. If it is the case the notion of justice has no meaning.

      But the truth is, i don't have a clue how they perceive reality, alas !
    • Dec 29 2013: I would say we misuse the ' thought' tool. We use it to think our problems into existence and when we face them we perceive them as an 'objective reality' and start to think how to solve them inevitably creating new thought-hurdles to overcome.
      It's misuse. Would you agree ?
      ' Thinking' is a precious commodity and we don't have enough of it to answer the question
      " Who am I ? "

      What would a sense of justice look like for a person who knows ?
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        Dec 30 2013: I agree Natasha and I think you have picked up on the point I was trying to make. Unless we learn this lesson we are forever caught on the mind's treadmill and are lost from our own humanity.
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        Dec 30 2013: I agree with your ideas Natasha and Joanne,
        Joanne, you mentioned compassion in a previous comment as part of a sense of justice. Natasha mentions a sense of interconnectedness of all things, and I believe these concepts to all fit together. When we have a sense of interconnectedness, there tends to be more compassion, which contributes to a sense of justice?

        I agree that the thought process in relationship to justice/injustice can be overused, because with thoughts, people can justify almost anything. So perhaps with certain thoughts, some folks may not have a sense of justice/ interconnectedness/compassion? It is very difficult to feel compassionate if one is focusing on his/her own personal gain, and I believe that what we focus on expands. As you insightfully say Joanne...."unless we learn this lesson we are forever caught on the mind's treadmill and are lost from our own humanity".

        How do we apply this information in the daily life? What is the practical use for this information? Back to Joanne's original question...""what would a sense of justice look like among a group of people who did not overuse the 'thought' tool?."

        I suggest that people are NOT going to stop thinking. Who decides, or how is it decided, that the "thought tool" is overused or underused?
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          Dec 31 2013: Hi Colleen, the mind evolves an endless array of scenarios, rules and expectations that are increasingly complex and compelling. A lot of it is quite useful stuff that we need to participate in, in order to run our encreasingly complex daily lives. A lot of stuff we think and believe and worry about is just useless delusion that wears us down and uses up our precious life force for no purpose. However it IS a relatively simple learning experience to begin to connect with ourselves without the monkey chatter. It is very fulfilling and satisfyimg to live like this, not as a slave, but as a free human. I think when people practice this and understand it they usually want to continue like that. I cannot predict whether or not people will begin to try to find this path but I hope they do.
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        Dec 31 2013: Natasha, I think people have an inner guide that is compassionate. At the moment,, as our world is currently, most of us rarely connect with it.
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          Dec 31 2013: I agree with what you said in your previous comment Joanne...."a lot of stuff we think and believe and worry about is just useless delusion that wears us down and uses up our precious life force...."

          I believe it is MUCH MORE simple and useful to genuinely connect with ourselves without the mind chatter (monkey chatter as you call it) because, as you insightfully say, the mind chatter is often delusional....either rehashing the past, or projecting the future....neither of which is the reality in the moment. I agree that it is fulfilling and peaceful to live like this.....in the moment. One of the first steps, is to recognize it for what it is, then there is a possibility of changing the pattern.

          I also agree that people have an inner guide that may be compassionate, and I believe the majority of people DO connect with it. Although I am very aware of injustice in our world, I am also very aware of all those who demonstrate compassion, a feeling of interconnectedness and justice in every single moment. What we focus on expands.....in my humble perception:>)
        • Jan 2 2014: Probably, this inner guide is the sense of interconnectedness, which is the precondition for love, compassion. We have lost touch with this sense, because of intellect, thinking . I don't see another way to bring it back, but through thinking intellect....i think :)
          Happy New Year !
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        Jan 3 2014: Hi Natasha....Happy New Year!
        You say...."probably, this inner guide is the sense of interconnectedness, which is the precondition for love, compassion".

        This stimulates the question for me.....which comes first? Is the sense of interconnectedness a precondition for love and compassion? Or is compassion a first step toward feeling interconnectedness?

        I feel that we cannot give something out to others, that we do not have in ourselves. So, it seems that a sense of compassion and justice (love) in and for ourselves might be needed before we can feel interconnections with others? What do you think?
  • Dec 25 2013: Humans, even animals, certainly have some innate sense of justice. But because humans have the ability to think intelligently or have the individual judgment, so that they may develop certain additional concept of justice or injustice either by themselves while getting older, or by the teaching of past philosophers.
    At least in my opinion, the government "law" as well as religious doctrine are not very reliable, because they are made BY MAN. Occasionally, certain government or religion are led by people who are almost absolutely immoral, so how could they make (religious or governmental) "laws" for justice?
    In history, there have been few people who became hermits to be isolated from the religion or government. There have also been people who declared themselves as free from government taxes or citizen obligations (conscientious objectors, etc.) ,but they were far and few who could survive for long!
  • Timo X

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    Jan 19 2014: In the beginning there was nothing. Then the government created God, who shaped man in his likeness, and woman from his likeness's rib. Adam and Eve, as they were called, soon fell for a reverse timeshare scam in which they traded their access to paradise for the knowledge of morality. How outrageous they now felt about this grave injustice! Regardless, it was a good day for God, for he had two followers now. And he Tweeteth: 'Go forth and multiply, so sayeth your LORD YAHWEH.’ Adam and Eve felt much happier after this commandment and kept themselves quite busy. So much, in fact, that God decided to add: ‘Do not unfollow if you want back in paradise. Oh and all my pics are (c), so don't you jelly bitches dare steal!' Perhaps he was a tad jelly himself. Either way, all were happy and obedient, and the government saw that it was good and that none suspected anything about 9/11.

    Thus proving the divine origin of copyright and all lesser issues of morality.

    EDIT: The point, of course, being that neither God nor the government could be the source of people's ideas because they are merely institutionalized forms of people's ideas. As for your question regarding moral relativism, the relativist will certainly answer: 'It depends' . But if you ask me, I answer: there is only one reality, there is only one humanity, and therefore only one morality. The specifics of this morality may be fuzzy sometimes, but the Gulag is not moral institution in anyone's book.
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    Jan 6 2014: I think trying to define what is right and what is wrong is the first problem. Just look at our own country and how divided it is on politics. Each party believes they are right. I think that right or wrong can boil down to what is considered human or conversely inhuman. This can vary greatly depending upon situational circumstances of the human(s) in question. I believe that humans living in conditions that are difficult for survival will ultimately make choices and decisions based on their own survival needs. A person in this case will often make decisions that are considered wrong in our society, such as lie, steal, or even kill. To this person, showing empathy or compassion may even be detrimental to their own survival, in fact, these natural and best of our human emotions may have left the person entirely. Humans living in prospering communities that support and rely on each other for survival may have a tendency to develop more of those "caring" emotions, and because the pressure for survival is minimal, the mind can suppress the more animalistic, archaic survival emotions. So I think right and wrong is a social viewpoint, not one that is innately human. We learn from a young age what is socially right and wrong. We learn from our environment, friends, school, parents, television, etc. So I think that what is considered just will vary greatly from person to person. Possessing a bottle of alcohol during the prohibition would see you jail time, but now it's ok to purchase a barrel. I live in Colorado and a year ago to possess marijuana would get you in jail, now you can purchase/possess it legally. So ultimately we have to do as our laws dictate, but that doesn't mean that they are always correct. Every person has their own moral compass. Just go with what it's telling you, because it's most likely just a product of the sum of your life experiences anyhow.
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    Jan 6 2014: Ok Thanks to Colleen Steen I was able to extend the time for the conversation!!!! Never knew you can do that, so if you did read my previous post disregard it please.
  • Jan 6 2014: I meant no disrespect when I said that you had made me chuckle.

    To me it's pretty clear that even when/where stoning, etc. takes place, it does not occur in every instance where a law is broken and a crime committed. It seems to me that to enforce the letter of the law completely would leave large swathes of the population without hands, or dead. To disable your workforce in such a way is In practice severely disabling to your whole community, not just individuals. This seems to be clear even to the most fanatical believers. They choose not to enforce the letter of the law in every instance. That's where the religious morals and laws stand.

    Then we see religious laws that don't stand. It seems clear that, for instance, Christians have turned their backs on what the Old and New Testaments both say about slavery. I personally believe that religions are products of their time. We live in a world now vastly different to the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Most people, in the Western World at least, have rejected the barbarism of the old religions. In Britain we see the church having to make some stark choices. Either accept that women will be able to become priests, or see large numbers of people leave the church. Either ignore Paul's instructions about the roles of women and men in the church, or face bankruptcy (of a sort). It appears that churches in general have chosen to ignore certain rules, laws, and instructions rather than have large parts of their congregations leave.

    Man-made religions, with man-made laws that do not stand the test of time. Where people try to enforce ancient laws and morality, it usually is leads to unpleasantness. It would seem illogical to imagine that 'God' changed his mind and didn't bother to turn up and tell anyone!

    Have I answered the question? Maybe not, so ask away if you have more questions.
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      Jan 6 2014: Hi Dave,

      No offense taken and yes you have answered my question in saying that we are the one's who decide what right and wrong is. It was a great post to read
      • Jan 6 2014: And there was me wondering for a few hours whether I'd offended you in some way. I think that you're too kind.

        Was there a purpose to the original post? Was this for any academic purpose? Was it just for personal interest?

        If you don't want to reply publicly, I understand. Just drop me a line privately if you'd prefer. (I'm just curious.)
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          Jan 8 2014: Hi Dave,

          Well you did mention that you meant no offense and I take you for your word so there was no need for me to be offended but I was not offended in the first place and I do appreciate your apology.

          To answer your questions, I'm just a natural thinker (probably like everyone else here on TED). Most of my day is devoted to thinking about philosophical and scientific issues and if I'm not thinking about them I"m writing them down or reading books. As for this question, a friend of mine asked if it was possible to have a sense of justice without government and I didn't think the answer I provided was sufficient so I posted the question on TED to get a better idea of the issue (which worked out pretty well).

          I just graduated from my university last spring as a philosophy major and I didn't want to lose my philosophical touch so I'm looking for ways to keep my mind active.
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    Jan 3 2014: @Krisztian, go to India and ask them if they don't know about justice. How can you claim such a childish statement in a public forum? Quite embarrassing.
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      Jan 3 2014: Learn English.
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        Jan 3 2014: Join an English coaching academy instead of advising me that. You need it more.
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      Jan 3 2014: yeah, some people don't get sarcasm. i need to learn that. it was sarcasm, okay?

      help: you claimed that muhammad gave people the concept of justice. it means that hindus, christians, buddhists and followers of all other religions have no idea what justice is.

      this statement is so terribly wrong i can't wrap my head around it.
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        Jan 3 2014: read the few sentences in my comment before this statement which you quoted from my comment. That is the answer to your question.

        If you think it is wrong, then I can't help you in this regard.
  • Jan 1 2014: I believe that in general the term 'justice' is unhelpful. It brings to mind more the written law, rather than why we have those laws. However, it's still a great question!

    I believe that in general, we empathise with those around us. When we do, we feel their pain and don't want to feel that pain, even if it is vicariously. We also understand that, to some extent or other, what goes around comes around. One doesn't have to believe in reincarnation and Karma to understand that if you contribute to a society in a negative way, it can come around and bite you in the backside!

    There is no good and evil, other than what we decide, or what others would like to decide for us. What is evil is often negative for society as a whole, while what is good is often positive for a society. However, moral values are often a snap-shot of where a society is during any one period of time, and as circumstances change, so, often, do moral values.

    As we understand the intricacies of the brain more fully, we understand that the psychopath isn't evil... just doing what psychopaths do because his brain doesn't work like ours. Whether you want to conclude that the psychopath's brain is 'broken' in some way, or he's just got a different model of brain to those of us that aren't psychopaths is probably a more difficult question to answer.

    Good and evil are moral judgements largely based on religious terms. One could easily substitute the words holy and unholy instead. I'm not sure religion is at all helpful. The sick need understanding and humane treatment. They may need to be separated from the rest of society to keep the wider populace safe, but punishment, retribution, etc? It would be like beating a blind man to death because he bumped into someone on a train platform and they fell in front of a train and died (assuming this was not the intent of the blind man). Maybe not the best example, but hopefully you get the point!

    I could say a lot more, but...
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      Jan 5 2014: Hi Dave,

      I do agree with your statement about Justice being unhelpful and the more I've been interacting on this thread, the more I end up talking about morality instead of Justice (which I do believe have some aspect of morality and ethics).

      Ok so you mentioned that good and evil is what we decided that it is. I agree with that. But then you mentioned that it's based on religious terms, which for most people would be something that transcends this world....so are you essentially saying that religion is man-made and we decide what is good and bad in the so called "good-books"?
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    Jan 1 2014: Natasha Nikulina :

    I think we do have the innate knowledge of good and evil and I also think we're born with the sense of good and evil . When I say we have the innate knowledge of good and evil , I mean to say we are born with the knwoledge of what intrinsically good and evil are . When I say we're born with the sense of good/evil , I mean to say we have 'the innate ability to get to know what is good and evil' .
    One can't exist without the other .

    The sense of the notions of good/evil ==== an ability to get to know notions (in this case the notions of good and evil) . This specific sense is intellectual in nature .
    I don't see the game of sematics between notions and senses . What about you ? Do you still see it ?

    What you say intelligence is , looks a lot like what I say the sense of good and evil is . But why did you say there is no such thing as good/evil in nature ? I mean , how can your concept of 'intelligence' be effective without there being good and evil ?

    "How can we have an innate (natural ) sense of any of these abstract notions ?" (quoted)

    As I specified , the innate sense of the NOTIONS of good and evil is something different of the innate sense of good and evil . I'm sure you understand why .

    Am I specific enough ? If not , feel free to say because this is the single way to reach to certain conclusions .

    (you did not offend me at all , on the contrary I apologize if I let you with that impression) .

    Happy New Year , too !!!!!
    • Jan 2 2014: Hi, LG !
      You say :
      "One can't exist without the other ."
      I think, it's the way it is and it means that ONE IS THE OTHER simultaneously, but perceived as
      May i ask you to reconcile it with " the knowledge of what intrinsically good and evil . .." ?
      I have a problem with ' INTRINSICALLY ' here for it means that good/evil are fixed forever as good OR evil, hence independent from perception.

      BTW. being an ordinary human being i percieve in 'good OR evil' fashion, but i know that it's my mind/ego limitation not the intrinsic feature of nature. Is limitation good or bad ?
      Neither and both.:)

      "how can your concept of 'intelligence' be effective without there being good and evil"

      Intelligence doesn't judge/discriminate, intellect does. Imagine that you see all points of past and future with equal clarity, how good turns into evil and vice versa.
      What will you see ?
      - Change, Becoming , Existence. It's what nature is all about.

      Thanks for responding !
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        Jan 3 2014: Hi :

        I don't agree with your relativism , I think good and evil are intrinsic features of nature .

        1. I agree that we get to know things (good and evil in this case) by the way of perception but it still doesn't mean that good and evil are only perceptions and nothing more .

        2. You're saying that if our minds/egos weren't limited , good and evil would stop existing . How could you know this ? You can't know it from experience because you're a limited being ; as it seems from your comment you think you know it from your deductions ; doesn't seem peculiar to you to start from direct reality and to get to entirely opposite conclusions ?

        3. There are intellectual perceptions ; the way you got to know that the ''good and evil' fashion' is false was most likely by the way of intellectual perceptions . Why would you trust this perceptions and the others not ?

        4. I look in the past with as much clarity as I'm capable of and I don't see how good turns into evil and vice versa . In fact I think the lack of clarity make people see that good turns into evil and vice versa . And btw , I still see change , becoming , existence .

        5. When you say that nature is existence you actually say that things exists ; not everything is change , becoming .

        I also think we could percive good and evil as sense or knowledge but I don't see the need to reconcile it with the idea that good and evil are independent from perception . I gave you the 5 reasons above why I don't see the need to reconcile .

        ' Intelligence doesn't judge/discriminate ' , it just flows through us . There are problems with this view --- first of them is that science can't indetify this 'intelligence' . Secondly , it doesn't make any sense to appeal to concepts as 'intelligence' to explain reality when we could simply explain it by our experiences ..........

        I talked directly because it was easier , please do not feel offended .

        Thank you for responding too !!!
        • Jan 4 2014: Hi, LG, sorry for the delay with my response !
          We can discuss all your 5 points and beyond, but it won't lead us anywhere.:)
          May i suggest you to move to your home ground ? You are a christian , right ? Probably a practicing christian. You trust the Scriptures.
          If this is the case, could you please comment on this :
          ( I mean give me your own understanding )
          "...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
          What happened there ? There was a shift of focus that brought death into the picture. Why is the knowledge of good/evil coupled with death ?
          Or another quote from the Bible, that can illustrate my point :

          “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven "

          What is the special gift of infancy that is destroyed by the act of growing up ?

          Thank you !


          It's important to understand that by 'little children' Jesus meant new born babies. Here is the quote from the gospel of Thomas :

          Jesus said, "The person old in days won't hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life "
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        Jan 3 2014: The all debate above is between the concept of 'intelligence' you proposed as opposite to the view that good and evil are innate and exist . All we did by now was to get to understand eachother's position , so now we either move on or we stop ; there isn't much time left , I let it up to you .

        I think that the view that good and evil are innate and exist is compatible with the reality ; I can't say the same thing about yours but I can't say it isn't either .
        • Jan 4 2014: "The all debate above is between the concept of 'intelligence' you proposed as opposite to the view that good and evil are innate and exist ."
          I didn't question ' exist' , sure it does, but good/evil exist in our mind and materialised in reality we inhabit.
          OK, let's place the quotes in the context of our discussion.
          The ability to know good and evil is in place in seven days old baby ,( neural programming was written by natural selection...etc. or 'ancestral' sin, which is pretty much the same ) but hasn't been exercised yet. That's why little children are in heaven for absence of good/evil is heaven, it's intrinsic/timeless/eternal. The moment you start to separate good from evil ( you've gained the sense of separate self, ego is growing; the potential ability becomes actual ) you are in the game, in existence not in heaven and "you will surely die", your sense of self, ego will surely die. When/if your ego takes hold on you, you are ready to create your own personal hell here, there is no other place.
          By 'intelligence' i meant the manifestation of this absence of good/evil, image of heaven which goes through us undisturbed, when we are little (new born ) children, we are in heaven.
          What i am trying to say is that good/evil is perceptional and temporal, we don't inherit it from nature.Nature is governed by itelligence, it's all harmonising force, there is no death only life. " As above so below", but what we do take with birth is the ability to get to know good/evil to cretae experience, where good is not possible without evil.
          It's my understanding, nothing more :)

          Thanks for the conversation !
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        Jan 5 2014: It was interesting hearing it !!!

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    Jan 1 2014: Nature,and animals is given often as evidence of a lack of moral intuition. I study nature independent of the incorrect outdated view..that nature is kill or be killed. A lot of nature is mutually beneficial,collaborative,silly,and even seriously invested with goodwill. The argument for violence and greed which eliminates moral goodness at a grass roots level is our narrow observation of nature in adaptation to feeding itself. But other then insects I do not see a completely convincing picture of aggression being natures fundamental event...but an off shoot. Like nature once we remove cultural propaganda to reduce it to a immoral relationship,man too,and more especially women are evidence of a self sacrificing body of beings that prove relationships of mutual benefit are the most optimal. This debate like discussing if women are intelligent or minorities are teachable is ripe with so many incorrect assumptions on mans nature...you cant discuss it seriously till you remove your blinders....which remain to allow aggression to remain as an offshoot of nature....but seriously I dont think those who field Darwins view of nature have an objective view....but scholarly plagerism...sorry...I will not pander to popular opinions on this one
    • Jan 1 2014: Carolyn,

      Could you give some examples of nature being mutually beneficial,collaborative,silly,and even seriously invested with goodwill?
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    Dec 31 2013: I imagine that the concept of justice has been around since humans became self aware. The feeling of being wronged and wanting to right that wrong has probably existed since we have been living in groups of 3 or more. I might go so far to say that the attempt to understand these feelings of right and wrong helped give birth to religion and that the first "governments" created werethere to protect this sense of justice. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that greed is probably not much, if any, younger than justice. I get the feeling that as humans became more "civilized" they felt less connected to the people around them and it was easier for them to "justify" being greedy.
    • Dec 31 2013: "... the concept of justice has been around since humans became self aware. "

      Maybe you are referring to a 'sense of self' ?
      A sense of self is a sense of separateness, when it came into being, there were no concepts as such.

      When we are self aware we don't need concept of justice we have love instead :)

      Happy New Year !
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        Dec 31 2013: I guess I don't really know which of those I meant. I was trying to imagine that point in time when human beings first started forming the ego. Whatever step it was that brought "I" into the picture. I don't figure they had or needed any concepts at that point. I was trying to refer to the "feeling" of justice, fairness, and rightness that was surely here before any concepts were built around it. I appreciate the sentiment of having love instead of justice, but most of us (myself included) are not that evolved. We still harm others, both directly and indirectly. There is a world full of people that have love in their hearts and still cry out for justice. Happy new year to you too, be safe out there tonight TED community. I look forward to more conversations in 2014.
        • Jan 2 2014: " I was trying to refer to the "feeling" of justice, fairness, and rightness that was surely here before any concepts were built around it."

          I wouldn't be that sure :) I think there is no priority here ( actually, anywhere ). We shape our concepts and they shape us. Chicken/egg issue is always in the menu, whatever we try to digest :)


          "There is a WORLD FULL of PEOPLE that have love in their hearts and still cry out for justice." ( the emphasis is mine :) )

          You've globalised it, put it on the world's scale ; scale creates the phenomenon - abstraction. It can be misleading. I think, everything must be tested against your own experience .
          What justice means to you when you are in love ? Does justice/injustice regulate your relationship with someone you love more then yourself ? Does your child's misbehaviour influence your attitude ? You love whatever , right ? I do !
          When there is love , there is no need for justice.
          How is love connected to self awareness ? Probably you know :)

          Thanks for responding !
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        Jan 3 2014: Once again I have mispoken, but I hope you can help me better understand. Wasthere a point in human eevolution when language was not developed enough to express concepts, especially abstract ones like justice? I have been working under a definition of justice I pulled from the internet: just behavior or treatment. I guess my question would be did early humans have internal feelings of being wronged before they had the cognitive ability to think abstractly, or did they become aware of there feelings of unfairness only after they were able to express this feeling to others. I kind of assumed the desire to express abstract thoughts was the drive behind the development of language.
        • Jan 4 2014: "did early humans have internal feelings of being wronged before they had the cognitive ability to think abstractly, or did they become aware of there feelings of unfairness only after they were able to express this feeling to others.'

          I've understood your question in the first version and have little to add : what comes first chicken or egg ?
          Language is a remembering device, it structures our human existence in time . How could we feel being wrong/wronged without a memory of the event when something something has been done ? Memory can't be organised without language, we can't enter the territory if we can't language it. That's why we don't have infant memories, because it's our before language state.
          On the other hand, language is a mirror of our Psyche and is developing in the attempt to create a word/concept that corresponds to what we have already, but not yet named.
          So.....? I can only tell, that language is in perfect congruence with perception and somehow they create each other simultaneously.
          If you are interested, i may suggest you to google Hopi or Piraha language, these languages have no Past Tenses in their grammar, you'll see how it influences the world view of the people whose mind was shaped by them. Piraha people live entirely in the Present ( at least they did until 2006 ) I don't think they have justice/injustice notion ; if everything happens now, it simply is, so justice makes no sense .
          Hope it helps :)
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    Dec 30 2013: "Justice lives in the halls of nature"- Keith W Henline
    I believe if you are seeking true justice you are most likely to find it in nature. When we are surrounded in it nature appears as chaos but when we look at nature from a broader perspective it appears more organized and all works together like a synchronized organization, only then can we see the real justice.
    Einstein said "I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
    If Einstein was humbled by even a tiny portion of the reason in nature, well that's good enough for me. I completely agree with Einstein's view and I believe justice and reason must go hand in hand. I also see our present day laws much like Aristotle did: “Law is mind without reason”
    Whenever I think of what is just, I constantly think of what happens in nature.
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    Dec 30 2013: well it's up to each personne to have a sense of hummanity bcz i think being a good humane been means a fair personne
    and if each one was fair to himeself and people = a society have sense of justice without governments or religions telling us right from wrong..or maybe i am wrong .
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      Dec 31 2013: Hi Don, and welcome to TED conversations!

      I agree with you Don.... a sense of humanity, compassion, and justice has to start with each of us as individuals....I think you are right:>)
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    Dec 30 2013: Governments don't tell us what's right or wrong. They tell us what we may or may not do. Our sense of right and wrong comes from empathy, not rule by a central power. That being said, if we wish for any kind of justice system, we need to establish a code of conduct. Though a justice system doesn't necessarily need to be a prison system, and a code of conduct doesn't necessarily need to be established or enforced by a central authority. That's just simply the implementation we find ourselves in at this time.

    Religion is a different animal, though the degree to which this is true can certainly vary. If we have a central religious authority - i.e. the Spanish Inquisition or a theocracy - then perhaps we again have a government. But if we can separate any pseudo-political-religious authority from scripture, then maybe scripture is worth reading. Even from an atheist's perspective, scripture (whether Judaic, Vedic or other) can be seen as the thoughts and insights of other humans, and can be read as suggestions rather than rules. The values and statements in scripture, if truth, stand on their own.

    I would agree that looking to government as an authority on what one should or shouldn't do is a huge mistake. A central authority will never succeed in raising empathetic citizens, but only prisoners of the mind. Also, raising empathetic citizens is hardly a goal for government. Few laws have to do with justice.
  • Dec 29 2013: Pardon me please of my being rude, my answer to the the original question would be, yes I think it's possible.
  • Dec 28 2013: I see a lot of pretending in your question so I'll go back to what my grandma's explanation to the word "scruples" when I asked her what the word means. Grandma said it was the code you form to run your life defining what's right and what's wrong, she further said, by the time you are twelve you know what it is.
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      Dec 29 2013: Jude, I see a lot of pretending in your comments... How did that feel?

      Now this is the second time that I've seen you criticizing the question asked by an author of a Conversation. When on TED you would do well to at least try to be polite and try to understand what the person is trying to convey even if you yourself do not understand that.

      If you have issues with the way a question is formulated it's better to ask about the authors intention rather then re-formulating the conversation to whatever suits you and then replying to that..
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      Dec 30 2013: Thank you Jimmy!

      As for the pretending aspect, it was my way of conveying the point i was making. I really hope there is not a culture out there that practice cutting off the arms of 12 year old's.

      the first point was my attempt to ask if it was possible to have innate morals or are we capable of coming up with a consensus of justice without the aid of government? Since we do not live in the state of nature (nor has it existed in the way that some philosophers mention) I had to make it up to get my point across.

      the second point was my way of showing issues of relativism. In it most extreme form I think it is incapable of being a tool for moral guidance. That is why I brought up the issue of 12 year olds getting their arms chopped. relativism, in its pure form has nothing to offer here because it would not allow for any judgement.

      I hope this clears up any confusion
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      Dec 29 2013: Actually I don't think that we are. This is a somewhat broken Wikipedia article but it takes on many aspects of what I'm trying to convey. However I don't think that you would ever change your mind about this Chris so I'll stop wasting my time arguing about this.

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          Dec 29 2013: Isn't that the point of debate, to reach conclusions? I think that I'm right so naturally I would like to teach you what is right so that you may gain further insight into this life.

          That's not the same Chris. There are 4 fundamental forces (weak and strong interaction, electromagnetism and gravitation) that govern everything in this universe, but when it comes to behavior in animals it's not the same "natural laws". I'm sure that you're aware that words have different meanings and that is also the case with the use of natural law. Mainly attributed to the kind of natural law you speak of, the four fundamental forces that I mentioned and "laws of science", statements that describe, and predict phenomena as they appear in nature.
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          Dec 29 2013: Chris, can I ask this: Do you ever read the links I provide? It's an honest question, if not I'll have to start to summarize stuff here instead which is bothersome.
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          Dec 29 2013: "have you ever considered that some people might find it 'bothersome' to be referred to links time and again?"

          Very good point! I guess we all have different tastes in our approach to learning.

          "How anyone attempts to debate such an obvious fact is beyond reason."

          You are basing your conclusions on old literature, since you learned this "fact" A LOT has changed, that is why I provide the links. It is not possible for me to convey the vast amount of new knowledge that has been gained in 2000 characters, without graphs and pictures.
          Therefore I think that it's going to be really hard for you to be convinced of anything that clashes with your world view by these back and forth comments...

          TED Conversations is not a very good source to learn new information that you disagree with if you are unwilling to go outside of this site.

          So you don't even watch the links that I post to relevant TED Talks?
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          Dec 29 2013: Yes, as I said, it has multiple issues, I couldn't be bothered to find a better one since I thought that it was in vain anyway.

          Would you be willing to read a thesis papers on how we are governed by culture, or perhaps watch a documentary?

          I'm asking because if you are then I will spend some time searching for the best ones and provide them, if you are unwilling then I see no reason to.
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          Dec 30 2013: Then the majority of my time spent debating with you is wasted on you. I hope that others instead gain knowledge from our conversations.
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          Dec 30 2013: I never provide dirty links, that is something that I do check very thoroughly. It is also the reason why I often post links to Wikipedia and not different blogs or such.
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    Dec 28 2013: Absolutely possible. One just has to be freethinking based on pure reason. This sense of right or wrong will not depend on the person's geographic location, religious back ground, race, financial status or anything. This is because reason is accessible to all, provided one is willing to access it.
    Cultures that has a norm of chopping of the right arm of the 2nd child at age 12 may continue under religious morality and under governments based on religious morals. It, however, stands no chance under reason based morality of a progressive liberal society and a secular government because it serves no purpose of either diminishing common suffering or increasing common good.
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    Dec 28 2013: Hi Everyone,

    I apologize for my lack of activity. I do appreciate the comments and have read through most of the comments so I'll try my best to respond to your comments the best I can.
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    Dec 25 2013: question: if justice comes from the government, it is impossible to question the justness of a government's actions? or else if it is possible to question whether an action of a government is just, where this sense of justice comes from? certainly not the government, if we oppose it.

    digging deeper: not a single thing comes from the government. the government is created by the people, and therefore everything comes from the people.
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    Dec 25 2013: There are some situations people typically have no difficulty judging without reference to official positions and teachings. There are scholars experimenting by observing babies reactions to situations in which one person hurts another or in which someone who hurts another is rewarded or punished. In research done this far, babies seem to respond naturally in a way that suggests they gravitate to good behavior and away from bad. The reason they study babies is that in studies of children and adults, one might argue that exposure to social norms and teachings influenced behaviors even while the person may believe he is driven only by his own sense of justice.

    If you want details, Edge.com has online a symposium called The New Science of Morality in which scholars share their research in this area.
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      Dec 25 2013: I have seen some of the studies with babies and very small children Fritzie, which support what you are saying. My own observation of children is that they generally gravitate toward good behavior, and when that is reinforced, it encourages continuation of those behaviors.

      I also agree that at some point, children can be more influenced by social norms, modeling of behaviors by those close to them, and teachings which influence behaviors.
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      Jan 3 2014: This site looks really interesting - thanks for sharing it, Fritzie. If anyone else has difficulty, it's not edge.com but edge.org.
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    Jan 20 2014: The cultures of female-dominant bonobos (Pan paniscus) shed light on your great question, Orlando, since many scientists believe they are pretty good models of early hominid cultures.

    Geographically, only the Congo River separates them from Jane Goodall's male-dominant and sometimes murderous Pan troglodytes chimps, yet their cultures and behavior are radically different. Bonobos have a more plentiful food supply in their lush jungle habitat, so they are much less aggressive and warlike (little competition for food). They congregate in large groups of 50 or 60, as opposed to chimp troops of a dozen or so, so they have to be more sensitive, communicative and politically diplomatic than chimps.

    Like humans and unlike chimps, both sexes of bonobos are horny 24/7/365; but bonobos take it to extremes, being completely bisexual and having 6-8 sexual encounters daily, which serves to radically reduce social tensions and aggression. Once aggression as a social tool lost its leverage perhaps 4-5 million years ago, bonobo females, with their innate holistic, synthesizing and concrete right-brain wisdom, took over leadership of their cultures. Groups of 3-4 alpha females rule their large groups, though responsible males are permitted to lead and protect small food foraging groups that join up with the big group at night.

    Now, here is how they impose justice in their societies: Males are much larger than females, but when a "teenage" male gets too aggressive, the alpha females gang up on him and give him a beating or two that he will never forget, so bonobo males never develop into the maniac killers that some Pan troglodytes- and human- males do.

    Are we having fun yet?