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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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    Dec 27 2013: I would be interested to know if there is a correlation between peoples' perspective on this and where they were born and brought up. Any thoughts?
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      Dec 27 2013: Speaking generally, since many might feel offended by this.

      I think that if you're brought up religious it's very likely that you will think that morals come from religion, that is also the reason why Atheists are stigmatized in the US for example. Most religions teach that morals come from their religion, and they'll accept that others who also believe in god may have morals, they simply got it wrong.

      The more secular and educated you are the less will be the likelihood for this thinking. If you've studied animal behavior for example you will see that some have a clear sense of right and wrong. Or if you've studied philosophy you will likely come to the conclusion that ethics is a way of thinking and you will gain great ethical insight from pondering questions of right and wrong.

      If you on the other hand are taught that morals is something that you can gain from scriptures it does not make you wish to think about ethical dilemmas, you need only look it up what is right and not.
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          Dec 29 2013: Yeah I know, it's horrible... Hopefully it will improve with the new website, that is IF they decide to keep Conversations on TED...
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      Dec 28 2013: Hi Joanne,

      I do believe that upbringing has a lot to do with the responses. If you are someone is born in what some people call "failed states" in which the government is tyrannical, corrupted are just have a lust for war and violence, I think not only would you be a relativist (because you see the dangers of an all powerful government) but also someone who may think that human nature is innately cruel.

      Of course I am not saying that everyone born in such countries do not have a sense of hope and are just flat out nihilistic but this is something that Thomas Hobbes experienced. Much of his political philosophy had to do with his upbringing. He grew up during a time of civil war and has mentioned that "[he] and fear were born twins". If you take this into account you will understand why he advocates for an all-powerful sovereign.. I'm sure many have experienced something similar and this may have an impact on their political views and theories of justice.
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      Dec 28 2013: Joanne, Jimmy, and Orlando,
      I believe that the culture we are born into definitely influences our perspectives, because the information provided by parents, the society, government, traditions of a culture and/or religion, is some of the first information we live with and are taught as children.

      Perhaps it is a sense of hope for, and belief in, the possibility of something different that causes some people to explore further than the beliefs they were born into? There have been people throughout history who have NOT simply accepted the circumstances of their birth and have moved beyond. I think in order to move in another direction, one has to be aware of a desire to do so, in spite of the challenges involved.

      Frederick Douglass comes to mind....born into slavery....escaped....flogged/whipped....escaped again....punished over and over again and experienced EXTREME hardships. He never lost hope for something different, and eventually escaped for good, and became a leader for the anti-slavery movement.

      We've seen this kind of determination and dedication from others....Gandhi....Martin Luther King.....etc. These people were born into certain conditions which they believed to be unjust, and working within those systems, they held onto a sense of justice for themselves, and everyone who was challenged by the conditions which were accepted by the society at the time.
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        Dec 30 2013: Hi Colleen,

        It is great to hear back from you as well. I do apologize for not responding to you last post. I was trying it out before my laptop died and I was never able to get back to it before more people responded.

        What you said is very true and I hope my statement did not come off as being deterministic. but if I may I'll respond to the issues that you raised in your original response to me:

        In regards to having more of a sense of justice without government I would say that it depends on the circumstance. There are communities throughout the world that do not have a system of government or centralized power. They are very democratic with their own set of norms. Of course these communities are not utopian but most people believe that without government people are going to go around bashing each other heads in with rocks...these communities are not for everyone obviously and there is nothing wrong with choosing to live within a system of government.

        Now if these communities were indeed chopping off arms and bashing each other's heads in with rocks and no one is able come to an agreement about anything then I would say it would be imperative that such a community may need to establish some sort of system of government. So ultimately I believe that it depends on the circumstance, people's ability to reason with one another and the norms that they create.
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          Dec 30 2013: Sorry about the death of your laptop Orlando, and glad it is back in service again:>)

          I think/feel almost EVERYTHING depends on the circumstances....does it not?

          It seems like the reason some sense of government was formed originally was to organize people into a cohesive "group" or community with similar ideas and goals? I am aware of groups who have had different ways of governing and organizing the members of the community.

          I once read about some native American tribes, who had kind of a consensus practice. Although they had a chief, when an offence was committed against another tribe member, the community gathered, the offence was considered, and the members of the community, along with the offender, decided together what the outcome would be. Interestingly enough, this seems like the "Real Justice" model, which is being used today!

          Often, members of the community spoke about the talents and skills of the offender, and told him/her they appreciated that contribution to the tribe.....AND.....the offensive behaviors would not be accepted in the tribe. If the offender continued offending, s/he would be banished, and no longer allowed to be a member of that tribe.

          I agree with you Orlando, that circumstances, people's ability to reason with one another and the norms they create are important.

          In another part of this thread, there is discussion about compassion and recognition of interconnectedness being elements to the question of justice/injustice.

          The example with the practice of the native American tribes, seems to recognize compassion and interconnectedness as being part of justice/injustice. I also believe the Real Justice model demonstrates these qualities.

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