TED Conversations

Orlando Hawkins


This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Dec 28 2013: Some people are just rotten , their moral compass points in the direction of , just whatever they want , it could be as simple as what time of day is it .Most psychopaths have a brain that has a smaller amygdala ( the seat of emotion ) (frontal region ) than normal humans . I guess I got off subject , sorry .
    • thumb
      Dec 29 2013: Very few people are JUST rotten, it can all be altered by circumstance.

      Here's a TED Talk about psychopaths http://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_strange_answers_to_the_psychopath_test.html

      And here's another http://www.ted.com/talks/jim_fallon_exploring_the_mind_of_a_killer.html
      • thumb
        Dec 29 2013: I am not that worldly and certainly not educated in the any medical field, but in my life I have met some pretty rotten people ; that said , very capable of doing and did do, some pretty bad things without any visibly conscious or moral thoughts of the actions they committed . Im still off subject of the presented debate , again my apologies .
      • thumb
        Dec 29 2013: I agree, Jimmy, but I would go a step further and proclaim that NO ONE is wholly "rotten", and that everything can be altered by circumstances (or my term of preference, the environment). I do believe that nature and nurture work together to form a complete human, but there is no hard evidence that anything genetic or biological is the cause of people committing amoral crimes, such as murder or rape. People behave in ways that function to get them what they want. People do things for attention or access to preferred items/activities, or to escape aversive circumstances. And if someone is never taught how to get what they want in adaptive and healthy ways, then they resort to what we call "crime". Acts are determined to be "right" or "wrong" based on a code of justice and ethics that looks at behavior in a vacuum-in the absence of all of the environmental variables which led to it.
        What is "a sense of justice"? It is a societal convention, which does, to some extent, function to maintain safety and order. BUT even with the legal system and this "sense of justice", people still act immorally, so the better question may be whether or not it is possible to have a sense of justice at all.
        • thumb
          Dec 30 2013: Allison,

          I fully agree about going that step further! I guess I was trying to push the thought that "everyone has good in them" but I wanted to exclude the comments that would come about serial killers and such as I was not up for that debate right now.

          Thank you for your insightful comment!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.