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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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