Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A comparative view on Justice.

 From commencing of human civilization to the advent of globalization, justice has remained a widely contested concept. Various thinkers have worked their finger to the bone to unravel as to what it really is. The world we dwell in does not possess enough material, physical and social resources to satiate its booming population. This gives rise to various inequalities which ultimately lead to injustice. One is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi here when he said that “this world has enough for everyone’s need but not for one person’s greed”. The multi-dimensional statement speaks volumes about the concept. In the western political thought there have been various thinkers who have theorized on the concept, but hitherto there has not been one supreme concept of justice. Hegel believed that once a concept becomes supreme, it becomes stagnant also which leads to its destruction. So, this process of questioning and requisition each idea is necessary for making it richer and diverse. I try here to compare modern theory of justice to the teacher of father of political studies which speaks volumes about the indispensability of both the theories.
What is inequality is a question which has always been decided by the society. A lion sleeps for 18 hours and is termed the king of the jungle, whereas a donkey works for 20 hours and we all know what donkey is synonymous to. So, this group called society plays a very important role. This is one thing which has completely remained unchanged since ancient times. Plato, first person to officially begin talking about the significance of justice has built a very interesting theory around the concept. He did a simple three-fold division of society on the basis of three characteristics: appetite, courage and wisdom. He then assigned people to these three different categories. So, the person high on appetite became the producing class who was to produce for the state. The one high on courage became the warrior class who was to look after security of the state and lastly the one high on wisdom became the philosopher king who was to rule over the state. Breaking down of this order, Plato believed would lead to injustice. Basically what he meant was that if every person carries out their assigned duty, which is according to her/his capabilities, then justice will be maintained in the society. It is not as easy as it sounds.  Now there is one of the tenets of modern theory of justice, which is called the procedural theory. In simple terms, it does not distinguish between production and distribution. One of the proponents of this theory is Robert Nozick. He believes that state should be a minimal one and all the emphasis should be put on the individual unlike Plato. In his book, anarchy state and utopia he argues that individual property holdings are just if they are a consequence of fair acquisition or even transfer. There is no specific category for Nozick’s individual.
But Plato definitely has a category for this individual. This category is the producing class who has the right to keep property. However, Plato does not allow the warrior class and philosopher king to keep the property. Promoting the capitalist ideology further, Nozick says that procedural theory is based on a close association with the market economy. Any attempt to tamper with the market, would be detrimental. Plato replaced the market in above statement with the state. With changing times Plato’s state has become the market. John Rawls in ‘a theory of justice’ tries to lessen the difference between the modern concepts of procedural and distributive theories of justice. While the former propagated strongly by Nozick, Hayek and Friedman believes that it is necessary to determine a just procedure for allocation of social advantages, the latter believes that the distribution of social advantages in itself should be just. The proponents of latter are Amartya Sen, Martha Nobaussaum and others. Rawls believes that justice should definitely be a benefit to the least advantaged section of society. Plato does not believe so. He definitely allows the third class of society to keep property and family. But it is questionable whether this is an advantage.
In Plato’s theory, forms come to play a major role. He believes that usually people have a distorted form of the concept which is unreal. He explains it with an allegory. He places the individuals inside a cave where they are chained and are sitting with their back towards the wall. There is fire burning at their back which they can’t see but they can see shadows on the front wall. These people he says do not have any knowledge and they consider what they are seeing to be real, which is an illusion. He then frees them and introduces them with fire. Their level of knowledge increases slightly but they are still inside the darkness of the cave. Now, few of them are taken out and for the first time they see the sun which Plato believes is the sign of goodness. These few possess the highest level of knowledge and are called philosopher kings. They are the only ones who realize that justice is in minding your own business, thus making them fit to rule. It is interesting to note that Rawls also uses a hypothetical situation to explain his concept. He places individuals under the ‘veil of ignorance’ which he calls the original position. They are unaware of themselves and their interests but these individuals, he says, possess an elementary knowledge of economics, psychology and sense of justice. Probably these individuals are the same ones who came out of Plato’s cave and understood justice. He says that these people would be self-interested, unlike Plato’s individuals who went back to cave to rescue their fellow beings out of darkness. According to Rawls his individuals will follow the principles of justice which he gives. However, both Plato and Rawls seem to agree on one thing, apart from placing individuals at places, that is individuals should get equal opportunities and chances irrespective of their class.
Plato’s whole sense of justice is based on two ideas: an ideal education system and communism of property and family. His education system is basically to identify philosopher king. It is completely regulated by the state. For him, education is important for realization of justice. It is also a process to assign individuals to their respective classes. Education to modern theorists is not indispensable in their respective theories. Probably because with so much advancement and progress, they consider it for given that education is necessary. Plato gives the concept of communism of property and family. He says that these two institutions give rise to various desires in a person. He identifies desire as the root cause of the larger evil. It leads to corruption and ignorance of state which Plato completely despises. Nozick however justifies owning of property with his excessive focus on individualism. Rawls comes to his rescue and gives a combination of both procedural and distributive theories stating that least advantaged should always be taken care of. In fact desire is at the very root of modern theory. All the modern thinkers on justice want to find out how property which is a narrow term for resources should be judiciously distributed. Plato sound too ideal in his concept. Somewhere, he ignores the basic human nature.
Another more humane and pragmatic modern thinker is Amartya Sen who says that instead of searching for ideal justice, stress should be on removing more visible form of injustices such as subjugation of women, poverty, malnutrition etc. He criticizes Rawls for generalizing the human nature. It is to be noted here that all the political thinkers who have hitherto conceptualized justice have always prescribed how an ideal just state or society is to be. They often forget to prescribe solutions for the existing ills in the society. Even Plato is silent on this. During his time, there was excessive corruption and instability in Athens. Instead of trying to theoretically cure these ills, he altogether gave a theory as to how the state should be. Amartya Sen then stands ahead of them in this respect. To quote him, the Indian philosophy has always made a distinction between institutional justice (niti) and actual realization of justice (nyaya). Plato and other western thinkers do not distinguish between the principle of justice and delivery of justice. Why Plato sounds silent on few issues raised by modern thinkers and vice-versa is definitely debatable. To this context one answer could be that when Plato was writing he was referring to small city-states whose population might be today’s colonies. Modern thinkers whereas had a different world in front of them which was characterized by booming population, large areas and various ills afflicted on the society.

After a comparative study on the afore-mentioned facts, it is clear that the concept of justice is an area of extensive discussion and controversy. Sometimes humans have changed it and sometimes state has manipulated according to its convenience. Plato’s focus on education sounds very relevant in the contemporary world. But his concept is applicable only on the philosopher king who is endowed with all the rights. Modern day’s government has changed from monarchy to democracy where usually there is separation of power between executive, legislature and judiciary. Plato does not speak much on punishment. The modern theory which has restorative and retributive concepts on justice provides extensive details of how a person who commits crime is to be punished. Punishment is obligatory to the concept. Justice provides a base on which other concepts like liberty, equality and others nurture. It is a dynamic, heterogeneous and multi-dimensional concept. The system of justice should be constantly analyzed and interpreted to maintain its significance and authenticity. With changing times, the concept has evolved, expanded and enriched itself. And in its ever-changing form, lies its beauty.