Can Social Justice Be Rescued?

The book Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is isn’t what you think it is. The dust jacket of the latest from Michael Novak (with coauthors Paul Adams and Elizabeth Shaw) promises to rescue the term from “its ideological captors” by clarifying “the true meaning of social justice.”

What it provides is a careful reading of select papal encyclicals, and application of them to the concept of social justice and contemporary social work—especially that being done from a Roman Catholic perspective. The book’s aim, in practical terms, is to make social justice safe for conservative Catholics both in theory and in practice.

Novak humorously notes that this anti-market rallying cry of the Left has an “operational meaning”: that “we need a law against that.” One response to such social justice boosterism—Friedrich Hayek’s, in fact—is to reject the phrase altogether. Novak summarizes Hayek’s critique succinctly: Either social justice is a virtue, and so is about individuals and not about redistribution; or it is not a virtue and “its claim to moral standing falls flat.” Because its advocates treat it “as a regulative principle of order, not a virtue,” the slogan serves as an instrument of coercion, not a call to good habits of character, so the Hayekian conservative should set it aside.

But there’s a problem: Various popes since the 19th century have embraced the term. This has made it easy for Catholic Progressives to appeal to papal encyclicals when arguing against more market-friendly Catholics. Social workers (of all religions and no religion) have gone even further, as coauthor Paul Adams notes, making social justice a core value that accredited schools must embrace. So the Hayek option—rejecting the term altogether—is unavailable to many, if they want to maintain their other commitments.

The solution: Offer a competing definition of social justice by arguing that, pace Hayek, it is a virtue, but not because entire societies can somehow be virtuous (as J. S. Mill thinks). The key is to look upon it as a virtue of individuals directed toward associations that foster the common good. Defining social justice in this way makes it a check on, not an extension of, state power.

Indeed, big government, “to protect its own turf,” crowds out the free associations that social justice, properly understood, holds dear. In chapters 5 through 7, Novak elucidates 16 principles he finds in Catholic social thought, and, in chapters 8 through 13, he considers specific papal encyclicals. Unsurprisingly, his discussion of John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus is (no pun intended) magisterial.

But can this kind of social justice produce any social good? Yes, Paul Adams argues, in the book’s second half. Adams offers an exceptionally good example of how the free, creative coordination of social services with an aim to the common good can do real work:

On visiting a house to inspect for code violations, the housing inspector … found some frayed electrical wiring. In the past this would have been the extent of her professional concern. But she also noticed a single mother, new to the neighborhood, with several children and only one piece of furniture, a sofa. She reported this to the [locally based integrated services or “patch”] team, which sent out an MSW [master of social work] practicum student and a child-protective services worker to talk to the woman. They put her in touch with a local church which set her up with needed furniture, and they invited her to join a moms’ group that the team had initiated. Thanks to “a little help when needed,” what might have become in a few months a formal case of child neglect never became an official case at all.

Thus social justice is a virtue, not a preconceived state of affairs, and it works—but not by supplying coercive rhetoric to big government politicians. Social justice as a virtue promotes very real and helpful associations.

So far, so good. But the book makes stronger claims. Let’s consider two. First, “Hayek had derided ‘social justice’ wrongly understood, but then he turned around and put into practice what might be called ‘social justice rightly understood.’” This difference elicits the following exclamation: “A delicious irony in intellectual history!” This reviewer would ask: Is the book right to make Hayek the focus of a delicious irony?

Second, Novak and coauthors claim consistency with Catholic social teaching. A recent book by Patrick Burke provides the foil. “Working from a strong libertarian perspective,” Burke “sees social justice, rightly understood, as a personal virtue,” as Novak and company do, but “unlike us, he places blame for the term’s socialistic misuse squarely on the popes from Pius XI on[ward].” Declares Adams in the introduction: “In the name of justice, Burke’s book makes a decisive break with Catholic social teaching, whereas ours is consistent with it.”

Is it?

First, let’s talk about the delicious irony in intellectual history. Novak says Hayek “ripped to tatters the concept as it is usually deployed,” and he identifies three “diverse intellectual traditions: socialist, social democratic, or Catholic,” in which the term was or is used. For Novak to introduce (or reintroduce) a competing definition to that common understanding and call Hayek’s position ironic seems odd, at the very least. If there’s irony here, it’s not to be borne by Hayek, but by Novak. Hayek, the atheist, had to criticize some of the official social justice teachings of Novak’s church to help Novak formulate a better definition for that church.

To wit, “Hayek’s demolition of false understandings of social justice,” Novak writes, “was necessary before a better concept could come to light, a concept he himself lived out in practice before it could be thematized.” So it’s not that Hayek inadvertently adopted a concept he denied; instead, he demolished that concept to such an extent that those that want to keep the phrase (for whatever reason) have to do so with a different meaning.

Second, the book’s selective treatment of encyclicals leaves the question of its overall consistency with Catholic social teaching unanswered. Consider Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, an encyclical referenced only in passing, but a social justice love letter for Progressive Catholics. When discussing that encyclical, Novak writes:

I think it is best to recognize that Catholic social thought is not now—and maybe never should be—a fully coherent and consistent body of teaching, framed like a book of logic in ‘eternal’ principles. True enough, in Catholic circles more than in secular or Protestant circles, enormous care is taken to agree (or at least be consistent) with papal predecessors. Moreover, different factions among Catholics tend to pick the starting place that best fits with the argument they want to make. It is perhaps inevitable that those on the left like to emphasize Populorum Progressio, whereas those less state-inclined tend to find Centesimus Annus much more empirically minded and, on the whole, wiser.

But if Catholic social thought isn’t itself “fully coherent and consistent,” then competing definitions of social justice can be equally consistent with it but not with each other. That’s not a problem, to be sure, if the goal is simply to show consistency with select (and rival) documents. So long as they’re not mutually exclusive, a Progressive Catholic could add Novak’s rival formulation of social justice without abandoning the Progressive one: Let’s have state redistribution and individual virtue!

If that’s the case, then you don’t get Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is. You have, instead, Conservative Catholics Can Use the Language of Social Justice, Too—They Just Mean Something Different by It. Perhaps the authors would respond that a conservative Catholic conception of social justice is somehow more faithful to the rest of church teaching. If that’s the argument, it’s one their book doesn’t make.

And making this argument, frankly is an uphill battle. When the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the virtues, the word “social” does not make an appearance, and Novak’s definition of “social justice” is eerily similar to the catechism’s definition of “justice.” That’s a problem for Novak, because the catechism separates what Novak unites. It offers specific thoughts about social justice, and the focus there is not on virtue but on societal conditions. Inequality, which plays no role in justice (or Novak’s social justice), comes to the forefront in the catechism’s social justice:

Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.

And that’s not even the low-hanging fruit for Progressive Catholics. In Laudato si’, perhaps published too late for consideration, Pope Francis questions those that believe “the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth,” lamenting their lack of “interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth.” Francis even says that “social peace . . . cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice”—without it, he adds, “violence always ensues.” No justice, no peace!

Judged by its stated goals, I did not find Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is persuasive. But in other ways—especially Novak’s careful discussion of certain papal encyclicals—I found the book quite helpful. I also appreciated Novak’s refreshing candor:

To end with one down-to-earth example: How is it that the most Catholic continent of all, South America, with an open field for continuously implementing Catholic social thought ever since 1891, should come into the twenty-first century with the second-largest population of truly poor persons on the planet? With so many structural deficiencies? For all its strengths, Catholic social thought carries within it far more false turns, inner irony, and even human tragedy than its partisans (ourselves included) typically address.

James Bruce

Dr. James E. Bruce is an associate professor of philosophy at John Brown University. His first book, Rights in the Law: The Importance of God’s Free Choices in the Thought of Francis Turretin, was published by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht in 2013.

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  1. libertarian jerry says

    “Social Justice” is a term basically used by the Left to champion their collectivist,socialist ideas of how a society should be set up. This is based on the assumption that all wealth is owned by everyone and is “unfairly” distributed among the “rich” and therefore it is “socially just” for the State to force redistribution through Progressive taxation.
    What the Left,through narrow eyes,fails to do is to study history. World history is filled with Century after Century of grinding poverty caused basically by collective societies where most of the wealth was controlled by the State. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Market Capitalism that standards of living rose dramatically. Especially in the period prior to the First World War. Market Capitalism has done more in the last 150 years to raise the poor into the Middle Classes and beyond,quicker,than all of the churches and states combined over the past 2000 years. Not only has Market Capitalism,despite not being perfect,raised standards of living for the masses but has basically,because of the ideas inherent in property rights,increased the freedoms of the average person. Modern day China is a good example of this. Millions of Chinese citizens have not only been lifted out of poverty but are placing a great amount of pressure on their “one party” state to free up the society.
    If one wants to help people rise out of poverty “Social Justice” should be labeled as to what one is worth in the free market. The freer the market the less poverty for more people. That is truly “social justice.”

  2. nobody.really says

    Adams offers an exceptionally good example of how the free, creative coordination of social services with an aim to the common good can do real work:

    On visiting a house to inspect for code violations, the housing inspector … found some frayed electrical wiring. In the past this would have been the extent of her professional concern. But she also noticed a single mother, new to the neighborhood, with several children and only one piece of furniture, a sofa. She reported this to the [locally based integrated services or “patch”] team, which sent out an MSW [master of social work] practicum student and a child-protective services worker to talk to the woman. They put her in touch with a local church which set her up with needed furniture, and they invited her to join a moms’ group that the team had initiated. Thanks to “a little help when needed,” what might have become in a few months a formal case of child neglect never became an official case at all.

    Thus social justice is a virtue, not a preconceived state of affairs, and it works—but not by supplying coercive rhetoric to big government politicians.

    This is an exceptionally good example of what, exactly?

    In sum, a government agent enters a private residence under threat of declaring the domicile unfit for occupation and evicting the inhabitants. This conduct — while intrusive and coercive as hell — is arguably warranted to avoid externalities such as house fires, which are notoriously disrespectful of property boundaries.

    But while there, the agent observes the occupants’ personal lives and then discloses this private information to outside parties without the occupants’ consent. And we’re supposed to cheer about this? If anyone is celebrating ends, without regard to means, it would seem to be Adams.

    If society concludes that we can’t rely on parent to be the sole arbitrator of their kids’ wellbeing – as we do regarding public education, statutory rate, etc. – then perhaps society should adopt laws akin to France’s whereby child welfare agents visit each child’s domicile to check things out. But as a general proposition, we should not ask methadone clinicians to be drug enforcement snitches, or ask beat cops to be INS informants, or ask building inspectors to be covert child welfare agents. If you value privacy, you should value unbundling the roles of government agents wherever conflicts of interest may arise.

  3. nobody.really says

    I can’t speak to Hayek’s views on “social justice” per se, but Hayek unambiguously favored state-run social safety nets:

    There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has attained, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. There are difficult questions about the precise standard which should thus be assured …. but there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody….

    Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for these common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance — where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks — the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong…. [T]here is no incompatibility in principle between the state’s providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state’s rendering assistance to the victims of such “acts of God” as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

    Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chap. 9, “Security and Freedom”

    The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.

    Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 3.

    I have always said that I am in favor of a minimum income for every person in the country.

    Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue by F. A. Hayek, edited by Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

    • gabe says

      to nobody & Richard:

      Nobody, would you agree with Richard’s comment regarding the manner in which “obligations” are imposed or expected to be performed? It seems consistent with your critique in your first post – but perhaps not the second.

      Richard:

      would you say that Nobody’s “advancement” of Hayeks’ proposition is an inappropriate instrumentality for the discharge of obligations?

      All:
      I see no conflict between Hayek’s proposal and the voluntary (and somewhat more edifying) discharge of obligations. Clearly, the meddling “social worker / building inspector” is a concern. Yet, let us suppose that the same building inspector simply went *directly* to the local church, and the church responding to her information then supplied the mother with sufficient resources to alleviate the situation. Would we still properly have the privacy concerns voiced by nobody – or should we be more appreciative of the inspectors efforts to discharge a perceived obligation. Yes, initial knowledge of the need came when acting as an agent of the state – yet, no state channels were used to discharge the obligation.

      Just curious, folks as to your thoughts.

      • R Richard Schweitzer says

        Gabe,

        “would you say that Nobody’s “advancement” of Hayeks’ proposition is an inappropriate instrumentality for the discharge of obligations? ”

        That may not be the question you mean to ask; but it implies a question of the appropriate nature of the instrumentality suggested by Hayek’s views.

        I am a “student,” but not a “disciple” of Hayek. I am a reader but not an interpreter of his writing.

        However, I do draw inferences from Hayek’s writings. I infer from “The Mirage of Social Justice” ( Volume 2 of “Law, Legislation and Liberty”) amongst his other philosophical writings, that the “obligations” (actually needs arising) that he would deal with are derived from, or arise out of, the relationships and circumstances of the social order rather than being intrinsic (Deontic) in the makeup of human individuals.

        Consequently though it may be consistent with Hayek’s views on needs arising and the obligations related, I am not convinced that justice is achieved by the meeting of needs or the performance of obligations through coercive authorities.

        The distinctions (with differences) amongst the various forms of participative performance of obligations, and the motives for the selection of any of the alternatives, go beyond considerations of “effectiveness” in my view.

        A clue to that kind of thinking (on my part) may lie in whether one views virtue as something other than the expression of motivation.

        • gabe says

          Richard:

          Fair enough & understood!

          Yet that leaves the second question (which, of course,) was primarily asked of nobody?

          In the first instance, where the “building inspector simply goes to the church and eventually the poor woman is cared for – I take it (and I so believe) that you would find this acceptable as it may be more likely that a) this is an un-coerced act and b) it is also more likely that the “humane” actions thuis exhibited are the result of personal (though substantially culturally induced) motivations, notwithstanding the apparent “state” connection as a municipal inspector.

          BTW: would still like nobody’s take on the question.
          BTW 2: Have a separate Oakeshott comment for you at a later time.

          seeya
          The Grape awaits – and my motivation is to not disappoint!

      • nobody.really says

        [T]he meddling “social worker / building inspector” is a concern. Yet, let us suppose that the same building inspector simply went *directly* to the local church, and the church responding to her information then supplied the mother with sufficient resources to alleviate the situation. Would we still properly have the privacy concerns voiced by nobody – or should we be more appreciative of the inspectors efforts to discharge a perceived obligation. Yes, initial knowledge of the need came when acting as an agent of the state – yet, no state channels were used to discharge the obligation.

        I sense we may both find the situation objectionable, but for different reasons.

        As a general proposition, I don’t object to people extending aid to those in need, whether those people do so on behalf of the state or private parties. I *do* have concerns when the state uses resources that it acquires for one purpose and then secretly uses them for a different purpose. I want people to permit building inspectors into their domiciles in order to do the work of building inspection. If people learn that building inspectors will disclose their private information, then people will be less willing to let building inspectors in, thereby frustrating the work of building inspection. I don’t see how it would make a difference whether the building inspector disclosed the private information to 3d parties or to other branches of government.

        In short, I expect government agents (building inspectors, IRS agents, etc.) to have 1) a sound knowledge of the subject matter within their jurisdiction and 2) the discretion to keep their mouths shut about the private information that happens to come to their knowledge through the course of performing their duties.

        But we could change the hypothetical in various ways that I would not find objectionable. For example, imagine the building inspector were to visit the same residence (whether before or after inspecting the residence) in order to pick up her kid from a play date, and then observed signs of poverty. The inspector would now have information that she did not acquire by virtue of her role as a building inspector, and she would be free to disclose this information as her conscience dictated — whether to public or private parties, or both, or neither.

        I don’t have a huge objection to inspecting people’s homes as a means to counteract poverty, if that’s something society wants to do. And if society wanted to do this, I could understand if society decided to have the same person performing both the role of building inspector and the role of social worker. Maybe the cost savings for the state, and the convenience for the residents, would offset the problems arising from one agent performing mixed roles. But this agent shouldn’t be performing these roles surreptitiously. That’s all.

  4. R Richard Schweitzer says

    Having followed Michael Novak’s thinking on “Social Justice” since his original article in the December 2000 “First Things,” which I still have on hard drive, one finds his consistency admirable.

    If one can accept that “Justice” is the performance of obligations (which I urge), the remaining inquiry turns on the involvement of “Social” as a means or instrumentality for the performance of particular obligations, which Novak (and others) identify as our obligations to one another. That follows whether or not the obligations are deemed to arise and take their shape from the relationships within a social order or are “inherent” (Deontic) in the nature of “humanity.”

    On close examination it often appears that the quest for “Social” means or instrumentalities for the performance of particular obligations is actually a quest for the transfer of the burdens of those obligations. In other cases the quests can really represent commonalities of motives to improve the effectiveness of performance through combined, complementary or supplementary individual actions. Transfers of the burdens of obligations to coercive authorities (the State, e.g.) entail the imposition of other burdens and obligations in exchange for those transfers. So, the selection of alternative “Social” means or instrumentalities can drastically affect the performance of obligations and the perceptions of the forms and nature of obligations as well.

    It’s probably the individual sense of particular obligations that determine the perceived need for participative actions (which may be a workable description for “Social”). Some social orders significantly impede or restrict such participative actions, particularly those of a voluntary form. Other social orders provide ease of (encourage?) participative actions through coercive authorities.

    So, in the end, we might conclude that “Social Justice” is participative performance of obligations. Where that participation is voluntary, rather than a transfer of burdens, it will be actual performance (in whatever degree). If that performance occurs by reason of transfers of burdens, it may not respond to the obligations and will not necessarily result in justice.

    • says

      Let me start by consulting a dictionary. Definitions from Merriam-Webster online, quoting:
      Justice: No 3: conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness .
      Obligation: No 1: the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)
      Obligation: No 2.a : something (as a formal contract, a promise, or the demands of conscience or custom) that obligates one to a course of action
      Society: 3 a : an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another
      3b : a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests
      4a : a part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct : a social circle or a group of social circles having a clearly marked identity
      b : a part of the community that sets itself apart as a leisure class and that regards itself as the arbiter of fashion and manners

      Paraphrasing and quoting your post so as to discover misunderstandings by me:

      “Social” establishes “our obligations to one another,” regardless of whether the obligations arise from human moral-obligation or from the social order.

      But often social order would transfer responsibilities to avoid collaboration. Yet responsibilities must be met, so regimes for transfer must bargain to both transfer and fulfill the responsibility. However, regimes never design perfect exchange, so performance suffers.

      The needed collaboration is both personal and voluntary. The need for social order arises because some persons do not volunteer to meet obligations (behave with justice). The regime can either coerce people who do not meet obligations or redistribute the unfulfilled obligations to the volunteers. Thereby, justice is redefined by the social order, perhaps drastically.

      When social order is maintained by transfer of burdens, social performance . . . “may not respond to the obligations and will not necessarily result in justice.”

      Richard, please correct my thoughts about your post as needed.

      Assuming I somewhat understand, I want to bring two historical documents, both calling for voluntary civic morality, into the discussion. First, George Washington’s farewell address on June 8, 1783, includes:

      “There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power: An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head; A Sacred regard to Public Justice; The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment; and The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.”

      Washington’s “four things” are civic—neither religious nor non-religious nor “secular.” Washington describes what could be called a voluntarily-just society (which we dub “a civic people” and “a culture of a civic people”). We continually seek alternative expressions, like “a voluntarily just society,” from our view of your post.

      The second document is the preamble to the 1787 draft constitution for the USA:

      “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

      The preamble states a totality: “We the People of the United States.” But it then states a civic agreement that must be voluntary, because coercion simply will not work, as demonstrated by the 30% of delegates who did not sign the draft document. Also, it is a civic sentence—neither religious nor non-religious nor “secular.” I’m still thinking about “A Voluntarily Just Society of the Unites States,” and see advantages; maybe a shorter phrase will emerge. Regardless, we feel that publicizing the volunteer agreement required by the preamble will help the public understand their freedom to choose civic behavior (accept justice and obligations) rather than the impositions of government regimes.

      Our meetings at public libraries in Baton Rouge from June 21, 2014 until a year later, through collaboration, settled on “A Civic People of the United States,” as the title of our work and a Louisiana non-profit education corporation. We perceive that establishing volunteer collaboration will unlock moral forces that exist among perhaps seventy percent of USA citizens. We feel that USA regimes that existed since 1789, are “social orders [that] significantly impede or restrict . . . participative actions,” as you describe in your post. (And we could not have written this last thought before reading your post.)

      We perceive that free-will participation will establish civic morality based on these principles: personal privacy, civic collaboration, coordination using the literal preamble for 2016 lives, and civic morality based on physics. Physics is energy, mass and space-time from which everything including opinion emerges. Humankind discovers realities that emerge from physics then works to understand how to benefit from that discovery, establishing civic ethics, leaving opinion for ethics within societies such as religions, political parties and other social associations. People are expected to push the envelope of civic morality, but do so responsibly—conforming to physics. The overall goal is personal liberty with civic well-being.

      Contrary to some of the reactions in this forum, we feel that conservative law professors are far more qualified than social law professors to help express the need for a super-majority of inhabitants who volunteer to conform to physics. After all, conformity to reality is the object of religious belief, whether a god is involved or not.

      We appreciate your post, which has opened for us new possibilities.

      • R Richard Schweitzer says

        Phil B:

        “Richard, please correct my thoughts about your post as needed.”

        I fear that goes beyond my “pay grade.”

        But, you think about each of those entries some more.

        • says

          “I fear that goes beyond my “pay grade’,” was unexpected after ” Some social orders significantly impede or restrict such participative actions, particularly those of a voluntary form,” but then, I guess I should have expected as much.

          Following your suggestion to rethink, I considered MW’s view of “voluntary,” to get a clue as to your usage.

          Full Definition of voluntary

          1 : proceeding from the will or from one’s own choice or consent

          2 : unconstrained by interference : self-determining

          3 : done by design or intention : intentional

          4 : of, relating to, subject to, or regulated by the will

          5 : having power of free choice

          6 : provided or supported by voluntary action

          7 : acting or done of one’s own free will without valuable consideration or legal obligation

          I found no evidence of reliability.

  5. says

    Being a person with fidelity to the objective truth of which most is undiscovered and some is understood, I feel well-grounded to collaborate respecting Dr. James Bruce’s thoughts. Perhaps collaboration will create possibilities for a better future.

    “. . . [offering] a competing definition of social justice by [arguing] that . . . it is a virtue, but not because entire societies can somehow be virtuous (as J. S. Mill thinks). The key is to look upon it as a virtue of individuals directed toward associations that foster the common good. Defining social justice in this way makes it a check on, not an extension of, state power.”

    First, the goal “the common good” is valid for a culture of personal liberty with civic well-being (PLwCWB), although it is not a traditional culture. “Civic” refers to human connections occasioned by persons possessing life during the same years in the same lands. “Lands” refers to street, subdivision, city, county, state, country, continent, Earth, and beyond, with decreasing immediacy yet constancy of geopolitical concerns. Awareness of “concerns” typically increases with both chronological age and psychological maturity, limited by a person’s natural abilities, motives, education, and experiences.

    Each real-no-harm person is appreciated in his or her existing status in maturity—old or not and wise or not.

    “Civic” well-being means fidelity to grounded justice, whether the justice is deemed right or wrong in the opinions of the people. Thus, a person who does not lie is serene even though some people lie; a person who stops at red lights is watchful at green lights, because some people run red lights; a Christian cannot be persuaded to proselytize, well-aware that he or she cannot guarantee his or her own afterlife, let alone someone’s everlasting relief from hell. A person wants ultimate responsibility for only one person. Adults who are not aware of these observations are without excuse, because the objective truth about opinion is self-evident: when the objective truth is known, opinion has no standing. Yet each person is in their state of recovery or none from opinion-based ethics.

    Second, PLwCWB persists for a civic person, despite state power. However, just as the civic person earns his or her living so as to have personal liberty, he or she works throughout life to establish a state that has the monopoly on force against aggression, yet a state that supports the evolution of civic justice toward a culture of PLwCWB. In other words, the have personal liberty, a person must work not only for their living, but for civic morality.

    Third, civic justice cannot be “social,” because PLwCWB does not come with preference, class, or imposition. A civic people appreciate civic connections and collaborate for civic morality by free will. (According to the above discussion, there is no real-harm in a civic person’s behavior.) This is not utopia, because the goal is not 100% of the people choosing to be a civic people. There is still a need for civic law to limit criminals and other dissidents from a civic people.

    Changing direction with the essay, regarding social justice, “he identifies three ‘diverse intellectual traditions: socialist, social democratic, or Catholic.’” However, the world’s best evidence, poverty in South America, does not support the Catholic tradition of social justice.

    One of the first principles of physics-based ethics is economic viability: The resources of a civic people must meet the needs of all the people, including the people who cannot help themselves. Therefore, both the criminals and the people who will not help themselves must be contained and limited. Likewise, the earth’s capacity is increasing with technology, but wide-spread poverty is an indication of over-population for the present status of humankind’s maturity. Societies that promote or foster procreation without responsibility are not no-real-harm entities: The federal government of the USA is a harmful entity, because it promotes irresponsible procreation.

    We invent reality when we write these posts, and hopefully the consequences will be the possibility for a better future—psychological evolution that keeps pace with the discovery of benefits that can be observed from physics. “Physics” is energy, mass and space-time from which everything, including opinion and the god hypothesis, emerges.

    My person may encounter a god, but no person, dead or alive, can witness for or against that god. The fact that this self-evident statement seems provocative is shocking, yet I could not have written it before this moment and before responding to Professor Bruce’s post.

      • gabe says

        apparently, Phil thinks it is an expression of procreation! – government sponsored irrespopnsible procreation, that is, boyos!

        • says

          gabe, please accept that you are a funny being (male, female or it) and stop dropping reminders of your folly.

          For example, consider this evidence about Church influence and irresponsible procreation: “[Zika} It has opened a new front in the debate in heavily Roman Catholic countries about a woman’s right to birth control and abortion.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/health/zika-virus-brazil-how-it-spread-explained.html?emc=edit_na_20160206&nlid=54223197&ref=cta&_r=0 .

          I offer collaboration and you exercise masochism. This forum seems above that, and you seem to be part of the anonymous background.

          Speaking of anonymity, I’ve read several articles justifying anonymity. Many reasons are excellent defenses for the anonymous writer. Your case establishes a possibility that has not been mentioned: The anonymous writer is a shill put up by the sponsors to antagonize “subjects” who have the gall yet not the “propriety” to enter a forum intended for self-proclaimed “scholars,” who don’t realize how far out a limb of folly they have climbed yet how obvious it is to a civic people.

          It is not too late for you to collaborate for possibilities for a better future.

          • gabe says

            I saw and read the article you reference. Must you be so willing to accept the narrative of the left – any excuse to a) rail against Catholicism, they will gladly pursue and b) any chance to promote their nihilistic conception of life, a life without meaning or intrinsic worth measured against the false god of “Choice” they will also grab and expound.
            You, who speaks so often of “civic” culture ought to know better. How much civility is afforded those “anonymous” and un-named souls in the womb who are so carelessly discarded?
            This strikes me as rather UN-CIVIL!!!!! – but it does allow the left to posture as defenders of womens rights and choice.

            Speaking of un-civil – Your ramblings about scholars and folly are both repetitive and unfounded.

            Also, I would consult a dictionary for the proper meaning of “masochism.” Unless, of course, you recognize the pain it sometimes causes me to respond to your rather uncivil comments.

            I ain’t a masochist – just a semi-grown up *street urchin* – a semi-reformed Bowery Boy, as it were.

      • says

        “And, is a virtue anything other than an expression of motivation?”

        Let’s start with Merriam-Webster online, as always.

        Full Definition of virtue

        1a : conformity to a standard of right : morality
        b : a particular moral excellence
        2 plural : an order of angels — see celestial hierarchy
        3: a beneficial quality or power of a thing
        4: manly strength or courage : valor
        5: a commendable quality or trait : merit
        6: a capacity to act : potency

        Full Definition of morality
        1 a : a moral discourse, statement, or lesson
        b : a literary or other imaginative work teaching a moral lesson
        2 a : a doctrine or system of moral conduct
        b plural : particular moral principles or rules of conduct
        3 : conformity to ideals of right human conduct
        4 : moral conduct : virtue

        First, it seems that virtue is an act rather than a motivation, but is it an expression of motivation? I think so, and in that regard explicitly agree with you.

        However, I do not consider your question limiting to my prior post: I question the “motivation” supporting the expression. Many of the persons who post as “conservatives” use as their standard upholding the Bible interpretations they cherish. Thus, their motivation is Bible interpretation, and they work hard to express their Bible-based opinions and impose them on readers. I posit that for a civic people, expression of Bible interpretation does not constitute virtue.

        Only when a person considers his or her opinions such as Bible interpretation as personal and not to be imposed on neighbors do they come to the civic forum prepared to collaborate for civic morality and civic virtue. The fact that someone is living for salvation in their afterdeath does not imply that he or she is empowered to convince even one of a civic people to so dedicate their lives.

        Furthermore, I come to this forum with a proposal for supplanting opinion-based virtue with a virtue that is neutral to traditions: fidelity to physics. Physics is energy, mass and space-time from which everything including tradition emerges. Humankind does not know from whence physics emerged, so the god hypothesis remains alive for any person to pursue or not as their experiences and comprehensions dictate. I happen to think that whatever is in control, if anything beyond a civic people, can brook my fidelity to the objective truth of which much is undiscovered yet some is understood. For example, the earth is 4.543 billion years old (in other words, 2,271.5 time 2 million years old, which is more than 4 thousand years old), and it resembles a globe.

        “Civic” in this context refers to the people who are willing to collaborate for civic morality and civic virtue using personal privacy; civic collaboration; a literal preamble to the constitution for the USA interpreted for their time, e.g., for us, 2016; and physics-based ethics. The ethics is derived by humankind from civic collaboration to benefit from the realities that emerge from the discoveries from physics. With this political system, a culture of a civic people, all real-no-harm cultures and traditions, such as Bible interpretation, may flourish.

        I do not think my idea of a civic people is the only or best expression of motivation, but think that the people in this forum, by collaboration, can approach a virtuous statement that offers the world a bright future.

        Thank you, Richard, for thoughtful collaboration.

        BTW: I interrupted my intention to watch, for a second time, the movie The Best of Enemies, which can inspire explicit collaboration for the better future the two parties can create rather than competing on hatred.

    • says

      gabe, I don’t know how I lost dialogue from your abortion post but want to point out that the facts from physics could tame your emotions on that issue. So here’s the data on ova consequences in the USA:

      USA conception results, millions/year emedicine.medscape.com/article/252560-overview

      3.89 live births (about 42.5% of reported conceptions)
      0.70 contraceptive abortions webmd.com/women/tc/abortion-reasons-women-choose-abortion (7.7%)
      2.92 naturally caused abortions: physics preventing abnormal results (31.9% of conceptions)
      0.67 medically advised abortions, e.g., severe fetal anomaly (7.3%)
      0.97 miscarriages (10.6%, total natural abortions 49.8%)
      0.000342 deaths of the mother; higher incidence with no medical care
      9.15 million reported conceptions of 800 million ova/yr, 300 m unrestricted

      Children abused: 0.7 million/yr abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/federal-data-shows-percent-rise-child-abuse-36507530
      Deaths by age 24: 0.08 million/yr

      Notice that the 3.89 million live births amount to 0.49% of 800 million viable ova. The natural abortions total 4.56 million or 0.57% of the 800.

      I think the Supreme Court collaborated with physics on the Roe v Wade opinion: The woman’s decision to remain pregnant is private.

      And ignoring Zika virus for the sake of your animosity against the NYT is a cold attitude regarding children. Shame on you, gabe.

      • gabe says

        “I think the Supreme Court collaborated with physics on the Roe v Wade opinion: The woman’s decision to remain pregnant is private.”

        Really???
        I would say that the collaboration may have had more to do with “alchemy” – you know the science wherein one can conjure up precious metals (in this case) doctrine by combining baser metals (or in this case – baser motivations of an “unwillingness to accept the consequences” of ones actions and, By Jove, the most consequential of all modern motivations – CHOICE!!!
        For your information: choice is what one is confronted with when offered a selection between two different flavors of bloody ice cream – not whether to terminate the life of a defenseless human being.
        At least have the decency to call it a decision – instead of trivializing it!

        And as for private – indeed, it should be – rather than be worn as a badge of courage by some and posted on Facebook, etc; not to mention all those old fat carryovers from the 1960’s who proudly proclaim their joy at their own courage and moral rectitude at having spoken truth to power and winning the abortion question. You know the ones I mean – those old fat ladies with the purple tinted hair that always appear in the background of the Fat Lady in a Pantsuit’s campaign appearances.

        Try physics on them – although I suspect that WeightWatchers would do a better job!!!

        And for once, please stop with this damnable “physics” – it is beyond monotonous – it is vomit inducing!!!!

        • says

          gabe, please do us a favor and watch the 2015 documentary “Best of Enemies,” magpictures.com/bestofenemies/. (I am indebted to my friend Fred for suggesting it: I don’t watch many movies.)

          Further, make believe we are in a play and you are like one of the stars from 1968 but I am not. Perhaps then you can admit to the mirror that you quoted me, “The woman’s decision to remain pregnant is private,” and then chastised me to write “decision” rather than “CHOICE.” By that falsity, you put yourself in a box I don’t want you in, even though we could say you are none of my business. Yet, we are trying, together, to create a better future.

          I am neither of the intellectual giants in the movie. I am a person who rather than argue right v left politics, white chocolate vs dark chocolate, Catholic or not, wishes to consider political leanings a private matter but collaborate for civic order. Yet my will to collaborate comes from more than three decades query over why such wonderful people in such a wonderful country don’t get along. I think the preamble to the constitution for the USA states a civic contract, but 1) the first Congress negated its future and 2) the subject of the preamble is 100% participation whereas there will always be dissidents to civic morality. Many people are quite civil in their arrogance toward civic morality, yet they occasionally are exposed by their violence. When violence happens, a civic people suffer remorse if nothing else.

          Furthermore, I am a person who is stating that if we, together (for example, gabe and phil), work to benefit from what has emerged since the big bang (everything including unsettled opinion such as there is a god or not and a court’s opinion is infallible or not), we can, from the consequence of our personal integrity, establish a culture of people who work not only for their living but also collaborate for civic justice from young adulthood until near death.

          I call it a culture of personal liberty with civic well-being. Trying to put myself in a political box, I refer to Carl Eric Scott’s excellent analysis, “The Five Conceptions of American Liberty,” National Affairs, No 20, Summer 2014 (nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-five-conceptions-of-american-liberty). I think my box is labeled “strong 1 with wary 2 and 3,” (my numbering of the five concepts introduced in paragraph three of Scott’s essay) and my political candidates demonstrate like thinking, yet I appreciate persons with some 4 or 5 in their wants who’s civic behavior is real no-harm.

          There’s no place for violent demands, whether physical or psychological in nature, except with the police, who have been assigned the monopoly on force, by a people who by nature would be civic.

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