Where the Metal Meets the Meat

June 15, 2006 § Leave a comment

If the execution was the result of a good-faith mistake, then it’s not injustice, which means that, morally speaking, the act is one in conformity with justice.” – CAEI commenter Seamus, whom I thank for the thoughtful post.

Acts aren’t purely subjective things though: they have both objective and subjective components. An objectively unjust act can be subjectively justified – an honest mistake. But upon learning of the mistake it is wrong to insist that the act overall was just, because insisting that the act was just encompasses not merely its subjective component but also its objective. “We executed the wrong guy, but it was a just execution” is incorrect precisely because it is ignoring the objective element of justice. It is more accurate to say “We executed the wrong guy unjustly, but it was an honest mistake” because that deals with both the objective and subjective elements.

If someone holds the position that starting the Iraq war was unjust but an honest mistake, I really don’t have any problem with it. What is a problem is when people insist that starting the Iraq war was categorically just. If it was categorically just that means it was just in both its subjective and objective characters. And this of course assumes that the war was started with the intention of adhering rigorously to the JW doctrine, that the assessment of the putative WMD threat was in fact done with objective prudence, etc. I think those assumptions are themselves pretty suspect, but they are at least arguable.

I don’t really have a quibble with someone who says that under the JWD the Iraq war was a mistake, rather than strictly speaking unjust. A mistake allows for both the objective and subjective elements of justice, rather than refusing either of them entry into the discussion.

If we rule the objective element of justice out of our discussion a priori though then we get to all sorts of ridiculous results: e.g., that particular abortion wasn’t unjust because the person having it doesn’t subjectively believe abortion to be unjust. Bosh! She may not be subjectively culpable, but it is ridiculous – I daresay postmodern – to say that therefore the abortion she had was a just abortion.

Many on the Right want to rule the objective component of justice out of bounds when it comes to the war. That is because it is precisely in the objective elements of justice, where the metal meets the meat, that their arguments in favor of its justice break down. And it is the same trick – starting from the fact that there is a subjective element and inferring incorrectly that all that there is, or all that is pertinent, is the subjective element – which is invoked under postmodernism in general.


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