Equality and Justice – Part 5

Originally written in November 2012

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Our behavior shaped by natural urges and inclinations is malleable when we perceive the long term benefits in doing so. But there seems to be a limit to how much we can do that because to control or regulate the natural urges is an uphill battle, a tug-of-war with our animal nature.

Moral development, therefore, does not come naturally but requires efforts.

Every problem in the world may be solved in the long run without resorting to violence and chaos. But for the socially disadvantaged waiting indefinitely long without resorting to violence requires struggle with the animal nature. There is a snapping point to it. A person may be morally developed and may fight with his animal nature to control his urges in certain situations and to certain extent, but not always and not to infinite extent. Moral development depends on a lot of factors surrounding the person.

Morality, therefore, is not black-and-white as we are constrained by our innate animal nature when acting on the moral path given by rationality.

If we apply this to our question of whether it is not moral for the physically strong person B to require incentives in the society to not attack the physically weak person A, the answer is yes and no.

We definitely want a society where people can perceive the long term good and are willing to sacrifice the short term and the individual good to achieve the former. The society would strive for such moral development that the person B doesn’t require incentives to not attack the person A, seeing it as immoral and understanding that in the long run he too can develop himself to enjoy what person A is enjoying today. And the society has to make sure that person B gets enough opportunities to develop himself. Hence, we would say that B should not attack A while he can. Nor should he require incentives to keep himself from attacking A because that would not be moral.

But this assumes that B is capable of infinitely fighting his animal nature with his rationality. In reality, that is not true of anyone. As I said above, there is a limit to how much we can pull against nature. And that limit varies for everyone depending on various factors both natural and social.

Rationality can control natural urges and inclinations but there is a psychological cost to doing so. When B decides that he won’t attack A for his wealth while he can he pays a psychological cost for resisting his nature. (Note that this is a simple two-person world scenario where there is no law and police to keep a check.) Hence, there is for a sure snapping point. It’s like an elastic with a limit to how much it can be stretched.

This point must be taken into consideration when deciding on justice in the society.

What actually would happen is this: The society will pressurize B to not attack A while he can saying that it is immoral. This is done by enabling moral development through education and cultural teachings. At the same time if this moral development is not sufficient to contain B’s nature to resort to violence then the incentives will be created for him to not attack A.

The amount of incentives required depends on the specifics of a particular case. Higher the level of moral development, lower the amount of incentives required. It should be noted that moral development is constrained by the innate nature.

If the level of moral development is not sufficient to contain B’s nature (now take the persons A and B for representatives of the weak and the strong in all cases) then the just society has to create incentives for B, or else justice will be established the nature’s way (B using violence).

In the state of nature justice is established through violence. In the society it is done through 1) moral development of individuals, and 2) incentives to the strong (those who would have prevailed in the state of nature through violence) to not use violence.

Moral development is essentially a human phenomenon. Incentives to the strong are necessary because though we are humans capable of rationality we aren’t (can’t and won’t be) so rational as to be completely unaffected by natural forces within and outside of us.

In part 3, I gave a maxim: He who is favored by nature would enjoy higher benefits in the just society.

The equation capturing the maxim would be:

(a) Strength in the state of nature = (b) Incentives in the society ….. (1)

Where (a) is strength over others.

After introduction of the argument of morality in part 4 and adding the component of moral development the final equation of justice would look like:

(a) Strength in the state of nature – (b) Moral development = (c) Incentives in the society ….. (2)

Higher the moral development, lesser would be the incentives required for the strong to not attack the weak.

The above equation (2) describes the basic framework of equality and justice in the society.

To be continued...


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