Justice vs preferences

Those whose bumper stickers read “If you want peace, work for justice” simply take it for granted that there is no question what is just; if you want to find out, just ask them. The problem with the world as they see it is merely that other people are insufficiently virtuous to act accordingly.

David Friedman being his brilliant self (but in the comments he uses that damned “webbed” adjective again!)

Here’s his “amoral and alegal” positive account of rights. The most important sentence: “To a mind of sufficient scope every number is unique.” ((His footnote: “The proof is by induction. If some positive integers are uninteresting, then there must be a smallest positive uninteresting integer. But this unique characteristic makes that number interesting. So there can be no smallest uninteresting positive integer, so there can be no uninteresting positive integers. Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for negative integers.” Awesome.)) and the conclusion: “The social order, to the extent that it is evolved rather than legislated, is a set of rules that exist because it was in the interest of pairs of individuals to abide by them, not because they promote the general good of society.”.

6 Responses to “Justice vs preferences”

  • Jesse says:

    The social order, to the extent that it is evolved rather than legislated, is a set of rules that exist because it was in the interest of pairs of individuals to abide by them, not because they promote the general good of society.

    But consider the issues of social order that arise here. I think almost everyone would agree that the protests and counter-protests are fundamentally about the social order, but Friedman’s framework of freely contracting independent individuals seems woefully inadequate for explaining what’s going on.

    Also, you can extend Friedman’s proof that every number is unique to show that no mammals exist.

  • pushmedia1 says:

    I think protests aren’t explaining “to the extent [society] is evolved rather than legislated”. Friedman is explaining most social order. Also, most protests (but not the one you cite) are about partying, dressing up funny and breaking windows, not collective action.

    I’m not clever enough to get how you can prove no mammals exist.

  • Jesse says:

    Well, I wasn’t bringing up the topic of protests per se but rather the issue at stake with this particular set of protests (namely, the role of women in society). An individual woman who goes against the prevailing social order risks get killed, and not necessarily by her husband or by a blood relative. So this social order may have very well evolved and reached a sort of equilibrium where everyone is doing the best they can given everyone else’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean it arose out of a series of *independent* (decentralized) interactions in which no one was thinking about the “general good.” Also, changing this social order will require both some kind of collective action and some appeal to “higher” concepts (“justice”, “fairness”). Finally, this isn’t some strange pathological case; defining proper and improper activities for different classes of people is what the social order is all about.

    Proof that there are no mammals: Every mammal must have a mammal for a mother; there was a time before there were any mammals; therefore, there are no mammals.

  • pushmedia1 says:

    Your premise that every mammal must have a mammal for a mother is false.

  • swong says:

    If you think Friedman’s statement is brilliant, would you call yourself a moral relativist? Not that that’s a good or bad thing.

  • pushmedia1 says:

    No, because he’s not saying anything about how things ought to be. He’s just trying to describe patterns of behavior. To have such bumper sticker thoughts in your mind, you must assume there’s one well defined meaning for justice. This might be the case, but when you explicitly lay it out as an assumption, its not so obvious.