December 3rd, 2010 at 11:32 am
So how to define "justice" without referring to the law or morals?
That's the wrong question. The right question is "Can you justify any moral claims in which 'society' is a referent?" And the answer is no, because 'society' is what Max Stirner called a "spook" – a floating abstraction that disappears when you analyze it, serving a a mask for the self-interest of some group of people claiming privileges over others.
Winter had an interesting response to this.
That move isn't justified. I know who my friends and relatives are. I don't know who "society" is. That's what's different.
I'm willing to use your anthropological definition of "society" when speaking descriptively, but I'm not willing to use it for grounding normative moral claims that imply the use of force. Nor will I readily tolerate others doing so; the stakes, and the potential for ventriloquism and abuse, are too high.
So, for example, I'm willing to say "American society has a higher tolerance for business risk and business failure than most others." But I'm not willing to say that "society" has a right to punish people or make war. When Americans take such actions, it can only be because individuals (who are the only moral actors) have delegated certain of their own individual rights to use force to an apparatus which acts on their behalf. The apparatus, the society, "America", has no intrinsic rights or moral standing of its own.
This is why I characterize the concept of "society" as a spook. When you use the concept "society" in an anthropological/descriptive way, the worst errors you can make are not very dangerous; at worst, you may encourage people to overgeneralize, believe universal descriptions, and ignore exceptions. On the other hand, the errors that spring from treating "society" as an agent with moral standing are hideously, genocidally dangerous.
December 3rd, 2010 at 6:32 pm
About the use of "society":
I too have always found this term troubling. What exactly does it mean? Who is society?
I remember reading a Thomas Sowell a few years back where he stated something to the effect that "society" is just another term for government. Society is silent until the government speaks.
And I still like my idea for economist championship wrestiling, with Tom Sowell and Walter Williams as the world tag team champions.
Milton Friedman would have been world heavyweight champion back in the day.
Did he really just quote Thomas Sowell approvingly? Ouch.
Also, it takes quite a lot of gall to say "society is silent until government speaks" against an individual. Is he saying that anyone who speaks on behalf of society is automatically a mouthpiece for the government?