Joseph Hallenbeck

As of late, I became greatly concerned with justice. Not the particularities of certain virtues, but the general systems and movements we make as individuals to navigate through our judgments as we pursue happiness in our lives. In the past, we looked to the wise to find our solutions, but following wise men fell out of favor. Culture still exists and still informs our acts. Yet for many, Hegal lays broken on the ground as the masses trod about making one ethical paradigm shift after another until they muddied the river and no one really knows what Culture was trying to inform in the first place.  Wisdom, once already obscure, becomes even cloudier when everyone claims equal right to it, and whether Buddha was happier than the salary-man or the NGO crusaders becomes a matter of opinion rather than truth.

In the end, we have a solid sheet of artic ice that holds firm above a chaotic sea of ever shifting ethical systems that ride the tides of political and economic currents. It reasons that we could easily live life atop the ice – accepting the dictates of Culture. Whether we would be happier, applying ourselves to the universal or thrashing about freely in the frigid waters remains an active debate. The result is a mixture of systems containing volatile combinations of contradictory values, judgments, and self-induced hypocrisies that when realized become the source of much angst and fervent existential searching. We contend ourselves with deciding whether to behave according to Culture, some counter-Culture, or some private-ethic. Furthermore, since we no longer expect that those around us appeal to the same Culture or Counter-culture we learn in our business, friendships, and relationships to assume the stances that contradict our own for the benefits of reputation.

Concerning justice for reputation, in the second book of Plato’s Republic Glaucon addresses Socrates and lays out a case damning justice as practiced only for the “sake of the rewards and popularity that comes from a reputation for justice, but is to be avoided because of itself as something burdensome” (999). He asks Socrates to prove that justice is of the first or second type e.g. a “good we welcome, not because we desire what comes from it, but because we welcome it for its own sake” (998).

Nevertheless, Socrates seems to falter in his defense. In detailing his hypothetical city, he advocates renouncing the stories of Homer and Hesiod in order to

…persuade our people that no citizen has ever hated another and that it’s impious to do so, then that’s what should be told to children from the beginning by old men and women . . . The young can’t distinguish what is allegorical from what isn’t and the opinions they absorb at that age are hard to erase and apt to become unalterable. For these reasons, then, we should probably take the utmost care to insure that the first stories they hear about virtue are the best ones for them to hear (1017). Persuading the people of a falsehood seems hardly just and while children may accept that no citizen has ever hated another as truth there will come a time in which they realize the lie. What should become of them then? Seeing that one bit of Culture was false will they discard the rest of Culture and set off on a rickety raft into that chaotic sea no longer trusting the wisdom of old men to differentiate truth from falsehood? We awaken from an age that took Socrates’ advice, and now the children of that age stumble about dabbling in one Culture after another. They assume vices or virtues for a short time, cast them off like a cloak, and assume a new set.

This begins my inquiry. I should like to salvage justice from my doubt. Like Socrates, I would like to defend justice as something desired for its own sake and not its reputation. Nevertheless, I am dissatisfied with Socrates’ defense and feel he inadequately refutes Glaucon. Furthermore, today it feels difficult to appeal to Culture to inform our actions. There exists too many accounts in our history where Culture was wrong and yet left to our own devices I am uncertain if our movements amount to more than randomness or a mixture of solipsism and hedonism.

Works Cited

Plato. “Republic.” Plato Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997: 971-1223.

"Conflicted Justice I - Introduction of Inquiry" by Joseph Hallenbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Support this and future posts on