This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Does Christianity Support The Idea That Justice Is Circumstantial?

I'm currently studying some David Hume in a class right now, and he claims that justice arises merely out of social utility; in other words, if we found ourselves in circumstances where it was not useful to be just, then justice would cease to exist. He gives several thought experiments to argue his point.

Consider, says Hume, if we were involved in a shipwreck and stranded on an island. Would we continue to treat the cargo of the ship as off-limits and properly owned by others? Or would "the rules change" and we simply use the cargo to sustain ourselves and the others involved in the shipwreck?
Consider, says Hume, if we lived in a society where there was extreme abundance such that there was an excessive amount of goods and luxuries for everyone in the whole world. Would we still be concerned about property and ownership rights?
Consider, says Hume, if we lived in a society where everyone was naturally very, very benevolent. Everyone seemed to have extreme concern for the welfare of others and acted toward those ends--everyone acted to provide everyone else with whatever they needed. Would there be need for justice in such a society?

Now while i believe i can think of some counter-examples to Hume's thought experiments, and while Hume is operating with a pretty particular conception of "justice," nevertheless i found it an interesting question:

Was there or would there have been justice in the Garden of Eden? If the edenic state had continued indefinitely, would any need for property or ownership rights or the enforcement of the proper division of goods--would any of that have ever arisen? Many references to justice, especially in the OT, seem to center on the material care of those in circumstances of afflictions (widows, orphans, the poor, etc.). It doesn't seem to me there would have been such people in the Edenic state.

Maybe i'm wrong, but if not, the interesting question is: Given a Christian worldview, what exactly is justice? It seems arguable based on these considerations that justice is circumstantial. Justice, even on a Christian conception, may very well be a virtue that does arise out of social utility. In other words, we find ourselves in a set of circumstances (the Fallen world) which give rise to justice or to the need for it. But it's not something that's an inherent value which would exist no matter what the circumstances.

What exactly is justice according to Christianity? Is there such a thing as justice apart from the particular circumstances we find ourselves in? If so, then what does justice entail apart from those circumstances?

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