Sunday, July 15, 2007

Civil Justice and Divine Justice, Not Exclusive, But Not the Same

OK... back from a weeklong hiatus. Geoff: 1, loggerhead sea turtles: -1. ; )

Andy: "What are the tenets of civil justice, and what are the tenets of divine justice?"

The tenets of civil justice are that every man respect the earthly life, liberty and property of other men. The tenets of divine justice are that you respect all of the above, plus God, and the spiritual life of other men.

I assume no one here wants a theocracy: the state punishing every violation of the divine law as defined by the Church. But consider this: where do you draw a solid line on what sin to punish?

Does anyone really want the U.S. Council of Bishops in charge of a morality-based legal system, telling us we have a moral obligation to give jobs, housing, and "free" healthcare to people, and restricting (or banning) the production and sale of firearms? Could the theo-civil police punish you for lying about winning a gold medal at the 1980 Olympics? Should they impose a $250, or even a $20,000 fine for lying, if the theocrats decide that should be the punishment? How can you quantify spiritual transgressions in temporal terms? Should we try? I'm trying to be practical, here. If someone steals $500 from me, I want $500 back, plus the cost of lost business, if there is any. It's clear-cut. But how do you propose to punish a mortal sin on God's behalf?

If you legislate against things that do not violate life, liberty, and property of others, it's like a depiction of an ailing body politic. If the body politic (the sum of the individuals who comprise society) has an illness, (sin) you can reduce the symptoms (manifestation) of the illness by taking a Tylenol (laws backed up by force.) But you're not treating the root cause of the problem, which is the sin itself! Sin cannot be fought with force. Can you have a law against an ideology, and successfully prohibit it? That's what we're trying to do right now over in Iraq. To change an entire nation from Shariah law and warlords, to "democracy." They're democratic over in Palestine, now. But they elected the terrorist group Hamas to lead them. They were able to change the external structure of how people express what they believe, but not the underlying ideology of what they believe.

If some people want to lock other people up for committing a particular kind of mortal sin, hey, let them go for it. They can think they're acting as God's personal enforcers, trying to make other adults be good people. I harbor no such sentiments, indeed, no such delusions. I prefer the practical concept of neutralizing the manifest threat of those who manifestly hurt another person against said person's will. (Imprisoning rapists/murderers/thieves/robbers, etc.) I also believe in using only the minimum degree of force necessary to effect the neutralization of the threat. Temporal violations of temporal goods should be temporally punished. God will see to the rest.

Andy: "As far as I see, an (true) obligaton is a moral obligation whether it is imposed by God through human nature directly, or by more proximately by another man."

What moral obligation can be imposed by another man without the consent of both parties? If I shove a brick into your hands, and tell you to pay me $10 for it, or else, have I imposed a moral obligation on you? That's essentially what government does every day, in the form of taxation. It forces upon me something I would not have bought with my ten dollars. Whatever I would have bought would have been much more beneficial to myself and others, based on the tenets of the free market.

If someone is deliberately speeding toward you in a car, and you're in a car heading toward him, is he imposing a moral obligation on you to either turn to the left or the right to prevent yourself from being killed? No. You have the obligation to protect your life, period. His speeding toward you did not impose any new obligation on you. It is only an instance in which you must exercise prudence in order to fulfil the pre-existent obligation to protect your own life in certain situations.

God himself very rarely actively punishes infractions of the divine law in temporal matters. (Besides the natural law consequences.) He has punishments for immoral actions, after death, however. He legislated the divine law. He enforces it.

God gave us the power to protect what is ours. We have human nature, but it is not our human nature to do with whatever we want, like property. It is not human nature itself that we can protect by laws. You're not protecting human nature by punishing someone who committed theft against me. You're protecting other people's property, and through the action of protecting property, you are respecting their human nature, through their right to property.

Laws can either try to protect the earthly rights of men, or the divine rights of God. All of the former fall under the latter, but not all of the latter fall under the former. Human nature is God's, because he created it. It is ours, insofar as we share and partake in it. We do not own it. Hence, how can we prevent or punish a violation? God has a law, and he enforces it perfectly. We cannot enforce the whole of divine law. But we don't need to. We just need to take care of ourselves, and keep ourselves free enough to learn about God and teach his message to others.

Andy: Its root is necessarily the obligation to "do good and avoid evil" "for neighbor as for self", where this is understood in light of man's pursuits of the practical ends.

I think it is true that legislation should be for practical ends. But many people seem to think a law against things done by two consenting parties is a practical end. Is it a "practical" end to legislate against sinful behavior between consenting people? Behavior that does not manifestly harm others? Because if that is truly the case, we can make laws that call for the burning of heretics like Protestants. Their false teachings are leading people to Hell every day. If the practical application of law is to "make people good," rather than "allow people to be good, in an environment free from force, fraud and coercion," then let's burn all the heretics. Civil authorities once did burn heretics, following this logic. Why did they stop?

7 comments:

Andy Bodoh said...

Geoff:
You seem to think that you need to convince me that the government of the United States is not perfect, and perhaps not even good. When I ask you questions you constantly bring it back to "What the government does now." I took up the discussion on the basis that we were discussing governments in general - that is, what are the minimum requirements for any government to be a good government?

To eliminate some of the assertions you made:

I have been silent on theocracy, taxation, healthcare, Iraq, "locking people up for a mortal sin", and the purpose of legislation. I will not dispute these points on this post unless and until they are relevant.

So far in the discussion we have gotten to the question of the meaning of rights and its relation to justice.

You asked "What moral obligation can be imposed by another man without the consent of both parties?" We have discussed at least one already: the child's obedience to his parent.

I am not saying that the state has the authority of parents over the community, but this is one example that we can both agree on. If you want to get to the point of discussing law and the state, we will have to at least conditionally resolve our discussion on rights.

A side point - you seem to have misunderstood my use of the phrase "man's pursuits of the practical ends" in my last post. I did not mean any pursuit of any practical end, but rather man's pursuit of those specific practical ends that he naturally seek (as discussed in the first post under "rational self interest") - life, conformity of intelect to reality, conformity of what one communicates to intellect, play, physical pleasure, etc. Once again, I am arguing that all moral obligations stem from the norms "do good and avoid evil" "for neighbor as for self" where "good" is understood in terms of these practical ends of human action. I do believe that natural obligations (including obligations relating to authotity and rights) are based on this.


Now, to the main point:

Your entire system is built on the primacy of life, liberty, and property. Earlier when I asked you why these were primary, you asserted that man was born with these or that man was born with a right to these.

The former is not true, because "naked I came forth from my mother's womb". If you are relying on the latter one, I will honestly say that I see no way for you to assert an absolute and primary right to property (or perhaps to liberty, depending on what you mean by it). I have argued above that I believe there is a right to property insofar as the use of property is essential for man's pursuit of the practical ends for his neighbor as for himself (see the post in which I distinguished necessary property from superfulous property and relize I am not denying the right to superfulous property, but merely saying that that right is more conditional and less absolute). How are you establishing a "stronger" right to privacy that this? There is no way to see, touch, taste, hear, or smell an absolute right to property at birth.

Andy Bodoh said...

P.S. You keep asking in regards to morallity legislation "Where is it going to stop". I cannot discuss that until after at least one more general post, but I will be prepared to discuss in later in this line.

Geoff said...

Andy: "You seem to think that you need to convince me that the government of the United States is not perfect, and perhaps not even good. When I ask you questions you constantly bring it back to "What the government does now."

I'm discussing the proper role of any government, not our government in particular.

Andy: "You asked "What moral obligation can be imposed by another man without the consent of both parties?" We have discussed at least one already: the child's obedience to his parent."

The moral obligation on the child is imposed by God, through the nature of the family, as instituted by God. Common sense points out even to non-believers that adults can command children to do things (eat their veggies) which they cannot order their equals to do.

Andy: Your entire system is built on the primacy of life, liberty, and property. Earlier when I asked you why these were primary, you asserted that man was born with these or that man was born with a right to these.

The former is not true, because "naked I came forth from my mother's womb"."

Nobody is born with an inherent right to a particular piece of property, just as no one is born with a right to rule. But by virtue of your birth (your birth as a human being with human nature) you have the right to own any property that you have labored to produce. You have the sole right to it, because nobody has any claim on it except for you. I'd like you to affirm or deny whether any man or group of men have any claim to my property if I did not myself surrender my claim of my own free will. If so, how did they get a claim to it?

Andy: "There is no way to see, touch, taste, hear, or smell an absolute right to property at birth."

But you can cogitate and come to an understanding of the existence of this right, much like the right to life and liberty. And you can punish infringements of the right that has been discovered through the intellect.

The right to property comes down to common sense: the free exchange of human labor and goods benefits everyone. If someone has more, he is, by that very fact, benefiting more people. Are we coming down to a "reasonable" claim on property, such as the starving man reaching for a loaf of bread that is not his? God intended the goods of the earth to benefit all men. If someone is dying of starvation, and a rich man has a loaf of bread which the poor man takes, the starving man is fulfilling the universal destination of goods. Can this logic justify a redistributive agency? No. Because common sense also tells us that a starving man will receive aid from those of good will, if he really needs it. A redistributive agency (government) makes even more men poor and starving, as we see happening in Africa, China, and India. It creates a dependent population.

In this sense, the right to property is absolute: it ceases to become your property when you fail to fulfil the purpose of that property. But every man produces far more than he consumes. There is no reason that a man cannot have an absolute right to superfluous property.

Andy Bodoh said...

Well, we may be getting somewhere. I have two questions though.

"The moral obligation on the child is imposed by God, through the nature of the family, as instituted by God."

I agree completely.

I would even say that this principle can be universallized to cover all of the situations in which you owe obedience to a person.

"The moral obligation on the [person] is imposed by God, through the nature of the the [society/contract/whatever grants the right of governance to another], as instituted by God."

You may say a civil society was instituted by men. That is true. A family is also instituted by men. Man's nature (which was created by God) as a familial and social creature leads him to create a families and societies (look back to see my second or third "Good Government" post on this point).

Now I am not arguing that there is a right to govern another in civil society at this point, I am only saying that if there is such a right, it is because that right is natural in so far as it is necessary for the particular society (by the nature of society), the creation of that society flowing from human nature.

It is noteworthy that the same goes for contracts. The obligation to obey a contract is imposed by God through man's nature as a limited creature who will agree to do X in exchange for Y in order to achieve some practical end he can't otherwise. This goes back to the conformity of intellect to that which is communicated and the intellect to reality. (He gave his "word", and so he is obligated to shape reality towards that).

Do you agree?


Secondly,

"But by virtue of your birth (your birth as a human being with human nature) you have the right to own any property that you have labored to produce. You have the sole right to it, because nobody has any claim on it except for you."

But later you say:

"Are we coming down to a 'reasonable' claim on property, such as the starving man reaching for a loaf of bread that is not his? God intended the goods of the earth to benefit all men. If someone is dying of starvation, and a rich man has a loaf of bread which the poor man takes, the starving man is fulfilling the universal destination of goods."

Does the starving man have any claim to the loaf of bread, or is he violating the right to property by taking it? If he has a claim, isn't that a "right" to the loaf of bread (for earlier we had agreed that a right is always based on a claim to something). If he does have a claim/right, are you not admitting that (due to the universal destination of goods) the starving man has a right to the superfulous property of another (for indeed he would have not right to take a another starving man's bread) in so far as that property is necessary to preserve his life? Read my posts on the matter. That is all that I have been saying.

You have continued to bring up "a redistributive agency" as if I was arguing in favor of one. Nowhere have I said anything about a coercive redistributive agency.


In regards to your request for me to affirm or deny whether any man or group of men have any claim to property if I did not myself surrender my claim of my own free will, the above is one such affirmation.

If you are talking specifically about civil government, I will need another post to talk about society and at least one post to talk about government. That is wher I am going after we resolve the issue of rights (which I hope we almost have).

yankee angel said...

Boys, did you by any chance read Emily's little skit that she wrote?

healthily sanguine said...

Angela, you might as well ask whether they want one of the cookies you baked . . . ;-)

Geoff said...

Aye, I did read Emily's skit. I even wrote her an email. Among other things, I told her I liked it... and that it gave me a new appreciation for Hobbes. : )

This question of rights appears to be somewhat like the mystery of sin itself: there would be no starvation had it not been for the fall. No one would have refused to help a neighbor, nor would there likely have been a need for it. "Help" would have probably consisted of special cooperation in building a church, or superfluous gifts, etc. We know it would certainly not have included an alleviation of suffering.

That is why it seems to me that we are very confused creatures indeed: created for paradise, yet living in a world that was knocked out of balance by man's free will.

I'd like to be able to say that there was another word for what the starving man was exercising, besides a "right." I don't think I'm able to. Certainly, the rich man has a general moral obligation to help the poor. Certainly, it is unreasonable of him to refuse a particular poor man food, at least until his situation improved. (A situation that is, in part, improved by eradicating welfare programs.) Certainly, the starving man has a claim to that which is reasonably necessary to keep him alive.

But I think we can equally say that a third party cannot reasonably sap the man's resources for the sake of thousands of poor men, because his resources are providing jobs, etc., for thousands. I'm sure you agree with this, too.

Perhaps it can be said that the one man, in preserving his life by taking bread, is upholding the pre-eminent rights of God, who created everything for the good of men. (Universal destination.) But the man only has a right to that which is necessary to keep him alive until he is able to sustain himself by his own efforts. But then, how do you explain the situation of a woman with no family, in a coma? Can money be taken from someone to sustain her life? Surely, there is enough money that is given out in charity to supply the basic needs of everyone who truly needs it, without the need for taking it? (Or would be, were there no coercive governments, local, state and federal, causing poverty, while sucking no less than 50% of the GDP lifeblood out of the body politic.)

Your definition of "right" still involves obligation and reasonable claims, right? Let's roll with that. Let's go on as far as we can with your definition.