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Justice, Morals, Plague, Oh My!

tangerines's picture

In our small group today, we discussed justice and whether justice is impartial. Can we make accommodations for others while being just? Does justice require accommodations to be just? My first answer was that justice cannot make accommodations to be just, and in demanding that justice also be kind that we confused it with fairness or humanity. But then I decided to consult our favorite source, the OED. The OED online lists the meaning of justice as "The quality of being (morally) just or righteous; the principle of just dealing; the exhibition of this quality or principle in action; just conduct; integrity, rectitude."

This definition makes everything more complicated. If justice is what is morally right, then we find ourselves in a quandary: people have many different moral codes and will never agree on a set of universal beliefs. Therefore, no one will ever agree on what constitutes justice and thus it can never exist on a large scale. If this is true, then I’m still unsure about what Camus means by “the garish light of justice – hideous, witless justice” (193). Perhaps, as has been suggested, the plague functions as a great equalizer – and in this sense, does serve justice. By threatening everyone equally, the plague causes everyone to abandon individual perspectives and focus only on survival.


On a completely unrelated note, I thought of a saying on Tuesday when the topic of boredom came up: “Only stupid people are bored. Smart people always find ways to amuse themselves.”



KT's picture

Is the Natural World Just? (Or Any Other World For That Matter?)

I see justice as a construct and I would agree that it’s relative. (One culture believes that “an eye for an eye” is just, another would say it’s not). I think the usefulness of justice is to police us and give us expectations of behavior, rules. 

In Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, one of the ideas that Culler proposes is that novels can serve to internalize social norms and then question them. Along these lines, I think that Camus’ story displays an interesting contrast: In the natural world, we don’t expect the notions of reason and predictability that are inherent to justice (for example, lions don’t get together to decide whether it’s just to kill a zebra or which one to kill…spare the women and children?). In our constructed world, we have come to expect justice and specifically consequences, good or bad, according to our actions. I think that the presentation of a bacillus from the “natural world” in opposition to our constructed world, serves to question our notion of the existence of justice and our agency in policing it.  Perhaps the reason that it's garish, hideous and witless because we are living in a "fool's paradise " if we think that we can believe in justice.

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