Justice includes within itself contradictory ideas. Justice is a paradox.
Michael Walzer is a professor at Princeton and a prominent philosopher. He has published more than 300 articles on topics like, just and unjust war, economic justice, social justice, tolerance and radicalism. His view of justice is more nuanced than the fuzzy idea most of us hold.
His view is that justice is situational.
When we ask what is justice in respect to the Paris example of Charlie Hebdo, we promptly reach a contradiction. The justice of the persons attacked is not the same justice as the justice of the attackers.
Justice is not an absolute. If not an absolute, but rather a convenience, then true justice cannot exist. Each of us will hold our own idea of justice and its implementation may conflict with ideas that others hold.
Many people consider tolerance to be an essential part of justice. I must respect others enough to allow them to think and be different than I may be. That too leads to a contradiction.
Karl Popper, the Austrian philosopher has said it succinctly.
If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
Which leads to his further thought.
We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
Justice and its requirement of tolerance are self-contradictory.
What should individuals do about that? Stop talking about justice as an achievable goal. People use that idea to manipulate us to support their preferences.
We must substitute something. Something that is possible to implement as well as discuss. How about character?
Perhaps exercise of small virtues is possible and could accumulate to justice. Polite, empathetic, supportive, kind, patient and sharing may accumulate to functional justice.
Of course what is polite in one culture is not in another. Sorry.
Do your best. When you have done that, you have done all you can. Be accepting of that.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact: email@example.com