Justice: Neutral with Respect to the Good

In the previous post, I made the distinction between justice ? the ?oughts? of the use of force, and morality ? the ?oughts? of voluntary associations. Randy Barnett?s liberal conception of justice, as espoused in The Structure of Liberty, prohibits unjust conduct, but does not forbid immoral action.

The primary reason for this neutral formulation of justice with respect to the good is that any attempt to use state intervention to promote a particular view of morality necessarily involves violating principles of justice. You may not like the morality of the prostitute, but stopping her actions against her will requires the use of force. Of course, the civil thing to do would be to persuade her that the values you hold are the ones she should adopt as her own. You may view the drug dealer as despicable human being. But stopping him from doing what he does without his consent requires using force on him. Using the state to enforce a particular view of morality necessarily violates the liberal principles of justice.

And of course, such coercion does not really result in moral choices. Holding a gun to the head of a man to prevent his soliciting the prostitute does not create morality. It simply creates a utilitarian outcome desired by the gun holder. The man did not really make a principled choice; he simply chose life over death or incarceration. Forcing someone to give his money does not create charity. It simply creates a desired transfer of money. No virtue is willfully exhibited by the person from whom the money was transferred.

To be continued next week?

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This is parallel to the

This is parallel to the mutually exclusive relationship of liberty and equality. Every polity is an attempt to reconcile the two. The best that can be said about the American system (and it is a lot) is that it is the most enduring formula yet devised.

Just as coercive strictures on behavior privilege (if you'll excuse the expression) the moral compass of the legislators and deny the polity an "imagination", coercive egalitarianism privileges the economic presumptions of legislators and deny the polity the dynamics of choice.

Mike, Market Anarchism


Market Anarchism (anarcho-capitalism) does not attempt to reconcile liberty and equality, it is indifferent to equality.

Market anarchism recognizes that justice will best be produced for individuals by a market for justice.


You're aiming at a valid distinction but this "justice is neutral to the good" can't stand. Slavery is unjust and immoral.

To say justice is the morality of force would make the distinction correctly.

JTK, It seems we use a


It seems we use a different terminology to describe the same things. You use "morality", which can be broken down into "vices" and "crimes".

I have (tentatively) used:

ethics - the philosophy of "oughts"

which can be divided into

-justice - the "oughts" of the use of force (which define crimes)


-morality - the "oughts" of voluntary associations (which define vices)

In the end, it doesn't really matter what terminology is used as long as the underlying concepts are the same.

Jon, It may not matter in


It may not matter in terms of symbolic logic but in practical terms it will prove fruitless to try to adopt this terminology. In your terminology you have to say: "Theft, Rape, Slavery and Genocide are neutral with repect to the Good." That's too contrary to common usage to be widely adopted, you'll be talking in code if you blog like that.

By the way, what is the standard of ought in your terminology if not the Good?

"Slavery is unjust and

"Slavery is unjust and immoral."

This is of course true when your reasoning includes libertarian axioms. Unfortunately, it can be false from other viewpoints.

From some viewpoints you may

From some viewpoints you may not exist, and yet you in fact may know that you do exist regardless of those other viewpoints.

Do you in fact exist regardless of views that you do not?

The theory that we *do*

The theory that we *do* exist is in line with everything else within the universe around us. The theory that we do not exist might be true, but it is only of interest to the ones outside of our universe, not to us.

The same reasoning does not hold for morals and justice.

Any theory claiming that "slavery is wrong" is true can be debunked easily, as history has shown us. The same applies to "slavery is right". Therefore slavery is neither wrong nor right, it's just a matter of perspective. This is the safest way of reasoning. Nobody has yet proven otherwise.