Justice claims are moral claims.


William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    What’s frustrating for me, as a liberal, is that we are always accused of not having a moral vision or engaging with morality, but when I do (and I almost always am talking on a moral level), I’m accused of moralizing.

    Usually, when people say “you aren’t engaging on a moral level,” what they really mean is “you have a different vision of morality than I do.”Report

  2. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    You are right, liberals express morals all the time — the greater problem lies in the tendency to enforce morals through state action rather than allow moral arguments to be debated in the private realm through the free market of ideas. Morals have no meaning if they are enforced — if they are not freely chosen.Report

  3. Avatar Dave says:

    I tend to agree with this although libertarians will disagree, and strongly in some cases, with the underlying moral principles and concepts of justice liberals have to support their concept of rights.

    I tend to think that, at least in the eyes of constittional law, that the biggest moral relativists of all, are conservatives (at least those who are unabashed majoritarians).Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I was called a moralistic school marm by a regular commenter here the other day. I think you’re dead-on William with this piece. In the end, it’s true – all of it boils down to moral concerns. What I think applies better to the Religious Right is the concept of religiosity as opposed and often in spite of morality.

    And Freddie, one of the reasons I’ve long enjoyed your writing is that you do write from a moral standpoint, and weave in very straightforward moral concerns into many of your arguments. Few liberal writers do this – and quite honestly, outside of a few of the saner conservative nooks, few conservatives do either, steeped as they all too often are in identity politics and religiosity.Report

  5. Avatar E.D. Kain says:


    Morals have no meaning if they are enforced — if they are not freely chosen.

    To some degree this is true – when you boil everything down to actions, yes – but I think there are some moral concerns that should be enforced, and that through the enforcing of them we create a better society, and in a certain sense teach the why behind the morality. Like making murder and theft wrong, and enforcing that. Yes, people still must choose the right actions, but at the same time enforcement provides not only consequence, but guidance. This is why no moral system can be entirely left to the individual. Lots lots more to say about this and I realize I’m not saying it very well, c’est la vie…Report

  6. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    The enforcement regarding the prevention of rights violations (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) I take as different than the enforcement of morals, although there is a moral dimension to basic rights. There may also be greater moral commonality between liberals and libertarians when we move past words like equality and justice to the practical concerns of charity and collective concerns on which society could freely work together toward solutions. We just need to resolve the conflict between coercion and choice. It’s my belief that a free society would choose fairly similar morals to resolve problems without coercion.Report

  7. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Well put. Along these lines, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of what is called relativism really amounts to a different moral language rather than a denial of moral truths. I’d go so far as to say that relativism isn’t as urgent and huge a problem as it’s often made out to be.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The term “relativism”, as I’ve seen it used by “the right”, tends to mean something like this:

    “You are saying that a matter of morality is really a matter of taste!”

    When “the left” switches things up and says that things that are matters of taste are really matters of morality, “the right” tends to call them “nanny staters” or “scolds” or similar.

    As a libertine/libertarian, I tend to err on the side of “matter of taste” when it’s in dispute. This, inevitably, leads to the question (from both sides) “What About The Children?”Report

  9. Avatar angulimala says:

    Re: Enforcement of Morals.

    There isn’t always a bright line between personally living up to one’s own moral code and enforcing that moral code on others. In fact, it is annoyingly common to see the same person interpret the same actions as examples of both oppression and and the exercise of freedom depending on his/her sympathies.

    I think we can all agree that threatening people with violence and/or jail normally counts as “enforcement” but there is a whole lot of gray before then. Is predicating social services on a behavior ( or abstinence from a behavior) enforcement or an exercise in free association by taxpayers?

    I dont know the answer. I do know that the sad truth is that for far too many people the answer depends purely on whose ox is gored.Report

  10. Avatar angulimala says:

    I tend to agree with Hayek (or my reading of him) that most people do share the same basic pool of moral concepts. Where we differ, sometimes radically, is in the relative value we place on them. We each have our own implicit hierarchy of values which informs which of these moral concepts take precedence in the (very frequent) event that they conflict with one another.

    Even this is a simplification because these relative values can change, or can appear to change, depending on context. I tend to think that finding the patterns in the relative values placed on different moral concepts in different circumstances to be the best gauge of a person’s “true” morals.Report