Justice as Map
The more I read of Arizona School libertarianism, the more I like it. From David Schmidtz’s Elements of Justice, p 19:
Think of instruction manuals you have used while assembling a new piece of furniture. The task is simple, and you sincerely wish to understand the instructions, yet you still make mistakes. Is it any wonder that instructions for something vastly more complex — how to conceive of justice — could go astray in the hands of experts trained in the art of cleverly perverse interpretation? (p 19)
Buyer beware. Of course, as someone once said, no philosopher sets out consciously thinking, “Today, I’m going to argue for evil.” Our errors are just that severe, I’m afraid; we need not attribute to malice that which is more easily attributed to incompetence. And we are all incompetent.
Would we call someone an “expert” who had never built a piece of furniture? How much less then we should think of an expert who has never built a just society. That’s a category that includes all of us, including those of us who have worked successfully toward justice in one area or another. We are ignorant not only because all societies fall short of justice (although I think they do), but because societies are not built by a conscious design, and the few exceptions to this rule are also our clearest instances of injustice. A just society is grown, not made.
We’re a lot better at the fine details, as Schmidtz correctly observes:
Existing theories tend to be like maps of the globe: a result of striving for comprehensive scope — for a principle or set of principles that covers everything. Real moral questions, though, often are more like questions about getting to campus from the airport. A map of the globe is impressive, but when we want to get to campus, the globe does not help. It is not even relevant. (p 22)
There is an obvious structural origin to this hyperopia: It is the state, which has elicited so much of our thinking about moral and political philosophy. Perhaps inevitably the state has coaxed philosophers into thinking in its terms. Even philosophers who have subjected the state to withering criticism stand in a dialectical relationship to those who did not. Either way, they both think big. Is it possible we all think too big and strive for too much coherence across too many domains? Schmidtz suggests that the answer may be yes.