Subjectivity in Social Justice

Harrison Phipps
  Opinions Editor

Recently, many have taken up arms in the name of social justice. Judgments on proper, ethical treatment of people are being made left and right; but all of it comes with one great concern:unless there is an objective good, bad, right, and wrong, then absolutely nothing dictates any forms of behavior as being proper.

The fight for social justice, the equal—some might say equitable—treatment of individuals is inherently one that requires a judge. There has to be something just to compare to, otherwise these judgments are arbitrary. If the lines of right and wrong are drawn arbitrarily, then there is little to no value in them.

While people try to draw these lines and set these standards by comparison with society, the law, or the individuals themselves, they ultimately fail. Objectivity is necessary, and humans are incapable of it.

Some may argue that right and wrong are decided by society, as many cultures have deemed some things appropriate that others have said are inappropriate, such as eye contact, shaking hands, and several other social customs.

However, when considering the ethical treatment of human beings these social practices, while considered nice and polite, are largely irrelevant. It is not an issue of social justice in the sense of social customs. Rather, it is a sense of justice with regard to the inalienable rights that humanity has been granted; this sense of justice, then, plays out in our social spheres.

With that in mind, the main issue with society determining what is right and what is wrong is the fact that society often facilitates the injustice that is being fought. For instance, the Jim Crow South and Hitler’s Nazi Germany are both valid examples of socially condoned and facilitated injustice. There are some that would say that the law is the determinant of right and wrong behavior.

Laws are based in moralistic standards, so it would follow that they should be a good reflection of right and wrong. Unfortunately the law does not always seem as such.

All laws are, in fact, moral laws—allowing behaviors designated good and disallowing those designated bad—but there are certainly some laws that are immoral. Looking back to the former examples of the Jim Crow South and Nazi Germany, this is dreadfully apparent.

Laws are grounded in morals, one’s judgment on right and wrong behavior, but are not the ultimate judge of morality especially in cases where the creator of a law is less than conscientious.

The conscience is something that everyone possesses. It is inseparable from a conscious subject. That is, when an individual has the ability to make a choice, there is an innate judgment that one choice—usually the one that is made—is better than another.

When more complex matters arise, a technical cost-benefit analysis does not always work, as the consequences of actions are often far-reaching and pose troubles for a completely pragmatic point of view. The question of value, what is worth more than something else, creates more problems with making utilitarian choices.

So, the conscience is something everyone has. Does this mean that morality is determined subjectively, from the individual’s point of view? By no means. The implications of such an idea would be grotesque and unthinkable.

If the subject determines morality, then there is nothing against one thinking that murder and theft are acceptable. If this is qualified by stating that morality is determined by the individual insofar as it does not infringe on the freedom of another, it begs the question: why is freedom good? Eventually an appeal to an objective value is made to avoid infinite regress.

No matter how it is attempted, subjectivity and individualistic morality do not create any sort of framework with which to determine a universal concept of justice. The ultimate judge of morality and justice must lie outside of the individuals to be held to that standard, otherwise it may well be shifted out of discomfort or failure to meet that ultimate standard.

For a valuable objective concept of justice, humanity needs an intelligence outside of themselves to either determine or be the standard for comparison. There is none better to do this than He who created us.

This entails seeing people as they are and understanding how to act from that. Humans, people, men, women, and children, all bear the image of God, and are thus distinctly valuable apart from human distinctions. The fight for social justice transcends the boundaries of race, class, sex, age, and ideology—all boundaries that God Himself seeks to tear down.

Your friends, your family, your classmates, and your enemies are all your neighbors and are deserving of a love that is reflective of their value. So, how do we fight for social justice, when the lines are hard to see? We acknowledge who we are, and treat each other as we ought—with a radical love that puts them before us.



Categories: Columns, Opinions, Uncategorized

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