In the previous posting in this series, we introduced our subject by noting that Pope John Paul I was head of the Catholic Church for a bare thirty-three days — one day for every year of the traditional age of Jesus’s life on Earth . . . which has no significance of any kind whatsoever (the coincidence, that is!). Nevertheless, John Paul I still managed to say a few things about the Church’s social teachings, at least enough to see that he was in tune with every pope since Gregory XVI, which is when Catholic social teaching emerged as a discrete discipline within the larger body of Catholic thought.
|Pope John Paul I|
Of course, we know that John Paul I did not have time to issue any encyclicals, social or otherwise. All he had time for was to make a number of statements regarding his plans for the future and indicate the general direction of his thought. That, however, is enough, given the fact that, according to the Catholic Church, doctrine may be developed and applied in many different ways, but changed in its essence, never.
Having said that, we do have to issue a caveat. There is massive confusion today between knowledge and opinion. The late Mortimer Adler, the “Great Books” philosopher and convert to Catholicism, noted in his book, Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985), that far too many people cannot tell the difference between knowledge and opinion, and may not even know there is a difference — another crime to be laid at the door of modern Academia.
Consequently, many people today, even quite a large number of Catholics, are absolutely convinced that the Magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church are not only far from absolute, they are subject to change if enough people think they should be changed. Almost as bad (if not worse) are those experts — every age has its experts, but modern mass media seem to have made anyone who can scream loudly enough into an instant expert . . . especially those who have no idea what they are talking about — who claim that of course Catholic teaching has not changed. What has changed is our understanding of it. Either people in the past were so stupid they did not realize the truth now revealed to the experts, or people today are so stupid, etc.
|Saint Thomas Aquinas|
Nowhere is this more evident than in the understanding of “social justice,” a relatively new term as such things go in philosophy — a new term describing an old thing; as far as truth is concerned, non novum sub soles, “nothing new under the sun.” Nor does justice itself or any of the other virtues, natural or supernatural, get any better treatment. In the New Age (which is not all that new) and modernism (which is not all that modern), all absolutes, such as virtues, rights, and even truth itself, are subject to change, redefinition, or outright abolition if those who desire the change have enough power — but more about that, later.
So how do we define justice and social justice? Today we’ll look at the classic definition of justice and get to social justice tomorrow. According to Aquinas, it is by justice that one renders to another his or her due by a perpetual constant will (IIa IIae, q. 58, a. 1.). Justice directs each person in his or her relations to others according to some kind of equality or rightness (IIa IIae, q. 57, a. 1; De Veritate 23, 6.).
In somewhat more simple terms, justice means that you make certain if someone is due something, he or she gets something. “Classic” justice is divided like all the virtues into two kinds, particular and general.
A “particular” virtue is directed at something (or, more accurately, someone) specific; like a sentence, it has a “direct object.” You cannot owe $5 without paying $5 to someone specific or particular to satisfy the obligation. Nor can you be owed $5 unless someone specific has incurred a debt to you of $5. You cannot love God with Whom you have no social contact, or mankind in general, and hate your particular brother or neighbor with whom you interact socially without being a liar. (1 John 4:20)
As implied in the definition of particular virtue, a “general” virtue differs from a particular virtue in not having a direct object. With respect to justice, “general justice” is that type of justice that “infuses” all other virtues, that motivates you to act prudently, temperately, courageously, lovingly, hopefully, and faithfully (to include the supernatural virtues as well as the natural ones) toward others, thereby rendering those others their due as fellow human persons. “In the most extensive sense of the word ‘justice’ differs little from ‘virtue’; for it includes within itself the whole circle of virtues.” (“Justice,” Black’s Law Dictionary.)
In fact, no virtue is a true virtue unless it conforms in some way to the demands of justice. Charity, for example, is not really charity unless the demands of justice have been fulfilled. Refusing to treat others prudently, temperately, or with courage is to render them less than their due as human persons. Thus, someone who dislikes another and acts imprudently toward him or her without bothering to try to become reconciled or to get to the root of the problem is a “triple threat” with respect to violating the demands of virtue, transgressing against prudence and charity in particular, and against justice in general.
In classic justice, there are two types of justice, commutative and distributive. Commutative justice is the “justice of contracts,” and the most basic form of justice from which all other forms of justice derive. “It consists in rendering to every man the exact measure of his dues, without regard to his personal worth or merits, i.e., placing all men on an equality.” (Ibid.)
Distributive justice is the “justice of proportion” —
. . . that which should govern the distribution of rewards and punishments. It assigns to each the rewards which his personal merit or services deserve, or the proper punishment for his crimes. It does not consider all men as equally deserving or equally blameworthy, but discriminates between them, observing a just proportion and comparison. (Ibid.)
Thus, distributive justice is the justice that demands what benefits or losses are assigned to individuals in a joint endeavor in civil society. If A contributes 80% to a project such as a business, and B contributes 20%, then — unless there is a free agreement otherwise — A receives 80% of the benefits and suffers 80% of the losses, while B receives 20% of the benefits and suffers 20% of the losses.
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M., PH.D.|
Due to the terminology, the final part of today’s discussion may be the one that gives the most trouble. It has given so much trouble that in his doctoral thesis, The Act of Social Justice (1941, © 1943), and again in his pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948), CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. noted that most philosophers have carefully avoided discussing this particular topic for at least 2,500 years . . . and it is all Aristotle’s fault. This is because classic justice is not only divided into particular and general justice, it is divided into individual justice (commutative and distributive) and . . . “non-individual justice,” which we are calling that for reasons that will become immediately apparent.
Confusion starts with the fact that, as far as Aristotle was concerned, there is only one “non-individual justice.” This is “general justice,” which, since it is not a particular justice, is . . . a general justice.
You see the difficulty here. Aristotle tried to explain something in terms of itself, or at least by using the same terminology, which is a sure way to confuse the issue. It only helped a little when he tried to explain that general justice (a general justice) when it is applied is called “legal justice,” because it is most often by the State passing good laws, and by citizens obeying them, that the common good is indirectly benefitted and the aspect of justice that permeates all other virtues has its effect. . . . which causes another problem, because “legal justice” also means the administration of the law!
And that is why we are going to address the whole “problem of legal justice” tomorrow, and then only briefly, just to get our definitions and understanding straight.