Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Best Interpreters of Justice

Reflection Paper #1
Comparative philosophy
Rob Skiff
8/6/05
Travis Larkin


In book one of The Republic of Plato, a discussion between Socrates and his hosts begins. The purpose of this discussion is to come to some agreement on a definition of justice. Socrates refutes every one of his host’s attempts at a definition by finding contradictions in their arguments. Socrates is older, and some would say wiser, than Polemarchus and his father Cephalus. At the end of book one, the argument has come to a stand still without having reached a definition of justice. It is clear to me that the eldest generation is better at defining and understanding justice because they have had more experience in life.
Cephalus starts by giving a definition of justice as simply being a good and honest person. Having lived a full life and grappled with the question of justice through his many life experiences, Cephalus has a clear understanding of how justice works in the world. These experiences have left him with a good sense of the world and what is right and wrong. This knowledge can only be gained through experience and that comes through age leading me to think that the old are better fit to interpret justice. While Cephalus’ definition is not perfect it is a good starting point. Socrates is a wiser man and refutes this definition by using the example of returning to a mad man a weapon which is legally his. Perhaps, it is the just thing to do to relinquish the weapon to its rightful owner, but it would also put innocent lives in danger to arm a mad man and therefore making it unjust as well. Socrates’ standpoint is that of an older man who has lived life and has truly experienced justice and injustice at work. At this point Cephalus retires to tend to the sacrifices and leaves his son, Polemarchus, to argue in his stead.
Polemarchus lays out an entirely new argument about justice. He says that true justice is “doing good to friends and harm to enemies.” In my opinion, this very basic definition speaks to the immaturity and impulsiveness of the young. Just because somebody is your friend it does not make them a good person. They could, in fact, be an enemy to someone else and this would contradict Polemarchus’ argument. His argument is too subjective and therefore does not hold up universally as a definition of justice. For example, everyone has friends who are not perfect and could be described as “bad kids” or undesirable friends by others. If you were to help these people and harm your enemies, who could be considered decent people by others, you would by Polemarchus’ definition, be practicing injustice. The fact the Polemarchus makes this assumption and does not see the loophole in his definition speaks to the inexperience of the young and their inability to truly understand justice.
Currently President Bush has nominated John Roberts, a fifty year old relatively inexperienced judge to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. A position of monumental power in shaping and interpreting the justice the populace of the United States knows and will know for the next thirty to forty years. John Roberts will hold the position of the quintessential judge who will interpret our constitution while molding legislation for many years to come. The fact that he is fifty years old, when most of the justices are in their seventies or eighties, and has only had two years of experience as a judge make many people worry as to his qualifications for such and important post. I believe these worries are well placed for older more experienced people are better at understanding justice. A relatively young man with little experience should not become the chief judge of our judicial branch of government. In order to truly understand justice you must have lived life and earned the experience to interpret right from wrong. I believe our country’s leaders should make their choices concerning such important judges more carefully.
A younger person has not lived life or experienced what is needed to interpret and understand justice fully. Only the older people who have lived their lives and know what they are really dealing with when concerning justice should be allowed to interpret it in any setting. Cephalus and Socrates are the elderly figures in this argument and they prove to know the most on the subject. Cephalus lays down his idea in a fair and good definition that has but one fatal flaw and Socrates refutes everyone’s ideas and will not reveal the true definition of justice but waits for the others to come upon it. The most experienced in life which are elders should be the interpreters of justice because they have been through life and experienced many situations which dealt with justice and right and wrong. This is a sort of experience which younger people may believe they have because of their natural immaturity, but can only truly be gained through living life. This is why, in my opinion, the oldest and most experienced people are the wisest and are the most qualified to interpret justice.

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