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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

When do we need more than justice?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

As we try to make a difference through "social impact" or work for "social justice," we might be wise to pause and reflect on the words we use and whether they're constraining the good we seek tor bring to pass.

In 1987, the late philosopher Annette C. Baier wrote an essay, The Need for More than Justice. Baier drew upon the earlier work of Carol Gilligan and others to argue that we should not pursue justice alone. Why? Because our philosophical understanding of justice is tainted because it draws from a philosophical tradition that justifies caring less for some of those who supposedly have a right to this "justice."

(I won't be offended if you find I've completely missed the point. It's been a long time since I was swimming in philosophical treatises in college. And, even then, I didn't read as deeply as others because I was anxious to get out and play ultimate.)

"It is not," Baier said, "mercy that is to season justice, but a less authoritarian humanitarian supplement, a felt concern for the good of others and for community with them." Baier calls this concern for others and for community "care."

Why care? When justice is the primary virtue, as it is for Kant, society may be imbued with "respect for equal rights, . . . due process, [and] equal opportunity to participate in political activities leading to policy and law-making . . ." But, "none of these goods do much to ensure that the people who have and mutually respect such rights will have any other relationships to one another than the minimal relationship needed to keep such a 'civil society' going." Do we really envision a world of minimal relationships? Is "civil" all we're striving for?

Baier quotes one of Gilligan's study subjects. He said,

People have real emotional needs to be attached to something, and equality does not give you attachment.

Simply creating a space in which people don't interfere with others' pursuit of "whatever [they] are into" is unlikely to yield the attachment people seek, "decent community," or "a good society." It's not enough, Baier continued, to simply agree on the minimum justice and equal rights and to then trust that enough people will voluntarily "go further and cultivate [a] more demanding ideal of responsibility and care."

As I read Baier's essay, I thought about its application to education. Baier declares,

Noninterference can, especially for the relatively powerless, such as the very young, amount to neglect, and even between equals can be isolating and alienating.

So, for anyone connected to the education of our young people (which, I would argue, we all are, directly or indirectly), we should not be satisfied with simply "drafting legislation," worshipping rules, and exaggerating "the importance of independence over mutual interdependence." Instead, we should ask ourselves, What can we do to cultivate "a felt concern for the good of others and for community with them?"

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