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  • An Ethics of Justice in a Cross-Cultural Context
  • Michael von Brück

The central thesis of this paper is, primarily, that justice is neither a qualification of actions nor a political expediency, but is an existential reality. This reality is symbolized in different ways depending on religious experience and cultural conditioning. Underlying all concepts and ethics of justice is a dimension of basic insight that is beyond rational quantifying analysis.

The semantics of concepts of justice is different in various contexts and meaning systems, that is, in more general political and social contexts and in the rational discourse of philosophy. The general political term for justice is more confusing than helpful for a clear conceptualization; it might be treated more as a symbol in a mythological framework than a concept. In this context justice is defined in terms of what it is not, or metaphorically in differing categories, for example, justice as impartiality, equality. Thus, many programmatic formulae, such as "International Movement for a Just World,"1 express a utopia against the frustration with regard to social, economic, and political conditions and call for action to establish a "just world" without defining what the standard of this action must be in order to qualify as just and what exactly the notion of a "just world" actually might mean conceptually. Certain political actions are condemned from a particular standpoint, but the very foundation of any standpoint remains controversial. "Just" or "unjust" are actions that are determined according to the two standards of an Aristotelian suum cuique and the principle of treating equal cases in equal ways. Here, actions and their results as well as human freedom of action and the respective responsibility are a matter of debate. The problem is how to establish criteria for what is regarded as being "equal."2

I suggest that justice can be discussed in two ways: (1) as an agreement or result of negotiation and better insight that is worked out between partners in social processes, and/or (2) as a reflection of the cosmic order, the divine will, or any pre-established harmony that is not negotiable by human beings. Whereas the first assumption is reflected in the theories of Aristotle, Rousseau, John Rawls,3 and others, the second one seems to be one of the basic contents of any religious worldview. Rawls actually constructs his idea of justice as fairness in the line of the familiar theory [End Page 61] of the social contract, following Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. Accordingly, justice is the basic assumption that generates the condition for any further discourse in societies. It is an "original position," an "initial status," the "symmetry of everyone's relations to each other," which, of course, is neither an actual state of historical affairs nor a primitive condition of culture, but a purely hypothetical situation.4 For Rawls, to think justice requires the task to acknowledge interdependencies and mutual dependence of the different factors and actors in societies on the basis of reflexive reason. In religions, however, it is the dharma, the commandment of God, the Tao, or the cosmic harmony or "symmetry" of forces that is the root cause for justice in human relations.

In this essay I will not argue any of these positions mentioned above as such but maintain only that any particular discourse depends on communication processes, that is, language and actors. Actors have interests that are mediated through claims. These claims may be compatible or not. However, in both cases they are part of the communication processes itself. And it is in communication that discourses materialize. Therefore, dialogue is the framework for any theory of justice, which may be inclined more to the first or the second position outlined above. Because today, due to economic, political, and cultural circumstances, all discourses are linked to each other, it is in cross-cultural communication and dialogue that a theory of justice has to be worked out. The question is whether justice should be regarded as a precondition for dialogue or a wanted result of dialogue. The hypothesis I want to argue for is that justice is neither only a precondition nor only a result, but that it is the very...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9472
Print ISSN
0882-0945
Pages
pp. 61-77
Launched on MUSE
2006-11-06
Open Access
No
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