Abstract for ‘Mutual Respect: The Only Ethic for Justly Governing Society’

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In the article I attempt to demonstrate that mutual respect as the ethic of justice is intrinsic to the existence of human beings in this world — particularly for people who believe in God as the Creator of all that exists, including human beings with our rational faculty. Having equated injustice with “being subject to the arbitrary will” of another person, Locke should have realized that justice requires most immediately that everyone refrain from subjecting any other person to one’s own arbitrary will. That is mutual respect. (I am unaware of any other person’s perception of Locke’s argument in that way.) The ethic of justice refers to mutual respect of a basic kind: ‘taking one another into account’. There is respect that can only be earned, but justice resides in the respect every human being is due merely by being a fellow human. Though mutual respect might sound vague unto evanescence, the ‘minimum condition of justice’ (herein) establishes a handful of concrete, absolute prohibitions. I have worked out in the implications of mutual respect as the ethic of justice for the political process (basically democracy as we know it) and the economy (applicable to any existing economy) as well as individuals. A requirement of mutual respect follows from any belief in a moral equality among human beings, but concerning justice, beliefs (which I count as extra-rational knowledge) entail issues of arbitrariness. (From Warren J. Samuels) I have located a source of mutual respect within material existence: a specific observation, not a hypostasized or normatively indeterminate ontological perspective. That establishes mutual respect as a strictly rational ethic, i.e., involving no beliefs, either secular/ideological or sacral/theological (or any other extra-rational content). Anyone could say that the observation in question can be verified by any human being. Even so, that does not imbue it with a universality that is sufficient for justice — which the ‘Enlightenment project’ and intellectual descendants of it sought vainly to effect (through ideology) but the postmodern critique of modernity’s intellectual project has rendered null. That its source is an observation within material existence does, however, I argue, rid this ethic of arbitrariness, obviating the issue of universality. In a society governed by this ethic all human beings, including any who denied its applicability to themselves, would be accorded its protections. Given the universality embedded in Christianity, this ethic of justice does not conflict in any way with Christian ethics. I argue that for anyone who believes in God as the/our Creator this ethic of justice is from God in a way that no morality following from any theology can be: the latter requires putting faith in some human being(s) at some point in the process, either as a conduit connected to God (or Holiness, anyway) or as authors of narratives about such beings.

I am not a scholar. I don’t really think of myself as ‘an intellectual’. I am only trying to share with this world a better understanding of justice, I am convinced, than any that has preceded it.

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Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice