11 July 2014

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is Justice Revenge?

Dear Friends,

This Saturday we are discussing: Is Justice Revenge?

In my few ideas on the topic I try to argue that this idea of -Justice
being Revenge- would be a limited perspective of Justice given its
ubiquitous nature. But what is justice really? Ruel has also sent us a
link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on the topic to be discussed on Saturday at
PhiloMadrid. Here is the link:

See you there on Saturday.


Is Justice Revenge?

To think of justice as revenge is probably to think of only a narrow
spectrum of the complex topic of justice. Precisely, crime and
punishment in criminal law and maybe punitive damages in tort and civil law.
But even in criminal law within free constitutional democracies,
punishment is not regarded as revenge but rather social disapproval of
certain behaviour and as a deterrent to stop similar behaviour by people
in the future. Now whether the punishment fits the crime, that's another

Indeed the idea of justice is usually associated with what is acceptable
behaviour, for example the traffic regulations are usually there to tell
us what is safe driving. Thus justice is there for us to know in advance
what we can rightfully expect to have or claim as ours or our right. the
other form of justice is restitutional justice: if someone crashes into
our car we have a whole body of regulations and laws on such things as
compensation and replacement to make sure we are not worse off (up to a
point) than before. In most cases these situations are not criminal
offences. But even if a particular accident was a criminal offence this
would be a separate issue. Usually criminal offenses are matters for the

But so far I have referred to justice only in the legal context, so what
about in philosophy and maybe general usage?

Of course "is justice revenge?" is not really a philosophical problem on
the grounds that not all justice involves punishment and not all revenge
involve justices. For examples, some situations are clearly unjust but
no crime like acts have been committed a good example would be at work
where you do the hard work and the boss gets the glory. This is not a
crime. And no matter how angry you are it is probably not a good idea to
put a laxative in your boss's coffee because that might very well be a

In a way justice is a pragmatic way of fixing broken relationships. We
need to find ways where the damage someone has caused us is repaired
without causing serious physical consequences; for example being beaten
to death.

If justice is a pragmatic way to restore relationships, revenge must be
an emotional impulse when this pragmatic measure fails. Thus the
expression "getting one's own back" is a clear indication that we feel
that the social structure of justice has failed us.

Feeling that we are victims of some wrong doing is also a natural
emotion clearly linked to self preservation. Restoring the state of
equilibrium is also a natural reaction we are compelled into by nature.
The question is whether revenge is also a natural instinct or whether it
is an emotional calculation over riding of our sense of justice. It is
one thing to seek a balance and justice and other to also seek emotional
or physical harm on the perpetrator. We can look at revenge as the
interest due on the injustice caused to us.

thus while our legal sense of justice may, more or less, coincide with
our social and personal sense of justice, the weakness of this set up is
our emotional perspective on the injustice caused to us.

The failure for social justice to take into account our emotional
perspective might certainly lead to undesirable behaviour such as
revenge. And despite the attempt by the leading brains in jurisprudence
to deal with this situation by taking into account psychological
distress, another way of saying emotions, the situation is less than

The classical example of this state of affairs is fatal accidents by
drunk drivers. Sometimes the punishment for killing someone under the
influence of alcohol when driving is less than shoplifting a loaf of
bread. Clearly the law does not take into account the feelings of those
close to the victim.

The final philosophical question we can ask is whether justice is really
an issue for morality and ethics. That acts and behaviours can be right
or wrong are indeed within the domain of ethics. But justice, as I have
argued, is about restoring broken relationships by overriding any
emotion instincts.

At the very least justice should be part of philosophy of mind because
it is about our ability to reconcile conflicting emotions in our brain:
to seek revenge on the one hand and on the other hands not to over react.

Thus although revenge cannot be said to justice, both can be practiced
independent of each other. And both have their benefits and fallout.
Justice restores relationships but many times at the cost if emotions
and revenge appeases the emotions but at the cost of escalating the

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SATURDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is Justice Revenge?

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