Manvotional: The Cardinal Virtues — Justice

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 7, 2012 · 23 comments

in Manvotionals

From The Cardinal Virtues, 1902
By William De Witt Hyde


If man dwelt alone in a world of things, wisdom to subordinate things to his ends would be the principal virtue. The form of the perfect character would be a circle, with self as the center. The fact that we live in a social world, where other persons must be recognized, is the ground of justice, the second cardinal virtue. Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society, in the same way that wisdom requires the subordination of particular desires to the permanent interests of the whole individual to whom they belong. For the individual is a part of society in the same vital way in which a single desire is part of an individual. To indulge a single desire at the expense of the permanent self is folly; and to indulge a single individual, whether myself or another, at the expense of society is injustice.

The essence of injustice consists in treating people, not as persons, having interests and ends of their own, but as mere tools or machines, to do the things we want to have done. The penalty of injustice is a hardening of heart and shriveling of soul; so that if a person were to treat everybody in that way, he would come to dwell in a world of things, and, before he knew it, degenerate into a mere thing himself. Lord Rosebery points out that this habit of treating men as mere means to his own ends was what made Napoleon’s mind lose its sanity of judgment, and made his heart the friendless, cheerless desolation that it was in his last days. We have all seen persons in whom this hardening, shriveling, drying-up process had reached almost the vanishing point. The employer toward his “hand;” the officer toward his troops; the teacher, even, toward his scholars; the housekeeper toward her servants; all of us toward the people who cook our food, and make our beds, and sell our meat, and raise our vegetables, are in imminent danger of slipping down on to this immoral level of treating them as mere machines.

Royce, in his Religious Aspect of Philosophy, has set this forth most forcibly, among English writers; though it lies at the heart of all the German formulas, like Kant s “Treat humanity, whether in thyself or in others, always as an end, never as a means,” and Hegel’s “Be a person, and respect the personality of others.” Royce says: “Let one look over the range of his bare acquaintanceship; let him leave out his friends, and the people in whom he takes a special personal interest; let him regard the rest of his world of fellow men — his butcher, his grocer, the policeman that patrols his street, the newsboy, the servant in his kitchen, his business rivals. Are they not one and all to him ways of behavior toward himself or other people, outwardly effective beings, rather than realized masses of genuine inner sentiment, of love, or of felt desire? Does he not naturally think of each of them rather as a way of outward action than as a way of inner volition? His butcher, his newsboy, his servant — are they not for him industrious or lazy, honest or deceitful, polite or uncivil, useful or useless people, rather than self-conscious people? Is any one of these alive for him in the full sense — sentient, emotional, and otherwise like himself, as perhaps his own son, or his own mother or wife, seems to him to be? Is it not rather their being for him, not for themselves, that he considers in all his ordinary life? Not their inner volitional nature is realized, but their manner of outward activity. Such is the nature and ground of the illusion of selfishness.”

This passage from Royce lays bare the source of the greater part of the social immorality in the world, and accounts for nine-tenths of all the world’s trouble.

What wonder that a man of this type cannot succeed in any large work of administration! He treats men as things. But men are not things. They rise up in indignation against him. Every man of them is instantly his enemy, and will take the first chance that occurs to betray him and cast him down. A man of that type cannot run a mill or a store or a school or a political campaign or a hotel a week without being in a row. He cannot live in a community six weeks without having made more enemies than friends. The first time he trips, every one is ready to jump on him. And in all his trouble and unpopularity, and failure, and defeat, the beauty of it is that he is getting precisely what he deserves, and we all exclaim, “It’s good enough for him!”

Selfishness is closely akin to folly. The fool treats things as if they were mere qualities, and had no permanent effect. But the effects come back to plague and torment him. The selfish man treats men as if they were mere acts, and had no permanent selves. He may at the time get out of them the act he wants, but in doing so he makes them his enemies; and no man can permanently prosper with every other man openly or secretly arrayed against him. The most fundamental question a man can ask about our character is whether and to what extent we habitually treat persons as persons, and not as things. The answer to that question will tell us whether we shall succeed or fail in any enterprise which has an important social side; will tell whether we shall make a home happy or wretched; will tell whether we are more of a blessing or a curse to the world in which we move. And the test is to be found, not in our attitude toward the people whom we consider our superiors and equals; not in the appearance we make in what is technically called society. There we have to be decent, whether we want to or not; there we have to treat, or appear to treat, persons as persons, not as things. Little credit belongs to us for all that. But when it comes to our relations with the people of whom Royce was speaking, there we seem to be under no such social compulsion. There our real character gets blurted out. How do we think and feel and speak and act toward our washerwoman or the man who does our humblest work for us? That determines whether we are at heart Christians or barbarians, whether a gentleman or a brute sits on the throne of our soul. For whether a fellow man is ever a means instead of an end, whether the personality of the humblest ever fails to win our recognition, inasmuch as we do it or do it not unto the least of our brethren determines our moral and social status, as the men of insight, like Kant and Hegel and Jesus, define it.

One of the most important forms of justice is honesty in services and material goods. To be honest means that we refuse to be partner to a trade or transaction in which we would not willingly accept its consequence to all parties, provided we were in their place. Any transaction that involves effects on another we would not willingly, under the circumstances, accept for ourselves, is fraud and robbery. The man who pilfers goods from a pocket or a counter is the least of the thieves of to-day. He is only doing, in a pitiful way, the devil’s retail business. The men who do his wholesale business often move in the best of society, and are even the makers and executors of our laws. Wholesale stealing has numerous forms, but it is nearly all reducible to two well-marked types.

First, stealing is carried on by issuing representations of what does not exist as represented. Stealing of this sort is really lying. Adulteration of goods, watered Stock, false accounts, are the grosser forms of this stealing. The more adroit of these rascals, however, take to the promotion of spurious enterprises. They form a company to work a mine which has ore, but which they know cannot be worked at a profit; or they build a railroad between points where there is not traffic or travel enough to pay a fair rate of interest on the capital invested. They appropriate to themselves a generous block of the stock as the price for their work of organization. They put in the most expensive plant and equipment. For the first few months, when there are no repairs needed, by artificial stimulus and by various devices of bookkeeping, or by leaving some bills unpaid, they make a showing on paper of large earnings above running expenses. On this fictitious showing they sell their stock to investors at a distance, who think they are being specially favored in being let into a chance to earn dividends of ten per cent. Then comes the crash; the poor fools that invested in the stock find it worthless, and even the bonds which represent its construction fall below par. Then the poor robbed, cheated, deluded investors look to the promoter for redress; and lo! he has unloaded his stock, and is planning another mine in inaccessible Tennessee mountains, or selling lumber that no team can haul out of some impenetrable Florida swamp, or booming city lots staked out on some unbroken Kansas prairie, or running an electric railroad through the pastures and woodlands that connect out-of-the-way hamlets in Maine. Justice and honesty demand that we shall read that man’s character in the light of the losses he inflicts on hard-working farmers, dependent widows, poor men and women who have toiled all their lives, and are looking for rest in old age. In that clear light of consequence to their fellows, the acts of these unscrupulous promoters stand out in their naked hideousness and deformity. The man who promotes a scheme of this kind, knowing or having good reason to believe that his gain is represented by widespread robbery of the innocent, and plunder of the unprotected, is a thief and a robber; and the place where he belongs is at hard work in striped clothes, by the side of the defaulter, the burglar, and the picker of pockets. The fact that he does not get there, but fares sumptuously in a palace he rears with his ill-gotten gain, is one of the chief reasons why men still believe and hope there is a hell.

The other type of stealing which flourishes in modern conditions is the misuse of one’s representative or delegated influence. A thief of this sort uses his position in one corporation to let favorable contracts to himself in another corporation in which he is directly or indirectly concerned. He uses his position as purchasing or selling agent for a company by which he is employed, to induce the seller or buyer to make a special rebate or bonus to him in his private capacity; thus charging his employer with an unrecognized salary in addition to the one he is supposed to receive. He uses his political influence to promote his personal fortunes, or those of his friends and retainers, at the public expense. Wherever a representative or delegated power is used for personal, private, friendly, family, or any ends whatever other than the single interests of the constituents or firm or institution represented, there is a case of wholesale stealing of the second type.

Opportunities for the successful practice of these two types of wholesale stealing are incidental to our highly complex political and industrial life. Exceptional talent and industry and enterprise may still manage to make money without them. But most of the great fortunes which are rapidly made rest on one or the other of these two types of theft. The temptations to resort to them in these days are tremendous. Yet it is no new discovery that wrongdoing is profitable and easy, while virtue is costly and hard. The first step toward righteousness in these matters is to define clearly, in modern terms, what honesty is; and to brand all whose gains rest on the losses of others as the thieves and villains they are.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew April 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thats really interesting, the idea that you can’t have justice or injustice alone – it is a relational concept. You can be just or unjust towards others.

2 mark April 8, 2012 at 1:05 am

I admit I was seduced by lots of post-moral philosophies in the tradition of Nietzsche–they were exciting and challenging, but I usually go back to Kant. Justice is so complex and situational–it takes a keen and constant awareness that often transcends a credo. This is all I can take from Nietzsche and his torch-bearers. This truth remains: life is only worth living in society; and society is only worth it if there are a few bleeding hearts in a kind of alchemy of grit and love.

3 Lynne April 8, 2012 at 7:45 am

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society [. . . ]”

This falsehood is the philosophical foundation for every great atrocity known to mankind. In championing the subordination of self to society the state can justify mass murder, enslavement, human experimentation, or any other injustice that people in power are convinced is good for the state.

The bait and switch which happens in the above passage and the one that is currently in use to justify the forced servitude of individuals is that self-interest can be pursued ONLY at the expense of others. This unsupported assertion is patently untrue and further, gives way to a dangerous ruling philosophy; it is dangerous because it destroys its holder with envy, greed, and a pernicious view of the nature of man – including himself.

There are certainly individuals who use manipulation, fraud, and force to gain their ends. Their behavior does not spring from self-interest, but a desperate scraping to get ahead of others who would likewise use him. These men are nor the products of the mind-set which tells them that hard-work, industriousness, and just dealings with other men is the right way to live, but of a foggy notion that the interests of others are in direct conflict with his and can and should be subordinated.

4 Cameron April 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

Brett, this post reminded me a lot of a book I read a while ago. Have you ever read Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” I think you would like it. It also deals with the problem of dealing with others as objects.

5 Michael April 8, 2012 at 9:16 am

This is particularly apt in the presence of the current Class War. As “Lynne” above demonstrates, we live in an age where the unjust are unusually sophisticated in their blandishments.

6 Ralmon April 8, 2012 at 11:20 am

Quite interesting concepts here. I agree with most of the ideas except this;

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society”

This really makes my skin crawl. I had read of cases where people had failed to do the right thing because they follow the interest of the society.

I think justice considers both self-interest and society’s interest and other society’s interest. Its an application of “wisdom” to a far wider scale.

7 Mato Tope April 8, 2012 at 11:57 am

What’s good for the hive is good for the bee.

8 ZZ April 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

“Class War”. Tosh. How much do you weigh, Michael?

9 Jon April 8, 2012 at 3:41 pm

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society”

This quote is not patently false as Ralmon and Lynne above seem to think. Every individual has a duty to put the interests of others above himself. However, they are correct in recognizing that this notion is often used to deceive decent people into subordinating themselves to slavery.

Like everything, a balance must be reached – temperance (one of the other cardinal virtues) is required.

A man who refuses to consider the interests of others or society as a whole lacks justice, as explained in this passage. A man who refuses to consider the interests of himself and his family above those of society lacks wisdom. Temperence is required to moderate between these two extremes. And of course, a man needs fortitude to make the decisions he knows are right in spite of adversity.

10 Jarred April 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm

What Lynne’s and Ralmon’s respective arguments seem to fail to account for is that the individual is a part of society and not opposed to it. To subordinate one’s own interest in favor of the interest of the greater society is not, in fact, to completely abandon one’s own interest. Rather, it is to consider one’s own interest as a single component of the societal interest. Furthermore, it means to place on one’s own individual interest any more value than that of any other.

Lynne is correct that some have historically used the notion of the collective interest to justify marginalizing individuals or segments of society; however, that is not what we are talking about. In those situations, it is not in fact the society interest that is being served. Rather it is the interest of a segment of society, excluding others. This situation differs only in scale from the situation described as injustice. Rather than a single individual acting in his or her own interest over the interest of the whole of society a group acts in their own interest over the interest of the whole of society. So long as not all are being considered then the result is injustice. (This is assuming, Lynne, that you are not espousing full-on objectivism, in which case the refutation is much longer and likely not of interest to most of the people on this site.)

In response to Ralmon’s claim that individuals have failed to do the “right thing” by considering the interest of society over their individual interest I have to speculate, without knowing exactly what occasions he is referencing, that there is some misunderstanding involved. Perhaps the person in question believed he or she was acting in the interest of society, but was mistaken and thus failed to make the right decision in the situation based on that misunderstanding. On the other hand, it is possible that the person correctly assessed the interests of society as a whole and acted accordingly but Ralmon misunderstands what the “right thing” to do in that situation is (no offense, Ralmon). If someone does, in fact, assess the best interests of society as a whole and then does, in fact, act in those interests then the necessary outcome is the best possible outcome for society and I don’t see how creating the best possible outcome is failing to do the right thing.

11 jr April 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

While reading this article I find that it seems to be too puzzling and poorly delivered. Much of the sentences seem to blather on around a generic concept without driving to a point. More than likely it is my own dimwitted self that is struggling to wrap my head around the verbage and use of language. This being said, you truly could not write this to read better?? What are you proving by writing in such phraseology other than some readers, if not many, may struggle to appreciate this article and topic for what it is?

12 jesse laramee April 8, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I some what agree with my fellow readers that placing society before me is not always the best choice. When dealing with other men in business and other transactions it is important to understand that he is trying to play you ( in most cases). Most men do not follow the same standards that many of us AOM readers do. I know that when i was purchasing my last vehicle, the salesman was treating me like a dumb ignorant kid who knows nothing about bargaining. He was looking at me and treating me as a thing. I think what Im trying to say is that most of society treats everyone as a “thing” and you must always be on your guard, if you are to kind and to selfless, you will be run over and left in the successful dust of others.

13 Heath April 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society”

This line seems to be taking a ton of flack because of how individuals are equating society with some sort of social institution rather than the people who feel the effects of our actions. Following an unjust law that oppresses our fellow man is certainly not what this article is advocating; it explicitly calls out those who manipulate law to get ahead.

As for Lynn, your statement “This falsehood is the philosophical foundation for every great atrocity known to mankind” calls to mind so many atrocities done for so many reasons I just can’t believe you’re being very objective.

14 Victor April 8, 2012 at 11:51 pm

@ Lynne, Ralmon and co.

The atrocities you mention neglect to consider some individuals as “part of society” and so their interests are ignored. The issue is that they are considered below “society”, not that they should sacrifice their individual interests for society.

Considering the politcal/capitalism spin at the end of the post and the continuing reference to class society this considerably targeted towards managing the well being of people who operate within an economy.

However if you apply this definition of Justice, and sprinkle in some wisdom (@Jon), you have a mighty successful society.

15 EssDee April 9, 2012 at 3:09 am

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society”

The wrongs done in the name of the society are not really for the benefit of society, but for the “powerful, unjust people” in the society. The suppression or massacre of millions did no good for German or Cambodian society, but only for Hitler and Pol Pot. These are cases when a certain individual or group have gained ascendancy over society, and represent *their* wishes, worldview, policies, etc. as representing their society. Much like the example of Napoleon in the article, they cynically manipulate the society / individuals.

What the line means that instead of acquiesing with Hitler, even supporting him, Germans, and the rest of the world, should have realised that he is no good for society, and made some serious sacrifices to get him “removed”.

16 Chase Christy April 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

Honesty has fallen into gray area in our modern society. It now has a connotation of necessity only when it does not diminish the interests of the speaker or doer. It is time Americans take a good look at ourselves, and get back to the good old fashioned black and white right or wrong simplicity of our forefathers.

17 Chase Christy April 9, 2012 at 8:11 am

My link did not work properly on my comment above. Sorry…

18 James April 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

@Jon – “A man who refuses to consider the interests of others or society as a whole lacks justice, as explained in this passage. A man who refuses to consider the interests of himself and his family above those of society lacks wisdom. Temperence is required to moderate between these two extremes. And of course, a man needs fortitude to make the decisions he knows are right in spite of adversity.”

Terrific. Amazingly well said, and something I think everyone should take a second and read again. Bravo!

19 Brian April 9, 2012 at 11:49 am

There is only one true application of justice. It is the Golden Rule. All other writing on the subject is done in vain, my friends.

20 Nick April 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

“Justice requires the subordination of the interests of the individual to the interests of society, and the persons who constitute society; in the same way that wisdom requires the subordination of particular desires to the permanent interests of the whole individual to whom they belong.”

I think a key point is in the concept of “the persons who constitute society” and the following sentence.

An abuse of the individuals at the gain of society comes when leaders or groups put society not as a working of individuals but as a working of groups. Class warfare is a mode of this injustice in my belief. To say that a group is society instead of individuals leads people to think that one must take or exploit the lesser or evil group to uplift the greater or righteous group. This leads to the exploitation of the individual.

This is the out working of selfishness and the dishonesty described in the article. I do believe that the idea of a person giving their rights up for a society is not the key to this article but something that is preached against in this article. Some may use language similar to exploit the individual for their own gain. This is where wisdom and the ideas of justice must assist us.

As Jesus said, be as gentle as lambs and as shrewd as serpents.

21 Ralmon April 12, 2012 at 3:10 am

Well I will make some explanation to my view.

For one, society has many meanings. For example Western society are the group of people of western culture. Furry a group of people who are very very fond of furries (anthropomorphic animals). Even an ethnic group, a mobster, a basketball team, or a group of children can be called a society. Just as long as this group of humans has relationship with the group and have duties to the group. It also means that one could be a member of many kind of societies.

Then think if you are a member of say a polygamist society, or a cult, or terrorist. This “societies” have interest that is not exactly for the good of the individual of the society. The people in the society just believed it is so.

For me, justice is not about our interest or the societies interest or anybodies interest. For me justice is about equality, of fairness, of being just. The opposite of it would be unfair or unjust. There would be no justice if one is treated better than the other just because that person is rich and/or famous. It would be unjust if a woman is treated less respect that a man because of her sex. It would also be against the virtue of justice if a person is treated unfairly just because he is Black.

In my view of justice, I agree with Brian, Justice is the application of the Golden Rule. The justice that is presented in this article, for me, is false.

22 Curt April 22, 2012 at 10:07 am

What an abstract word.
Years ago “society” said a dark man was not allowed on my towns streets after dark.
Now “society” says all can be.
I think society is an emotional child that can be manipulated with candy and punishments

23 Brent April 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I’d like to add to the third paragraph about seeing acquaintances as people and not things.

This can also be applied to our outlook of not only to the lowly and meek as emphasized but also to the superior. In the military, if a high ranking official were to walk into the room, its best to “see” them as a person, not as a golden calf, and also not with contempt because they are superior in rank structure. This will lessen insincere flattery and unreasonable disdain.

I’ve seen both and their equally nauseating.

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