Justice as a Personal Virtue

Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.

Your wedding photographer is friendly and conscientious. On the day of the ceremony, they capture all of the important moments without being at all intrusive, they make the formals efficient and painless, and they manage your difficult family members without breaking a sweat. The delivered photos are amazing, they've really brought out the best in everyone there. You give them a generous tip, recommend them to all of your friends, and look them up again when it's time for your first newborn photo shoot.

Or...

Your wedding photographer is friendly and conscientious. On the day of the ceremony, they capture all of the important moments without being at all intrusive, they make the formals efficient and painless, and they manage your difficult family members without breaking a sweat. The delivered photos are amazing, they've really brought out the best in everyone there. You don't tip, and you forget all about them once you've received your photos.

Or...

Your wedding photographer is abrasive and forgetful. On the day of the ceremony, they arrive late, they cut off half of the guests' views of the ceremony, they take an hour and a half to get through your formals (leaving your other guests waiting at the reception), and they snap rudely at your obnoxious uncle. The delivered photos are grainy and poorly lit, and somehow made your spouse look disheveled and sick despite you knowing they were glamorous the day of. You give them a generous tip, recommend them to all of your friends, and look them up again when it's time for your first newborn photo shoot.

Or...

Your wedding photographer is abrasive and forgetful. On the day of the ceremony, they arrive late, they cut off half of the guests' views of the ceremony, they take an hour and a half to get through your formals (leaving your other guests waiting at the reception), and they snap rudely at your obnoxious uncle. The delivered photos are grainy and poorly lit, and somehow made your spouse look disheveled and sick despite you knowing they were glamorous the day of. You don't tip, and you forget all about them once you've received your photos.

What consequences do you expect, for yourself, your loved ones, and the photographer, in these scenarios?

You're all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You find out you have several hobbies in common. You mesh well together, feeling like you've known them your whole life. They text you regularly, and invite you along to all sorts of fun excursions. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they stand by your side the whole time and make sure you don't have anything to worry about while you focus on getting the cat better. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they are supportive and nonjudgmental and you're confident would definitely never out you. You reach out to them regularly, keep them up to date on the latest in your life, invite them to important events, introduce them to your friends from home, and support them in their goals.

Or...

You're all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You find out you have several hobbies in common. You mesh well together, feeling like you've known them your whole life. They text you regularly, and invite you along to all sorts of fun excursions. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they stand by your side the whole time and make sure you don't have anything to worry about while you focus on getting the cat better. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they are supportive and nonjudgmental and you're confident would definitely never out you. You taper off your response to their messages, stop asking them to do things, choose to spend time with other friends over them, and when they lean on you heavily for some support you kindly let them know that you're not sure the friendship is at that point and that you'd like some space.

Or...

You're all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You don't have much in common, but you meet up a few times anyways. You're constantly frustrated by their attitude and feel like they are speaking a different language half the time. They almost never respond to your texts, and often throw parties without inviting you. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they laugh at you and earnestly suggest you have it put down. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they lecture you about willpower and "accidentally" mention it in front of the parents of the kid you babysit for. You reach out to them regularly, keep them up to date on the latest in your life, invite them to important events, introduce them to your friends from home, and support them in their goals.

Or...

You're all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You don't have much in common, but you meet up a few times anyways. You're constantly frustrated by their attitude and feel like they are speaking a different language half the time. They almost never respond to your texts, and often throw parties without inviting you. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they laugh at you and earnestly suggest you have it put down. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they lecture you about willpower and "accidentally" mention it in front of the parents of the kid you babysit for. You taper off your response to their messages, stop asking them to do things, choose to spend time with other friends over them, and when they lean on you heavily for some support you kindly let them know that you're not sure the friendship is at that point and that you'd like some space.

What consequences do you expect for yourself and your new friend in these scenarios?

Since the main audience of this post is not necessarily familiar with Objectivism, before I go further I want to briefly introduce my (heavily Objectivism-influenced) moral philosophy. In essence, the purpose of morality for me is to be a high-level guide to my choices in order to have a long, flourishing life. As such, while I do think much of what I try to follow would be beneficial for others to follow too, I'm primarily concerned with what I should be doing. Similarly, my primary concern is on the consequences of my actions for my life, with the effect on others' lives only mattering to the extent they are or are not a value to me. Slightly more concretely, most of my high-level moral principles come in the form of virtues (largely in the Aristotelian sense) that are some perspective on the general idea "pursue the truth about your context and act on it in accordance with your values". Principles, because they allow me to leverage past experience, avoid repeating cognitive work, and make reliable predictions. Virtues, because I am most reliable when acting on a desirable habit, and because they are how I enact principle. "Pursue the truth and act on it", because that seems to be the fundamental locus of control I have over my flourishing. I do think this general approach is the best way for most other people to flourish, but I am not as certain about the universalizability of this exact perspective as Rand was.

With that perspective in mind, back to the eight scenarios:

If you recognize (in thought and action) the value the photographer provided you, you and those you care about will be able to enjoy their services again and they will be encouraged and better off as well. If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the value the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones will miss out on the opportunity to benefit from them again, and they will miss the opportunity to be encouraged for providing it.

If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the disvalue the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones will have to endure the experience again and they will be encouraged in their choices. If you recognize (in thought and action) the disvalue the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones can cut their losses and they may be less likely to continue in the same vein.

If you recognize (in thought and action) the value your friend offers you, you, your loved ones, and they will be able to benefit from the continued relationship. If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the value your friend offers you, you will miss out on the opportunity to benefit from them further.

If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the disvalue your friend offers you, you and your loved ones will continue to be subjected to the problems of the relationship. If you recognize (in thought and action) the disvalue your friend offers you, you can separate them out from your life and avoid the drain they cause.

In general, I think recognizing the value (or lack thereof) provided by others (or yourself) in various contexts and acting accordingly is an extremely important virtue to inculcate, and I think the right name for it is "justice". In the above, I've consciously avoided any mention of law enforcement, which is of course a common referent of "justice". I do think that a properly run law enforcement system does involve justice in the sense I've laid out here, but I don't think it's the only or even primary purpose of the system and I definitely think the modern American law enforcement system actively subverts justice and other values, wholesale.