Is a universal standard of justice possible?
Is a universal standard of justice possible?
The recent assassination of bin Laden by the US SEALs has sparked off considerable controversy across the globe. The debate remains on whether the US assassination of bin Laden was an act of justice or injustice.1 Upon hearing his assassination and seeing the jubilation erupting across the streets of America on TV, I felt detached from the general consensus that his death was worth celebrating let alone being ecstatic about it. Furthermore, the fact that Obama carefully used his words and said “Justice has been done”2, leads me to question whether bin Laden’s assassination was an act of justice or Vengeance. If the latter is true, then wouldn’t his quote mean the same as “Vengeance has been done” ? As a result, it sparked off my thinking as to when is vengeance justified, or are all forms of vengeance unjustified? What should justice be, who it should serve, and most importantly, is a universal standard of justice possible? I believe a universal standard of justice is possible to a certain extent. My two main reasons are our intuitive sense of justice is “hard-wired” into our biology and the global trend towards increasing cosmopolitanism.
Humanity is “hard-wired” with an intuitive sense of justice. Justice is an area of knowledge that involves the philosophical study of moral values and rules; this knowledge is acquired through our emotional feelings and reason. When emotion is used in conjunction with reason, it forms a seemingly in-born, intuitive ethical sense that aids moral judgment. In an experiment where monkeys were rewarded based on individual effort in a task3, social animals also seemed “hard-wired” with an intuitive sense of justice. When some monkeys were rewarded unequally for the same task, the unprivileged monkeys refused to co-operate any more, seemingly outraged at the experimenters for the lack of fairness, yet didn’t blame others for accepting better rewards. Many scientists believe this implies a huge degree of universality in our moral judgments and those of social animals despite cultural differences, because this proves that our ethical sense isn't a social construct but inherited biologically through evolution.4
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The global trend towards increasing cosmopolitanism will eventually lead to a universal standard of justice. Cosmopolitanism is the ideology that all human ethnic groups belong to a single community based on a shared morality.5 Philosopher Peter Singer believes that with increasing cosmopolitanism a universal standard of justice will soon be possible. This is shown in his quote: “If we agree with the notion of a global community, then we must extend our concepts of justice, fairness, and equity beyond national borders by supporting measures to decrease global warming and to increase foreign aid. Should we continue to think of justice on a national basis?”6 Expanding on Peter Singer's' theory, philosopher Martha Nussbaum‘s essay “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” argues it is possible to extend our range of empathy beyond national boundaries in a cosmopolitan world if we forgo our nationalistic tendencies and “puts right before country, and universal reason before the symbols of national belonging”7.
The global trend towards increasing cosmopolitanism is taking place through technology, the internationalization of education and international organizations. The United Nations is one of the most significant influences towards increasing cosmopolitanism. A universal standard of justice will mostly likely be created through international treaties which form the basis of international cooperative organizations, such as the UN. However, the UN is at present hindered by the lack of a universal range of empathy – a universal standard of justice is currently nonexistent, and the UN is divided between the different views of justice held by different interest groups operating within it. However, the universal range of empathy is built on the basis of increasing cosmopolitanism – and this is exactly what the UN and other international organizations are promoting. So even though the UN is at present lacking a universal standard of justice, the basis of its future construction is being created by such international organizations.
In a moral relativist world, it is difficult to determine whether the assassination of bin Laden is justified. However in the western world, it is justified. What we can argue is that the killing of bin Laden, and indeed the entire War on Terrorism, operates on a view of justice that applies specifically in the western world. The inability of the western world to extend their range of empathy beyond its borders, and to take into consideration how the western world should 'give according to its ability', or how the Islamic World should receive 'according to its needs', results in the present crisis of international cultural conflict, of which the killing of bin Laden is only a tiny fraction of the whole picture.
To conclude, a universal standard of justice is entirely possible due to humanity’s innate and intuitive sense of justice and the global trend towards increasing cosmopolitanism. With technology advancing at an accelerating pace and the whole world becoming increasingly integrated economically and culturally, it is only a matter of time before we finally realize this grand vision.
"Cosmopolitanism." Wikipedia. Accessed March 11, 2015.
Kersten, Mark. "The Justice and Legality of Bin Laden's Assassination: Is What Is Legal
Necessarily Just?" Justice in Conflict. May 05, 2011. Accessed March 11, 2015.
Nussbaum, Martha C. "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism." Bostonreview.net. October 1, 1994.
Accessed March 11, 2015. http://bostonreview.net/martha-nussbaum-patriotism-and-cosmopolitanism.
Phillips, Macon. "Osama Bin Laden Dead." The White House. May 02, 2011. Accessed March
10, 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/05/02/osama-bin-laden-dead.
Singer, Peter. "One World, Speech by Peter Singer." Utilitarian Philosophers. October 29, 2003.
Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/20031029.htm.
Whitehouse, Dr David. "Monkeys Show Sense of Justice." BBC News. September 17, 2003.
Accessed March 11, 2015. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3116678.stm.
1 Mark Kersten. "The Justice and Legality of Bin Laden's Assassination: Is What Is Legal Necessarily Just?" Justice in Conflict. May 05, 2011. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://justiceinconflict.org/2011/05/05/the-justice-and-legality-of-bin-ladens-assassinatio
2 Macon Phillips. "Osama Bin Laden Dead." The White House. May 02, 2011. Accessed March 10, 2015.
3 Dr David Whitehouse. "Monkeys Show Sense of Justice." BBC News. September 17, 2003. Accessed March 11, 2015.
5 "Cosmopolitanism." Wikipedia. Accessed March 11, 2015.
6 Peter Singer. "One World, Speech by Peter Singer." Utilitarian Philosophers. October 29, 2003. Accessed March 11, 2015.
7 Martha Nussbaum C. "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism." Bostonreview.net. October 1, 1994. Accessed March 11, 2015.