Re: Justice & Freedom

W Ramsay (
Wed, 22 May 1996 09:38:50 +0100

On May 21 Devi Jankowitz wrote:

>Responding to a mailing by Hemant Desai, I wrote:
>>> 3. If the constructs of "justice and freedom" are to be eschewed as
>>> (which we all try to construe in our own, relativistic way, of course),
>>> what alternatives would Hemant offer instead of them?
>Hemant responded:
>>BTW, Devi, I would recommend (as the alternatives that you request in
>>number three above): "compassion and understanding".
>And at this point Hemant throws me into a turmoil which I'd hope will be
>constructive and creative.
>You see, while my heart accepts "compassion and understanding", my head
>persists in valuing a construct of "justice and freedom" as of absolute
>value, _as well as_ that of "compassion and understanding". "Justice and
>freedom" is a construct on which people (whose attempts to express and
>request "compassion and understanding" have not been reciprocated by their
>oppressors), might have ultimately to rely.


<Major surgery here>


>Tricky, isn't it?

For me, yes. I find the labelling of "justice and freedom" as a "construct"
hard to reconcile with my conceptions of construing. If we are to be wary
of absolutes then isn't the shift we need a shift to construing acts,
policies or what you will, as "just" or "compassionate" rather than pursuing
"justice" and "freeedom" as absolutes.

>From the point of view of, say, terrorism, is it easier to adopt a stance
that one does what one does in the pursuit of (our own absolute idea) of
"justice" or to answer in an acceptable way the question "Was the killing of
these particular Saturday afternoon shoppers (peasant farmers etc.) a just

A just state is then one whose dealings with its citizens (and its visitors)
is universally construed by them as "just" rather than "unjust". And a
compassionate act is, to the actor, a compassionate act, whether recognised
by one's oppressors or not. Therein lies the absolute value, if you like.

I think this approach is applicable in a less adversarial way than that of
attributing "justice", or "freedom" or "terrorism" or "feminism" to
particular groups. For example, the question may be equally difficult for
Hamas and Israel and we may more easily ask it of them without offending
their partisan supporters.

Same goes for other groups of course. "Sovereignty" is a current absolute
for some UK politicians that badly needs the same treatment.

I realise that this is pretty rough cut as it stands and none of it is very
orignal - "Abhorr the act but not the man" and all that - but it still
strikes me as more in tune with PCP approaches.



Bill Ramsay,
Dept. of Educational Studies,
University of Strathclyde,
Jordanhill Campus,
G13 1PP,

'phone: +44 (0)141 950 3364
'fax: +44 (0)141 950 3367