re: justice and freedom

W Ramsay (
Wed, 29 May 1996 10:05:44 +0100

Bob Parks, in reply to my posting, wrote on 24 May:


>>Justice exists wherever acts are commonly just, oppression where they are
>>commonly oppressive. A society may be construed as 'just' or 'oppressive'
>>to the extent that either of these statements is true about it. One could
>>then say that justice obtains in that society, but this is simply a
>>convenient ellipsis. My own view is that 'justice' is a replication without
>>a counterpart in objective reality, which I see as a contradiction in
>>Kelly's terms. It is therefore essentail that we be able to construct an
>>alternative model of justice that fits PCP without such contradictions.
>I'm wondering what you mean by "a replication without a counterpart in
>objective reality"? Do you mean that it is an "abstract" term, designating
>to a constitutive linguistic or social socstruct? The notion of an
>alternative model on Kelly's terms puzzles me....

Quite right, Bob. An inconvenient ellipsis.

I'm struggling here with the Construction Corollary at the same time as with
notions of freedom and justice. For PCP to work it must be able to deal
with concepts like this in a convincing way within its own structure.
Claims for it as a complete system of psychology depend on this. (Give me a
grandmother and an egg and I know what to do!).

What I'm getting at is the meaning of anticipating events "by construing
their replciations" in such a context. An act, just or unjust, may be an
event within the meaning of the Act. Whether it is construed as just
depends on how it is construed in terms of those constructs lower in the
hierarchy. So far so good. From events we get replications by construing.
My problem is, of what 'event' is 'justice' a replication? By means of what
constructs was that 'event' (always supposing, for the moment, that it
exists) replicated? There are _acts_ 'out there' that we can construe and
replicate, but there is no justice! (Couldn't resist it.) How, then, may
PCP 'model' justice?

In terms of this explanation, 'justice' is indeed an abstraction, and in PCP
terms an abstraction is thus a replication without an external 'event' to
which it can be referred or on which it can be mapped. Tentatively, I might
suggest that in linguistic terms 'justice' is a TACT, in Skinner's sense
(although I'm using that purely as a momentary convenience)and certainly not
a construct.

I think there is a (growing?) problem with the use of 'construe' and
'construct' in PCP, which causes the kind of confusion that I've been trying
to clear up here. Although both have the same root they are usually given
different primary meanings. To construe is 'to interpret the meaning of'
and to construct is 'to build or erect'. Kelly certainly seems to make the
distinction, but many people seem to be using the word 'construct' in PCP
discussions to mean a construction and 'construction' to mean 'construing'.
It would be a lot clearer if we agreed to 'construe' using 'constructs' and
that the product of our 'construing' would be a 'replication', which is my
understanding of what Kelly meant. If my ageing memeory fails me not, it
was a reference to 'justice' as a construct that set me off on this path.

One last thing. The analysis I've given identifies 'justice' as an
abstraction and indicates its nature in a PCP framework. A consequence is
that 'justice' of itself cannot tell what will be a just behaviour in any
given circumstances. It is our experience that tells us that and our
construing of the alternatives that are available to us. Justice can't be
an absolute in a PCP framework, but it becomes an absolute if reified and
the reification is construed via a set of pre-emptive constructs of low
permeability. Such a justice sometimes accept within the ranges of
convenience of its subsumed constructs only a limited subset of humankind.
To be construed as 'female' or 'black' or 'Muslim' means acts directed
towards you are construed as 'appropriate' or 'inappropriate' but never in
terms of 'just - unjust'. For such groups, in such circumstacnes, there
really is no justice.

Phew! Coffee break time.



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