Law vs. justice: What is our duty in society?
Laws can't stand by themselves. Professor James Stoner explains why.
James R. Stoner, Jr. is Hermann Moyse, Jr., Professor and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute at Louisiana State University. He wrote Common-Law Liberty (2003) and Common Law and Liberal Theory (1992) and co-edited The Political Thought of the Civil War (2018) and three other books. His A.B. is from Middlebury and his Ph.D. from Harvard.
JAMES STONER: I think the rule of law only works, in the end, among people who have a sense of justice. In other words, that you can't divorce the rule of law from the virtue of justice. That doesn't mean that people aren't allowed to pursue their own interests in the marketplace. Actually, it's just for people to be able to pursue their own interests and to a large extent to pursue the good as they understand it. Actually, that's almost the definition of conscience, is to be able to act according to the law but according to your own judgment of what the circumstances require—you, who know those circumstances and everything about them because you're a human being, right, you can make those judgments. That's a specifically human capacity, something the robots can't do and the algorithms, for Pete's sake, certainly don't do. But the question is whether you can have the rule of law without conscience, without people having consciences, without people having the virtue of justice? And I guess I think you can't really.
Immanuel Kant said the perfect constitution would work even among a nation of devils, provided they were intelligent devils. If you had all the right punishments you could lead people just out of their own interests never to do anything wrong, if you could calibrate it in that way. But I think the overwhelming evidence is the other way on that one; people are clever enough, maybe I should say human sinfulness is fertile enough that people will always figure out a way around any law. The virtue of justice, it has to be there in judges, it has to be there in juries, but if it has to be there in juries, it has to be there in society generally. And I think that our sense that the law can be only something external to us, rules that just hedge us in in certain ways and don't care about our internal life in any sort of way, don't care whether we're just or unjust in our souls, in ourselves, I think that's a tremendous threat to the rule of law. So, it's a kind of paradox and the best of the classical liberals really understood this, that part of the game of classical liberalism is to make the rules a little more external, to give us a little bit more room to pursue the good as we understand it or as we see it. But that, I think, can never go so far as not to be concerned that we ourselves or that everyone who is a player in that game has a basic sense of justice, has a sense that there's a duty, a duty and conscience, to obey the just rules that are made for the sake of the common good of everyone. The ability of all people to pursue their own good is itself a kind of common good of a liberal society. It's something that we share and something that, of course, we have to sacrifice a little bit for in order to have the real benefits of.
- Can you divorce the rule of law from the virtue of justice? Immanuel Kant said the perfect constitution would work even among a nation of devils, provided they were intelligent devils.
- Professor James Stoner thinks the opposite is true. The right punishments don't lead people to behave well, we are also guided to make morally good decisions by our conscience—by our internal sense of justice.
- The ability of all people to pursue their own good is itself a kind of common good of a liberal society.
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Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>
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- Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
- The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
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Physicist Hong Qin with images of planetary orbits and computer code.
Credit: Elle Starkman
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