A Philosophic Debate Between A Modern Political Philosopher & A Devil’s Advocate About Justice, Crime & Punishment, and The American Way


Modern Philosopher: I first learned of this philosophical concept in my Ancient Democratic Theory class in graduate school while reading Plato’s Republic. The idea being that all we think we know has been largely an illusion, taught to us by others, but that we know little or nothing about ourselves. For example, what does “Justice” really look and feel like? How do you really know it when you see it? You think you may have a good idea of what it is or what it looks like, but is it something actually achieved on a regular basis in a court of law? In America, we incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world, so does that mean our legal system is the most just? I think not.

Devil’s Advocate: Do you think that because we incarcerate the most people we are therefore the most ‘unjust’?

Modern Philosopher: A very good question, and one with no easy answer. Either our “police state’s” covert and overt missions against social groups they wish to repress, overzealous enforcers of the law, our for profit private penal systems, or our citizenry bent on freedom and ignoring laws they deem unjust causes a major statistical skew towards excessive incarceration, or our country is just more authoritarian than any other industrialized nation in the world. That doesn’t make us the most unjust, just the most unjust industrialized (or rather post-industrialized) nation. The fact that we are post-industrialized might help to explain part of our problem, because as the middle class has withered and died, it has left an increasing number of impoverished Americans willing to bend the law to feed their families and follow their dreams. But no, I would say those countries that have more severe and lethal punishments for lesser crimes might likely be more unjust. Like being beheaded in the public square, or having your hands cut off for stealing. Then again, perhaps more severe and sometimes public displays of punishment might be more just than executing thousands behind closed doors. I don’t have all the answers, just plenty of questions, and that is what the meaning of the quote pictured above tries to get at.

Devil’s Advocate: Interestingly, has ‘other’ countries’ use of ‘extreme’ measures of punishment had the desired result of reducing a country’s crime rate? If cutting off a person’s hand reduces stealing in a country, is it not justified? Incarceration does not seem to work. But what then is the solution to crime? Perhaps towns of leveled security used as prisons. Mandated work for the population.

Modern Philosopher: Socrates’ solution was to establish a “just society” created via a hierarchy of Gold, Silver, and Bronze classifications, with everyone knowing their place and their role within society, and everyone striving to be the best they could be in their role within society. The Bronze were the skilled journeymen and workers, the Silver were the warrior class that defended the Nation, and the Gold were the Philosopher Kings who only wished to ensure a just society, and because of their education, had no desire for greed, power, or prestige, only that the society would function according to it’s grand design via their “just” decision making. You may have a point regarding the extreme measures argument, I would have to look at the statistics. What you suggest at the end of your post sounds like the Orwellian police-state currently under construction, and in it’s fledgling infancy in many Nations’ throughout the world.


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