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A more fundamental immorality

Posted By: Michael Martin on May 28, 2010
There may be a more fundamental process at work. Social justice primarily involves acting on behalf of someone else. That a person is poor or unhealthy is a status that they possess. Social justice presumes that we act on their behalf to change their status.

I would say that it is fundamentally immoral to act on someone else's behalf without their permission and perhaps even with their permission considering the concept of enabling. One is much more likely to feel compelled to act to intervene in a change of status by a third party. We would typically act to prevent someone from being run over by a car, or to step into a shaft, or to taking candy from a baby.

The concept of social justice involves changing the status of people that may have created their own status. We thus see animosity toward attempts to stop people from smoking or drinking. Likewise, when people suffer lung cancer or consequences from drinking, there is a reticence to intervene in what is seen as a status choice.

So I would say the first principle of social justice is to establish a basis for action. We generally do not recognize a sin of omission unless there is a change of status involved: Good Samaritan laws for example. We may obligate people to act when a person's status is in imminent danger of being changed by a third party. Kitty Genovese for example.

A person's status is fundamentally theirs. To act on their status without their permission is to usurp their rights, something fundamentally immoral as it turns them essentially into a slave.

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 A more fundamental immorality by Michael Martin on May 28, 2010
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