Thursday, September 2, 2010

Notes: Thursday, September 2, 2010

The latest on the N.S.W. same-sex adoption Bill

Also, a story from the other day which I seem to have missed earlier (it came to my attention via yesterday's CathNews):

"Keneally denies Greens deal on adoption"

A 'female-to-male transsexual' on the differences between men and women

In an opinion piece in today's Herald: (warning: The article could be an occasion of sin for some readers)

[Dr. Bettina] Arndt told [the opinion piece's author, Mr. Paul Sheehan] her favourite person in [her latest] book is a transsexual, Anita Wolfe Valerio, who became Max Wolf Valerio, and wrote a memoir about the metamorphosis from woman to man. In The Testosterone Files, published in 2006, Valerio confronts, from first-hand experience, the divide caused by differing male and female testosterone levels: ''Now that I am Max, I see this rift, this fundamental chasm between men and women's perceptions and experience of sexuality, is one that may never be bridged. There certainly can be no hope for understanding as long as society pretends that men and women are really the same, that the culture of male sexuality is simply a conflation of misogyny and dysfunction. That the male libido is shaped and driven primarily by socialisation that can be legislated or 'psychobabbled' out of existence.''

'Historic' Labor-Greens pact

Mr. Muehlenberg on justice: "Biblical justice", retributive justice, and distributive justice

I don't have time to do a proper rebuttal, or at least critique, of Mr. Muehlenberg's post, so I'll just offer a few thoughts without weaving them into a properly-structured essay:

Mr. Muehlberg says that his intention in writing that post is to

concentrate on just two [kinds of justice]: retributive justice and distributive justice. The former goes back at least to Aristotle and means simply, “to each man his due”. It has to do with giving people what they deserve. Thus we speak about ‘just deserts’ and so on.

The latter term is a more recent concept, and has to do with equality of outcome, and redistributing certain goods, including wealth, to ostensibly help out the less fortunate. It is what is often meant when the left – both secular and religious – speak about social justice.

Now the first problem is that it is justice in the broadest sense of the word, not justice in the narrower sense of retributive justice, which is said simply to render to each his due. Retributive justice is concerned with rendering to the evil-doer what is his due, namely, a punishment proportionate in severity to the severity of his evil-doing. Before reading Mr. Muehlenberg's post I had never heard of the term 'retributive justice' being used to describe anything other than the justice applying to evildoers.

As for distributive justice: As regards the virtue of justice among humans (obviously neither Mr. Muehlenberg nor I are concerned with justice towards God, which is the virtue of religion), there are two 'sub-virtues', so to speak, under it: Commutative justice and social justice. Commuative justice is individual-to-individual justice, whereas social justice is individual-to-society or society-to-individual justice. Sometimes the term 'social justice' is (or perhaps I should say "before the term 'social justice' was appropriated for describing what would be at best really social charity, and at worst assorted politically-correct causes, the term 'social justice' was ...") used only for individual-to-society justice (otherwise the term 'legal justice' is commonly used, since the individual's duties as a member of society are prescribed for him by law), while distributive justice is society-to-individual justice. All distributive justice means is that the burdens and benefits of being part of a society are distributed to each member of society in proportion to each member's talents and abilities and capacities and so on. So there is nothing sinister or 'un-Biblical' about the term at all; the alternative to distributive justice would be the injustice of burdens and benefits being conferred on everyone without taking into account the burdens and benefits which they have already received from nature or other circumstances.

Mr. Muehlenberg goes on:

At the risk of oversimplifying matters, it seems that the notion of retributive justice is more closely aligned with biblical notions of justice, while distributive justice is further afield from Scriptural principles. But this can hardly be defended adequately in a brief article, even in a most superficial fashion.

But although Mr. Muehlenberg goes out of his way to stress that he does not intend to offer an exhaustive treatise, he is still signalling that it is his opinion that distributive justice is "further afield from Scriptural principles". That opinion is clearly fallacious given the outline which I have provided of the true meaning of distributive justice, but the basis for this opinion becomes clearer in his next paragraph:

We would need to closely examine biblical terms such as justice, righteousness and the like. We would need to look at contemporary economic options as well. And we would need to study the historical record to see whether wealth redistribution has in fact worked, and really helped the poor. But let me tease things out just a bit more here.
[my emphasis]

So Mr. Muehlenberg's focus is on wealth redistribution--by 'distributive justice' he seems to conceive of something involving redistribution of wealth/income in order to achieve "equality of outcome". But distributive justice does not mean taking some of the wealth and income of the rich and transferring it to the poor so that they have equal wealth and income. It just means that when the government seeks to impose a burden on its subjects it needs to take into account what burdens and benefits they already have, and likewise for distributing the benefits of living in society. So as regards wealth redistribution, there is not necessarily any sin against properly-understood distributive justice involved in allowing inequality of wealth and income to persist, but there would be a sin against distributive justice on the part of the government if the government were to treat poor people the same as rich people, e.g. by taxing them all at a flat rate of taxation. Mr. Muehlenberg should have no problem agreeing that such a thing would be unjust, given that he agrees that "treat[ing] unequals equally ... is neither fair nor just."

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Stephen, King, Confessor, A.D. 2010


Matthias said...

Tony Abbott makes the comment that Bob Brown has integrity and questions why he should join with Labor. I agree but then the Greens only have integrity for themselves and damn the rest.
As for Mr Muehelenberg's article,i think we need to remember that he is from America,a product of that episentre of evangelicalism-Wheaton college ,and i think tries to bring an Americanised view of things to the Australian context

James said...

I think that Matthias's comments about Bill Muehlenberg are accurate. Mr Muehlenberg, happily, avoids every trace - in his writings and other public pronouncements, and for all I know, in private as well - of that visceral and deranged anti-Catholicism which has been America's default mode ever since the late 18th century. Alas, as is the case with C. S. Lewis and with all other Protestants of good will, he is utterly parasitic upon Catholic teaching whenever he says anything sensible. He is further handicapped by allegiance to Americanism, a notion that Leo XIII condemned more than a hundred years ago.

Matthias said...

To be fair to Bill .he does write about his admiration for catholic social ethics ,and makes comments about differences in theology,but when it comes to fighting evil i think he and the Catholic church would see eye to eye. My only complaint ,as that as he is American he is seeking toimpose an american view on justice-social or otherwise,that is foreign to the Australian context.For example why is it the the UK outlawed slavery after a long campaign by Wilberforce and others ,whilst the US had a Civil war over it ,amongst other issues.
why do we Australians accept medicare as a form of unoviersal health care going back nearly 40 years whilst the US has had to battle? It is because of differwent views on social justice ,and I would hazard a guess as a proddy and say that the Catholic church in Australia was one of the influecnes behind such things. Chifley's 'LIGHT ON THE HILL' could be an exmaple.Sadly the ALP is no longer working class oriented but chattering class ,as the cardinal has so rightly included on this blog

Cardinal Pole said...

Interesting quotation from The Weekend Australian last Saturday:

"Kevin Rudd's great nemesis, liberal economist Friedrich Hayek, once wrote: "I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can tender to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed ever again to employ the term 'social justice'.""