Is ignorance bliss?

Si quieres paz, lucha por justicia. That was a bumper sticker I saw in my church parking lot this morning. If you want peace, fight for justice.

What is justice?

Plato wrote his Republic in an attempt to answer that question. He wrote in dialogues – conversations that read sort of like a play. Socrates, the lead character of the Republic, is asked to explain the meaning of justice. It takes him ten books (chapters) to do so. In the process he creates a perfectly just (to him) city so as to illustrate his point.

What is justice is not a simple question to answer. Plato was one of the great thinkers in the history of mankind. He asked pretty much every question that can be asked, philosophically speaking. Whitehead said, “All of philosophy is a footnote to Plato,” meaning that future philosophers merely added to the conversation that Plato had started.

My point is that one of history’s greatest thinkers couldn’t answer this question simply, so it seems pretty ludicrous that you or I could do so either. And if we can’t define justice, then how can we know how to act justly? It seems we operate in the same sort of way as the politician who, when asked to define pornography, answered, “I know it when I see it.”

That’s not too comforting.

Socrates argued that we operate on a continuum from ignorance to knowledge, and that most of us fall somewhere in the middle – in the realm of opinion.


To really know something, says Socrates, one must be a philosopher. You must love knowledge, and not just the knowledge of things, but the knowledge of ideas, of forms (which in the case of justice I’ll summarize as being perfect justice that exists only on another plane but that is imitated imperfectly here on earth). Only philosophers can arrive at understanding this perfect form of justice and, because philosophers will never be rulers, we can never achieve perfect justice on earth.

Again, not too comforting.

Still, the fact that all of us feel within us a desire for justice and a surety that it does exist despite the contrary evidence all around us, well that fact points to the existence of justice somewhere.

C. S. Lewis said that just as our thirst indicates that there is something (water) that will slake it, so does our desire for justice indicate that there is such a thing as perfect justice. Just because we are thirsty in a desert and unable to slake our thirst doesn’t mean that water does not exist. So it is with justice, only its perfection exists on another plane. We are in the desert. But someday we will experience justice in the presence of God.

This is the thought that gives me the greatest comfort: that someday, somewhere justice will be realized. I believe it intrinsically. It’s the only thing that keeps me from going crazy in our unjust world.

Categories: Brain Workouts

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3 replies

  1. You do realize that the Supreme Court has a viewing room in the basement so they can determine if something is or is not pornography. I don’t know that for sure, but I believe it intrinsically.

  2. The other Big M says, “Just look at David Souter.”

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