The Emotions of a Theory of Justice

Cohen’s criticism of Rawls is that Rawls’s theory doesn’t have any emphasis on the necessity of ethos.  There is no scheme or method on how to cultivate the emotional state of people to be emotionally engaged with the principles of justice.  For Rawls, what makes a society just is if they have laws and regulations that are just, which are then enforced and upheld by just institutions.  For Cohen though, this isn’t enough.  There also needs to be an emotional consensus among the people that the principles that govern them are just and as a result, here’s the crucial part for Cohen, they begin to incorporate those principles into their personal lives.  He responds to Rawls by saying a society isn’t just just because it’s institutions maintain the difference principle.  What else is needed for the society to be just would also be that the people work to maintain and follow the difference principle in their daily lives outside of the background institutions.  There would be an ethos amongst the people of a commitment to the difference principle that went beyond just institutions but actually influenced how they live their personal lives day by day.

Here, we would see a lot of agreement with Nussbaum.  She argued that even beyond a society needing to have an ethos to be considered just, a society won’t be stable unless we cultivate the correct emotions.  Her argument is that logic and reason alone won’t be enough to motivate people to follow laws and regulations.  We could have all the most logical sound laws and regulations, and have citizens who are perfectly aware of the logic and agree wholeheartedly, but that wouldn’t be enough to get people to follow them.  Logic and reason alone isn’t enough to keep a nation stable.  We need the cultivation of the correct emotions to come along with the logic and reason to motivate people to follow the laws.  A nation needs its people to be equipped with an emotional response to injustice and justice as well if it wants to have hope of maintaining justice.  People are heavily influenced by their emotions when making decisions and if a nation doesn’t tap into that, it may let the wrong emotions fester and make it difficult for its people to be committed to justice in their acts.  Someone may know logically why doing compassionate things is good, but if they don’t actually experience the emotion of having compassion, it’s not likely that they will work to bring about compassionate acts.  So, not only does Nussbaum argue that we need to have the correct understanding of emotions and which emotions produce what things, but we also must work to cultivate those specific emotions in the citizens that will work towards making the nation a just society. 

Now taking that one step forward, Lebron actually proposes that we begin to cultivate the emotion of shame in our society.  He wants our nation to not only feel shame for the past racial oppression of blacks, but also the current inequalities that blacks face, and the lower amount of social value that is ascribed to them.  His argument is that our nation holds to principles that say these things are bad and shouldn’t happen.  However, they are happening and they are happening here in our country.  This is a case for shame because we as a nation are falling short to uphold standards and principles that we ourselves have decided we want to live by.  Namely principles that say all people are equal in value and deserve an equal opportunity at success in life.  So, as Nussbaum has argued for the necessity of emotions in promoting justice, and Cohen saying there needs to be a common ethos, Lebron is combining both of those things and saying if we want to realize justice in this nation we need our people to have a sense of shame for the condition of black people in this country.  And it is shame we should feel because the condition of blacks came about because of a failure of us to uphold our own standards.

So, all would agree for the need of society to have emotional awareness and that the government should play a role in cultivating emotions.  Also, they would argue that a nation won’t be able to achieve justice if it doesn’t understand these two things.  A nation needs more than just rules and institutions for it to be just, it needs robust acting emotions that drive and motivate its citizens to be motivated to bring about justice.  The big difference that we will see between these three will be between Cohen, and the other two on political philosophies.  Cohen is an egalitarian, and so would lean towards favoring emotions that would promote an egalitarian conception of justice.  The other two are liberals and so would see the cultivation of emotions through the lens of political liberalism.  More than that, Nussbaum wants to cultivate emotions to a state beyond that which Cohen proposed.  Cohen argued for an ethos of justice, where Nussbaum was arguing for a state religion.  Nussbaum’s project was much further reaching and dealt with cultivating emotions that aren’t directly related to justice matters but to matters of improving the connection between citizens.  Now, this obviously will work in favor of justice but her entire project is predicated only on achieving justice, where Cohen was mainly concerned about an ethos so as to bring about justice.

Lebron would differ with Cohen, like Nussbaum, in his commitment as a liberal and an acceptance of much of Rawls’s theory of justice.  Again, this would cause a disagreement on what sort of emotions should be cultivated and to what sort of justice should they be used to promote.  Lebron and Nussbaum may disagree on to what extent we should talk about a nation experiencing a similar emotion towards the same thing.  What I mean by this is Nussbaum, wanting to keep emotions as neutral as possible, may be uneasy arguing for the country to feel a certain way about a particular topic.  Lebron is wanting all of America to feel shame for the conditions of blacks in America.  Nussbaum may be wanting to be less ambitious and more modest here and only go so far as saying we need to cultivate the emotion of shame in our citizens, but not tell them what sort of things they should feel shame about.  Nussbaum wants to cultivate emotions in the most neutral way by encouraging people to have compassion and love for others, but not tell them specifically how they should express those emotions and instead just let the emotions lead people where it leads them.  

Our three philosophers all agree that emotions are important for a society and important for a society who aspires to achieve justice.  They don’t think that logic and reason alone will get a society to where it is wholesomely practicing justice from individual levels, all the way up through the institutions.  However, they will disagree about what specific emotions to cultivate and what sort of justice we should aim to achieve.  Also, Nussbaum wants to make the importance of emotions farther reaching than just justice.  She doesn’t want to tell the whole nation how it should feel about a certain topic specifically, but just that the nation allows and uses emotions to help them make decisions.  Whereas Lebron is more willing to say that as a nation we should feel a certain way about certain things, like shame for the conditions of blacks in our country. 

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