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On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy.

Citing Alasdair MacIntyre, Goodman acknowledges that all rational enquiry is embodied in a tradition. The author makes explicit the tradition in which he chooses to work. It is a tradition grounded in the Torah and developed through the ages by the Spinozas and Mendelssohns of every period. Yet Goodman is a philosopher, and though he may speak with a distinctive accent, his outlook is one that can be embraced by anyone who is convinced that justice is not a matter of convention but is grounded in the very nature of things. Divided into six chapters, the book offers first a general theory of objective justice and then chapter-length reflections on punishment, recompense, natural justice, messianism, and immortality.

In his preface, Goodman advances two theses: that justice considered as a virtue cannot be understood apart from the requirements of objective equity, and that justice is not simply the execution of formal obligation. Equity does not create but rests upon desert. He writes, "The deserts of human subjecthood underlie ... (the more fundamental relations among persons) and provide the necessary groundings which theories of contract and consent alone cannot provide" (p. xi).

Yet the life of the law is through community. Morals are not simply a matter of personal conscience but are reflective of a larger social ethos. Making a distinction between desert and earned desert, he suggests that legitimate rights are "claims founded in the deserts of every being in relation to the interests of all others" (p. 32).

In an insightful chapter on the moral foundations of punishment, Goodman finds that punishment responds to an affront against civil trust: "Utilitarian theories of deterrence and idealistic programs of reform lack the restraints and recognition of desert that a properly retributive account of punishment affords." Retribution is not vengeance. "The premise of retribution is that crime involves a violation of the norms, dignity, and composure of society, quite apart from the harm to particular interests" (p. 47).

In discussing the rationale for a given course of action, Goodman steers between what he takes to be deontological and teleological justifications, although he acknowledges that "both claim a warrant of rationality: teleology in the adjustment of means to ends; deontology, in the seeming omni-sufficiency of rightness" (p. 77). Critical not only of Mill but also of Kant, Goodman maintains that goodness does not require but already contains its reward. There are meaningful and worthwhile actions quite apart from any external recompense. Virtue is intrinsically rewarding and of its nature is conducive to further acts of self-achievement. Although a single act may not attain its just desert, in a certain sense, even martyrs conquer death. "Every act of purity and goodness endures forever sub specie aeternitatis."

Chapter 5, entitled "The Messianic Age," introduces a distinctively Jewish theme. According to Goodman the messianic idea must be understood as primarily a vision of the Torah as realized in history. All prophecies of Israel's hegemony have to be interpreted as pointing to a particular manifestation of a universal truth, that is, "through the idea of God justice will be kept alive and imparted not only from generation to generation but from nation to nation" (p. 179). From that vantage point Israel's spiritual mission may be regarded as that of a light unto the world.

In a concluding chapter, Goodman defends the rational necessity of leading a moral life although "the grave be the end of man." The claim that morality requires immortality is mistaken, and is foreign to the Mosaic outlook. "The Hebrew Bible is manifestly a life-oriented rather than a death-oriented canon" (p. 196). He continues, "The demand for an afterlife is a rejection of the intrinsic worth of the life we have. It flies in the face of biblical theology, morals and cosmology because it clashes with the recognition of the goodness of being, which is the basis of that cosmology" (p. 202). When the Torah instructs us to harken to the word of God, it is calling us to perfect our humanity, to become as God-like as possible. Virtue is its own reward; "divine justice" is to be found in the natural order. A life led in accord with time-transcending moral principles is an expression of eternity. So, too, is the creativity of the artist, the work of the scientist and the physical accomplishments of the athlete. "We attain to immortality ... when we transcend the facticity of the given: in procreation, in education, in creative work, in overcoming any of the limits that bind and confine the fullness of our being as moral actors, spiritual and intellectual beholders of the universe, ourselves and one another" (p. 234).

On Justice is clearly written, comprehensive, coherent, and at times almost poetic. While it appropriates a language characteristic of classical and medieval philosophy, it never deviates from a naturalistic interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, which Goodman presents as an important, although literary, source of insight into human nature and its fulfillment.
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Author:Dougherty, Jude P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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