Clay Conrad writes:
[A]lmost nobody denies that, say, executing an innocent man would be a substantive injustice.
So, if there can be a substantive injustice, then there must be, by elimination, substantive justice.
Why does that follow?
Say that it’s unjust to execute an innocent man. Does that mean that every time an innocent man is not executed (three and a half billion times a day; seven billion if “man” includes “woman”), justice is done? Should we be celebrating justice every moment that government deigns to allow us to live?
That’s just silly. Much that is not unjust might be just, but more is justice-neutral.
I don’t sympathize with the position that there is no justice. I believe (because I want to, okay?) that there is justice, but it’s pretty clear to me that none of us humans know what it is. But, as the absence of injustice is not justice, so the existence of injustice doesn’t prove the existence of justice.
But how is it that we could have the capacity to know injustice without an equivalent capacity to know justice? I figure we don’t really know what anyone deserves. Any disturbance of the status quo might be just. The innocent man might well deserve, for some other reason unknown to us, to die. But killing him for the wrong reason—for the crime he didn’t commit—is unjust. In much the same way, due process is no guarantee of a just result, but punishment administered by the government without due process is intrinsically unjust.
All that’s not unjust is not just. That we have the capacity to identify injustice says nothing about our ability to know justice.