Yesterday, discussing talk about bullying in schools, I wrote the following:
Bullying is wrong on several levels. Were children instructed in and held to standards of justice — or even of decent manners — bullying would be taboo, and the encouragement to “speak out” (not “snitch”) would work itself naturally into the everyday talk and badinage of children.
But children have little instruction in what justice is. We had little of it when I was in school. And now “justice” seems dominated by institutions, not persons. That is, when we think of justice we think of police and lawyers and social programs. We don’t think of the rules of behavior and of standing up for what’s right on a personal level.
There is something wrong here. Not horribly wrong, but inelegantly thought-out. And I noticed it upon rereading the piece right after I published it on this site.
Justice and manners aren’t terms existing on the same logical level. Justice is a virtue in ethics, and a putative goal of law. Manners is a distinct “jurisdiction” of normative effort, on parallel not with justice but with law and ethics. Manners is a big hunk of the ceremonial domain of social life, the codified (or merely intuited) traditions that help regulate and limit and compel behavior in certain distinct ways, making social life easier. It is normative, like law. And like ethics.
Though justice is a term appropriate to both practical normative discussion where formalized coercion is the chief focus (law) as well as theoretical normative discussion where some form of reason or appeal to general interest is the focus, justice is not normally applied to manners, which tend to have the “stink” of the arbitrary about them.
It might be that this is a widespread error. It might be that justice should apply to manners as well as law and ethics.
This is perhaps worth some thought.