The idea of justice?
The Constitution of India begins with the promise “ to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political…….” and this clearly indicates that the idea of justice is multi-dimensional and complex.
The idea of justice changes with geography and time. Einstein would have appreciated the statement that justice is a function of space-time.
The Manusmṛiti (मनुस्मृति), is an ancient legal text. It was one of the first Sanskrit texts to have been translated into English in 1776, by Sir William Jones and was used to formulate the Hindu Law by the British colonial government.
It is variously dated to be from the 2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE, and it presents itself as a discourse on topics such as duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and others. The text’s fame spread outside Bharat (India), long before the colonial era. The medieval era Buddhistic law of Myanmar and Thailand are also ascribed to Manu, and the text influenced past Hindu kingdoms in Cambodia and Indonesia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manusmriti).
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia dated to about 1754 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi enacted the code. Code of Hammurabi : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi
Today, approximately 282 laws from Hammurabi’s Code are known. Each law is written in two parts: A specific situation or case is outlined, then a corresponding decision is given.
One of the best known laws from Hammurabi’s code was:
Ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”
Well, Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t on board with that. His quote “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is saying that if we keep punishing those we deem cruel, then we’re no better than the bad guys ourselves. It’s the whole “you can’t solve violence with violence” spiel. Many civilised countries have abolished the death penalty, but blood thirsty societies still crave lynching by mobs and ‘encounters’ by the police.
Sir Henry James Sumner Maine, is famous for the thesis outlined in his book “ Ancient Law” that law and society developed “from status to contract.” According to the thesis, in the ancient world individuals were tightly bound by status to traditional groups, while in the modern one, in which individuals are viewed as autonomous agents, they are free to make contracts and form associations with whomever they choose.
The Idea of Justice is a 2009 book by the Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen. The work is a critique and revision of the philosopher John Rawl’s “ A theory of justice” (1971). In the book, Sen makes a radical break with the traditional notion of homo economicus, or ‘rational economic man’ as motivated mainly by self-interest. He points out that children have strong notions of fairness and acute aversion to manifest injustice. In his introduction to The Idea of Justice, Sen states that “the strong perception of manifest injustice applies to adult human beings as well (as children). What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just – which few of us expect – but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.”
One of Sen’s main arguments is that the project of social justice should not be evaluated in binary terms, as either achieved or not. Rather, he claims that justice should be understood as existing to a matter of degree, and should correspondingly be evaluated along a continuum. Furthermore, he argues that we do not need a fully established abstract ideal of justice to evaluate the fairness of different institutions. He claims that we can meaningfully compare the level of justice in two institutions without positing an ideal, transcendental idea of justice.
Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” is one of those uniquely breathtaking books that comes along but rarely. It’s broad, but scientific. It seems to be influenced by Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel and other similarly broad-yet-scientific works with vast synthesis and explanatory power.
One of the reasons why Homo Sapiens dominate the earth is according to Haraki, their ability to imagine intangible ideas such as the idea of human rights.
In the present digital age driven by Artificial Intelligence, the role of algorithms is an essential element of the applications of the concept of justice. One of the challenges in delivering justice is to distribute a scarce resource to a large population. One of this is going to come up very soon with the availability of the Covid 19 vaccine. Eventually it will be an algorithm that will used for this.
In the mid nineteen eighties, I had tried to raise the question of whether the random number calculation algorithm of Maruti allocation of cars was violative of Articles 14 of the Constitution of India.
Weapons of Math Destruction is a 2016 American book written by the Mathematician Cathy O’Neil about the societal impact of algorithms. It explores how some big data algorithms are increasingly used in ways that reinforce preexisting inequality.
O’Neil, a mathematician, analyses how the use of big data and algorithms in a variety of fields, including insurance, advertising, education, and policing, can lead to decisions that harm the poor, reinforce racism, and amplify inequality.
Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.”
She posits that these problematic mathematical tools share three key features: they are opaque, unregulated, and difficult to contest. They are also scalable, thereby amplifying any inherent biases to affect increasingly larger populations.
This year the 2020 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded for the model /theory of auctions ….. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2020 was awarded jointly to Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats.”
We may expect innovations in democratic processes beginning with choosing the population’s representatives and the algorithms of collective opinions and decision making.
Algorithms that are ‘just’ is the next step in the ‘idea’ of justice.