The Dynamic Tension Between Justice, Love and Reason in Human Society

In practice, humanity finds it impossible to reconcile our ideas of justice, love and reason with each other.  As pure philosophy, we can say that the ideal human action would embody all three.  Yet our limited mental framework and conceptions make this unworkable when we get into the world of action.  In our minds, justice seems to be carrying out the laws and applying them equally to all situations.   The ideal is sometimes called “blind justice” where it does not take into account anything other than the principle of the law.  There is little room here for the principle of love, in the form of compassion, to moderate the results, without all kinds of other considerations, such as status, connections, quid pro quo bargaining entering into the picture.  We see judges sometimes try to insert modifications into the action of justice, but frequently the result is seen as complete unjust!

The field of compassion, of love in action, is frequently therefore left to the province of religion, which asks us to treat others as we would like to be treated, to recognise the basic humanity of one another and to respond to it.  The action of compassion, when it prevails, frequently is at odds with the law.  Witness the treatment of the adulteress in the Bible when Jesus overturned the “law” of the time to let her live and walk away unharmed.

Reason also has its limitations as it does not take into account either the ideal law or the ideal of love but tries to create a logical response that might effect in some cases a compromise solution that satisfies neither.

We also fail to take into account in any of this, any wider significance of action, such as karmic consequences, evolution through time, or the lessons the soul has taken upon itself in a particular lifetime.  Thus, we may think we are helping someone, when indeed we are doing them harm if looked at from this wider perspective.  Can we intervene to help someone?  Should we?  Can we remain neutral observers when someone before us is in trouble?  Should we?  These questions have no solid answer in terms of justice, love or reason when looked at through the lens of karma and the growth of the soul.

There is a famous story of the great Tibetan Yogi, Milarepa.  He created enormous negative karmic results by taking revenge on his deceitful and greedy relatives who left his family impoverished and enslaved.  He carried out what he saw to be “justice” on them.  He later experienced remorse and went to practice Yoga under a Master.  The master set him to hard labour building, and then taking down structures.  Sometimes others tried to help him out of compassion.  But when the Master learned of this, Milarepa was given more work by having to take it all down and start over.  In the end, it became clear that from a larger perspective the Master was using these actions to work through the negative karmic consequences of his past actions.

In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “…absolute love, absolute justice, absolute right reason in their present application by a bewildered and imperfect humanity come easily to be conflicting principles.  Justice often demands what love abhors.  Right reason dispassionately considering the facts of nature and human relations in search of a satisfying norm or rule is unable to admit without modification either any reign of absolute justice or any reign of absolute love.  And in fact man’s absolute justice easily turns out to be in practice a sovereign injustice; for his mind, one-sided and rigid in its constructions, puts forward a one-sided partial and rigorous scheme or figure and claims for it totality and absoluteness and an application that ignores the subtler truth of things and the plasticity of life.  All our standards turned into action either waver on a flux of compromises or err by this partiality and unelastic structure.  Humanity sways from one orientation to another; the race moves upon a zigzag path led by conflicting claims and, on the whole, works out instinctively what Nature intends, but with much waste and suffering, rather than either what it desires or what it holds to be right or what the highest light from above demands from the embodied spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Four, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual freedom, pp. 46-47

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