Tuesday, October 16, 2007


My philosophy prof is quite the trip - - - like most ardent/aggressive atheists he spends a lot of time talking about God. He's a pretty scattered flappermouth (hmmm – I don't know anyone else like that eh?). But Monday this is sorta how the discussion went. We were talking about Janus words. The prof doesn't actually hold to the strict definition of the concept he says that a Janus word is one that has both a value association in one sense and neutral value in another. Normal could be an example of this. Normal could mean the average of collection of measures (neutral) but normal also is used to refer to nothing being wrong (value).

Anywho we started talking about the word discrimination. "To discriminate" actually is a complex Janus word because it not only has a neutral meaning (being able to distinguish between various objects or concepts – value neutral) but it has two covert value meanings (1. Neg. to let irrelevant factors count in some circumstance and Pos. to let all and only relevant factors count). The Negative meaning we all recognize when people don't allow people to be hired based on gender or racial differences. The positive we recognize as connoisseurs – people who have discriminating taste for wine or cheese. As an example of all this he held up this dilemma:

We expect judges to be unbiased in their judgements. We could say they should not discriminate (racist judges would not last long in our system) in their judgements. But in another sense we could say that judges should be discriminating in their judgements (here we mean that the judge should weigh all and only the relevant information about the case to make a precise decision). We would ask judges to care about everyone involved equally – so as to be an impartial judge. But the judge could not be impartial if either the defendant to the prosecution was his/her daughter – we would ask that judge to recuse him/herself for that case. So we could see that it would be ridiculous to expect a parent to not care more for their own kids than for other people in the courtroom. Or in our neighbourhood for instance let's say that Char and I had only $100 dollars for food. You would expect us to spend that hundred on groceries for our own kids. You would look at us weird if we were to decide to divide that money between all the children in our neighbourhood (not to mention that if we really didn't want to discriminate we might consider sharing it with ever kid in the whole world).

Enter the teachings of Christ. Love your neighbour as yourself. Is this to be taken literally? We would say yes? Stuck? Well maybe but then our prof goes on to suggest that God (the supreme judge in Christianity) was definitely not impartial. He chose and paid special attention to the Jews. Our prof then asked if we could really suggest that God was just. He pointed out that one of the central messages of Jesus was captured in the parable of the Good Samaritan yet historically according to the Biblical account God seemed to anything but impartial. So there you go. Wrestle with that one. See if you can come up with some counter proposals or other arguments – just curious how you might respond to that.

1 comment:

Freezer said...

Nobody wants to comment?

I would suggest that it is improper to view a human judge in today's world as being impartial. A good judge will discriminate based entirely on the law. She cannot show impartiality to all parties - but must be partial and completely dedicated to the law.