Does any one concept trump them all?

A bit of dialectical philosophy for you:

Fictional character A: “Would you forgive me for what I did, as you say you would be prepared to forgive him?”
Fictional Character B: “Would you want me to?”
A: “Yes. Yes I want to be forgiven.”
B: “… you’d do it again though wouldn’t you?”
A: “You think that?”
B: “Yes.”
A: “I suppose you’re right. Fine, then this. Would you forgive your teacher his failings?”
B: “Perhaps. He didn’t mean to do what he did.”
A: “Ah! And because I planned, and he blundered, I am more beyond forgiveness than he?”
B: “Yes.”
A: “Then answer me this: would you forgive your best friend or lover if they committed some crime like mine? Or helped someone else commit one?”
B: “Yes I probably would.”
A: “And what’s the difference between your best friend or your lover and I?”
B: “You aren’t them.”
A: “You mean you love them.”
B: “Yes.”
A: “And love is more important than justice.”
B: “Sometimes, yes.”

Do you agree that love is more important than justice? Do you think love should always come above all things? Or would this lead to catastrophic, selfish ends?


  • Depends. Important to who? Civilisation mostly works best when justice is impartial, individuals have their loyalties and are far from impartial.

  • None is more important, and both are impossible. You can only do the best you can with who you are.

    Mark Blasini

  • Thanks for your comments. John I agree that justice works best when impartial, and Mark I agree that neither can be said to be more important, since both depend on context. But here lies the issue for me. It would obviously be pretty ludicrous to say that I think justice is a more important part of my marriage than love. However it doesn’t mean that I dismiss any sense of justice. The concept of justice stems from deeply rooted psychological desires for reciprocity and empathy, and thus it is often a part of our thought processes, even if we don’t realise. In fact it’s true even in other species – the concept of justice may not be spoken about among monkeys but they expect reciprocity all the same. The dialect above suggests that it’s a choice: love or justice. Yet you can love an unjust person, and detest a just one. And you can also love a just person or hate an unjust one. It would be too simple to simply separate the two altogether.

    So this is where I would disagree with both of you. Mark, you say that neither concept exists but then what are we discussing? John, you highlighted a difference between the individual and collective. Yet although I accept a collective identity is different to an individual one it nevertheless bears similarities, since one does after all stem from the other. Thus an individual can also be impartial in their sense of justice.

  • The question also contains the idea that each concept has a fixed state and meaning

    For example, Love above all things….

    Would this include love of greed, love of control, etc,?

    Tell love it is but lust….tell flesh it is but dust? (Walter Ralegh)

    Or am I contorting the word?

    And Justice also varies on time and culture

    Tell skill it is pretension…..Tell law it is contention (same poem)

    Yes I am playing with words but the point is that one concept trumping them all would mean that the concept would always trump the others. And how can this occur when the perspective of that concept often changes.

    For example, the justice meted out in some Muslim countries (I’m thinking of honour killings) is what most non-muslims might consider an injustice (except maybe in the case of the movie ‘law abiding citizen’).

    But let me accept the vernacular definitions for a moment. Then we can still point to ideas such as ‘Let love temper justice’ and vice-versa.

    However if we consider the animal world such as the monkeys you cited, I would think love would only trump justice in the instance of a mother-child relationship. i.e. I would expect love to be withheld from an monkey which committed an act of injustice with the exception of when a mother is defending her child.

    Maybe this infers that love is an emotional hormone based response whereas justice is an instinctive cognitive response?

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