On Justice

BookOn Justice

On Justice

An Essay in Jewish Philosophy; with a New Introduction

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 20th, 2008





What is fair? How do rights join hands with generosity? How can punishment be justified? Is there recompense for human suffering? What sense can we make of immortality, or of the idea of a messianic age? In On Justice Lenn Goodman offers the first general theory of justice for more than a century to tap the riches of the Jewish tradition—biblical, rabbinic, and philosophical—and bring its texts into dialogue with the classic works of Western ethics and political philosophy.
Against the backdrop of conversation he opens up—with Saadiah, Halevi, Maimonides, and Spinoza, with Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls—Goodman develops a fresh, ontological approach to the core issues of ethics, politics, and the human condition. The original ideas of On Justice will engage both Jewish and non-Jewish philosophers and students of society and ethics.

‘Nothing is more important for our common culture than genuine dialogue between the different and often rival moral and religious traditions that contribute to it. Goodman’s On Justice is a remarkable statement of what we all have to learn from the Jewish tradition of thought and practice. It is a book for moral philosophers, but it is also a book for everyone with moral concerns.’
- Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame

‘Lenn Goodman’s On Justice returns the question of ontology to the heart of ethics.’
- Alan Mittleman, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

‘There are few books of “Jewish philosophy” among the many Jewish books being published of late, and even fewer that really live up to the name “philosophy”. Most of them are studies in the history of ideas. On Justice . . . truly corresponds to its subtitle; it is very much “an essay in Jewish philosophy” . . . The book is beautifully argued and written. It should attract the reflective attention of philosophically-inclined Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and even secularists willing to take religious insights seriously.’
- David Novak, University of Toronto

‘Goodman brings an impressive amount of erudition to issues that are critical to Judaism and Jewish philosophy. His chapters on messianism and the afterlife are superb.’
- Kenneth Seeskin, Northwestern University

‘Clearly written, comprehensive, coherent, and at time almost poetic. While it appropriates a language characteristic of classical and medieval philosophy, it never deviates from a naturalistic interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures which Goodman presents as an important, although literary, source of insight into human nature and its fulfillment.’
- Jude M. Dougherty, Crisis

‘Beautifully argued and written. It should attract the reflective attention of philosophically-inclined Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and even of secularists willing to take religious insights seriously.’
- First Things

‘A learned and thoughtful philosophic study on the nature of justice . . . earnestly developed and merits debate . . . even critics should agree that the book is rich with insightful interpretations of philosophic, biblical, and rabbinic texts.’
- Warren Zev Harvey, Jewish Political Studies Review

‘It presents a political-philosophical teaching that not everyone will acknowledge to be as fully compatible with Jewish tradition as Goodman contends it is. But even readers who disagree with him on this score stand to learn a great deal from him not only about the Jewish religion but also about how to view this world and how to conduct oneself within it.’
- Allan Arkush, Journal of Law & Religion


Author Information

Lenn E. Goodman is Professor of Philosophy and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. A graduate of Harvard and a former Marshall Scholar, Goodman earned his doctorate at Oxford and is a past winner of the Baumgardt Prize of the American Philosophical Association and the Gratz Centennial Prize, for his book 'God of Abraham'. He has lectured throughout the United States and in Europe, Australia, and Israel. Among his other books are 'Judaism, Human Rights and Human Values', 'Avicenna', 'Islamic Humanism', and 'Jewish and Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age'.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Preface to the Paperback Edition
Part I Toward a Theory of Justice
1 The Basis of Exchange
The Idea of Community • What is Rationality in Exchange? • Katzya and Alexander
2 Desert and Consent
Some Limitations of Consent • The Consent of the Governed • Virtual Consent
3 An Objective Theory of Deserts
Formal and Material Deserts • Is the Good Community a Utopian Ideal? • Natural Deserts and the Mosaic Law
Part II Punishment
1 The Logic of Punishment
The Problem of Legitimating Punishment • Crime and Telishment • Punishing the Guilty to Requite the Innocent
2 Retribution and Deserts
Reform and Retribution • Diminution of Deserts • Retributive Proportion
3 Punishment versus Vengeance
Biblical Vengeance • War Against Crime? • Judgment, Human and Divine
Part III Recompense
1 Deontological and Teleological Ethics
The Dialectic of Teleology and Deontology • Deontology, Teleology and Naturalism • Complementary Vanishing Points 106
2 Extrinsic Rewards
Disclaiming a Reward • Reclaiming a Reward • Toward a Synthesis
3 Intrinsic Rewards
Biblical Vignettes • A Non-Tragic Vision • An Open-ended Goal
Part IV Do Beings Receive What They Deserve?
1 Moral, Metaphysical, and Natural Justice
Two Confusions of Natural with Moral Justice • Justice and the Expression of Natures • Justice and Mercy, Favor and Grace 157
2 The Working out of Natural Justice
Action and Character • Agency and Accountability • The Sins of the Fathers 167
3 Biblical Prophecy and Natural Justice
The Former and the Latter Rain • Natural Justice and Reason • God’s Act in Nature
Part V The Messianic Age
1 Variations on a Theme
Messianism and Belief • A Middle Ground • Messianism and Realism 199
2 Demythologizing the Messiah
Who is the Messiah? • The Messianic Role • The Messianic Age and the Nations of the World
3 Accessible Messianism
The Messianic Age as a Moral Revolution • Is Jewish Messianism Romantic? • Today, if...
Part VI Whereafter?
1 Scripture and Immortality
The Search for a Biblical Afterworld • Immortality versus Afterlife • Eternal Punishment?
2 What are we to Expect?
Recompense for Finitude? • Multiple Lives? • Transcendence of the Now
3 Immortality Within the World
Whereafter • Eternity: its Immediacy and its Exclusion • The Cultivation of Immortality
Index of Passages
General Index