Is Justice a Shared Fiction?
During Rhetoric Lecture, 1:25-2:15 on Fri, Feb 5, via this special Zoom link.
Reading: Harari, Chapters 6 and 8.
In recent classes, we’ve read roughly the first third of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, in which he argues that large-scale human organizations depend on shared fictions. Because everyone buys into these myths, mere acquaintances—even strangers—can engage in trade, collaborate on projects, and simply socialize. Looked at from this angle, the concept of justice is itself a shared fiction, one that helps resolve disagreements by identifying who’s right and who’s wrong, channelling outrage in ways that reaffirm rather than trample the social contract.
Yet even as Harari helps us understand how an ancient Babylonian thought he was doing right in owning another human being, Harari’s model would seem to deprive us of the capacity to judge that Babylonian as wrong in his thinking—or (more pressing) to judge a 19th century American slaveowner. In Ch 8, Harari suggests that all social hierarchies are in one way or another “unjust”, but on what grounds does he make this judgement? Two chapters earlier, didn’t he assert that there is no way to escape the “prison walls” of an imagined order?
In preparation for the first in our series of Team Forums, read chapters 6 and 8 in Harari, then post either:
- your answer to this philosophical quandary,
- an insight of your own, applying Harari to the world we live in, OR
- a question that you’d like for Team D faculty to address during the forum.
We will be reading your posts the morning of the Team Forum, so to aim to submit yours by 6am, Fri, Feb 5.