500 word discussion on the passage to answer question at the bottom
The authors of our text have suggested that there are no obvious or absolute “priority relations” among the six basic moral values. This means that in any conflicts posed by applying different values to cases, there are no general rules for deciding which values are more important. We have to take each case on its merits.
They might be right about this. It’s a commonly held perspective on moral values.
In the Lecture I discussed the relation between Justice and Compassion.We sometimes encounter conflicts between these two values, and I think the story of Robin Hood is the classic tale of such conflict. Robin Hood acted compassionately in robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Now I’m assuming that the rich deserved their wealth, and did not acquire it unjustly. That is, I am supposing that Robin Hood was not moved by his sense of justice, on this count (but see below). This is a controversial assumption, for there are those who would argue that the rich (or at least, the inordinately rich) could not have become that rich without transgressing some moral principle. But I will make this assumption in order to simplify the discussion. So let us assume that the rich people Robin Hood took from had not made their fortune unjustly. But even this does not mean that Robin Hood was wrong to take from them. It could be, from the perspective of some sort of duty theory, that the rich had a duty to take care of the poor, and they had failed in this moral duty. So Robin Hood was correcting their immoral behavior (not in obtaining the wealth, but in not dispensing it as they ought to). He was moved by the suffering of the poor, and the immorality of the rich in not responding to this suffering, which makes him a compassionate and moral hero. (By the way, I am not committed to this view–I am mentioning it to show you that there is much more to be discussed here than might meet the eye of our 21st. century, prior to philosophical reflection.
The questions, therefore, are:
- Is Robin Hood acting justly, or unjustly but because he is moved by compassion?
Could a compassionate Robin Hood ever be right to violate the rules of justice in order to alleviate suffering?
With regard to the second of these, I assume that the standard answer in our 21st. Century culture would be: No; justice should always win in conflicts with compassion. So there is at least one absolute priority relation between two of the basic moral values in the set.
Do you agree? Why or why not?