From The Righteous State
by Severin Christensen
2. —The Law of Compensation as a Social Law of Nature
So we have defined the just as the principle, which is supposed to, in all social interactions to balance payment and repayment, so that they counterweight each other (i.e. so that the compensation is worth the same as what is received), and so that the result will be that everyone gets and keeps his, or what in value equals it. If more have participated in the yield, the principle says that if they have all yielded the same, the compensation should be the same; have they yielded in various degrees, the compensation should be according to the yield individually. That those, who have suffered a loss or a violation ask for compensation from him, who have caused the loss or the violation is likewise in accordance with the principle of justice.
This is such a principle, which demands the use of qualitative and quantitative estimations. (“Rightfulness” means the right measure)
The justification of introducing this principle of equal reciprocity or compensation as definition of the just and thereby the basis of Ethics, will follow from this, that it can be demonstrated to be the expression of a completely constant social law of nature, which rules supreme with unrestricted validity all over, where co-existence is found, in the most different periods of time and in the most varied regions.
This urge for quantitative and qualitative balance has in reality deep roots in the fauna; yes it can be traced far down in the unconscious organic world. If you seek the roots of such terms as compensation, reparation or regeneration in the organic world, one may find a hint to the understanding of the for long not explained fact, that the perception of equality (measure for measure) has forced itself into such a prominent and widespread notion in the conditions of the human society.
The first seeds to the wish for counterbalancing must be sought in the organic, consciousless tissue in plants and animals. If organic tissue suffers an injury, are forces at once put to the task of healing the loss. If, for instance, parts of the tissue are lost, they are regenerated, and normally more smoothly the least complex said tissue is. Plant-wounds often close completely, whole limbs gets repaired in lower species. If animals like ciliates are cut in two, a new animal is created from each part; even more advanced animals like starfish and earthworms can accomplish the same. If an arm is cut from a starfish, it grows out fast again – yes, a removed arm can even become a whole new starfish. Higher up in the fauna the ability to supplant is less developed, while the salamander recreate both limbs and tail, fish only recreate the tail, and in humans it is only small parts of the skin. Interesting, it is to follow such a work of reparation in an individual, for instance, the healing of a wound. One can see, how the migratory cells insistently work to cover the loss of tissue, how small new vascular bundles grow into that layer of cells to get it nutrition, yes, the most wonderful is almost how, when the loss has been covered, they again my magic powers are commanded to stop, so that no overproduction of tissue takes place. Then when the new histo-genesis has reached the level of the skin, growth is normally stopped to make room for the epidermal tissue, which from the edge of the wound places a cover over them: the organism do not want to suffer a loss, but it is satisfied by having its losses covered.
Also in the inner organs interesting supplanting take place. If the spine is attacked by tuberculosis and crumbles at certain points the organism raises in turn in the most ingenious ways buttresses and arcs to support the carrying capacity. If the heart’s ability to pump threatens to give in because of mechanical obstructions to the blood circulation, this disparity is over time levelled by growth in the cardiac. Especially of interest is the growth in singular physically handicapped of an appropriate overproduction of self-esteem, in effect a pure mental balancing.
The philosopher Edv. V. Hartmann has in line with his teaching about the unconscious activity in mental life introduced the following interesting observation: the bird repairs its nest, the spider its net, the snail its house and the bird a bit of its suit of feathers. The first are ascribed to instinct, but they are all parallel, after all. It is an unconscious idea about goal, connected to a will to reach it, and yet we do not know exactly where the beginning of the animal’s own body is In organic reparations, too, an unconscious impression of the vital necessity must be the most important reason for the reparation. So there is no difference between instinct and ability to heal. It is not ruled out that a will by the measures could rest in the lower nerve centres.
In organisms of a higher rank the nerve system determines special and more complete ways to meet hostile attacks. The nerve system make up for the less developed ability to mend itself; it facilitates feelings of pain, whose task it is to give the alarm to the whole organism, furthermore it leads this alarm into one or more centres so that all of the organism feel solidarity with the attacked tissue part; it is capable of organizing movements to remove the source of pain. It is not necessary for the organism to possess a brain (consciousness), to have these congenial reactions to appear. If one tries to torture a frog, whose head has been removed, the rest of the animal will make an attempt to flee; if acid is placed on one of its back-legs, the frog begins to wipe it off by rubbing the legs against the body, and if one restrict the animal from doing that particular movement, it begins to use the other legs as well. Also among mammals such defending movements are observed during unconsciousness, against stings from needles, for instance, closing of eyes when touching the eye-able. It is from sub-centres in the spine marrow that all this activity branch off.
But it is rather through assisting from the brain that the higher orders of animals become able to satisfy their need for replacements and assert their undamaged conditions to the surroundings to any appreciable extent. Only the brain brings along the ability to make active attacks, to initiative at all, to gain experiences, to assert from where the danger will lurk the next time, to prevent attacks, for instance by paralyzing the enemy and render him powerless, so that the possibility of renewed attacks is lessened, or even to keep the impressions and shape intentions, so that these attacks can be put off until a convenient time, to attach various affects to the inflicted injury in a convenient way and to the planned intentions. Emotions like anger and rage can be useful weapons to the organism; undoubtedly they provide the individual with a physical force and a courage, which it does not under normal circumstances possess. This is sufficiently confirmed through daily experience and abundantly from sicknesses of the mind, where they dominate the pathological picture. During pathological rages women appearing rather week can deliver almost unbelievable physical manifestations, and proof of their extraordinary conditions are given promptly afterwards by the subsequent loss of weight and relaxation. That the affects can run amuck and hurt instead of being beneficial, is not denied; therefore, it is an even more fulfilling condition, when they are controlled and regulated by superior centres.
From rage and anger there is still one step to an emotion, which plays an important part for the full understanding of the concept of justice, i.e. vindictiveness. If the attacker flees, anger and rage are completely powerless in themselves. Revenge presupposes the ability to remember the wound inflicted, to contain its source and to shape an (pleasurable) intent to inflict this damage through interventions in the enemy’s sphere of power. Revenge comes from the former more animal tendency to reparation; in its more reflected forms it leads to the feeling of justification. As people gets developed in intelligence and culture, its needs increases, its sphere of interest widens, the ego is not just the quantity, which is kept within the epidermis cuticle, it contains all of what I possess (what I consider my possessions); an organic entity so high-ranking as cultural man would experience any intervention in this extended I as a true wound, which must be repaired: so therefore more and more possibilities for collisions with the outer world arise, more and more sore spots, and still more to assert. But to keep up with it also the measures use must be widened and sharpened: the organism cannot restrict itself to defence, to keep what it already has, it must also actively, yes preventively, act and create ingenious measures to offensive recapture of the lost, re-establishing the whole.
It is also seen among primitive people who revenge runs through all levels from the blindest rage to the most sophisticated and refined forms.
The aim of revenge to seek compensation for an inflicted violation can be fulfilled either by seizing privileges at the cost of the enemy or by inflicting positive damage on him. That this last mode of revenge springs from the same tendency cannot be doubted, as since the higher organisms consider their sphere of power as a part of themselves, it is easy to understand that the weakening of the enemy’s sphere of power may lead to a recreation of their former mutual relation; relatively the distribution of power becomes the same as originally.
Revenge has in its primitive forms yet so much of an spontaneous reaction in it, that its instigator without petty calculation of the proper target, blindly throws himself at his enemy; but there is no doubt about the purpose: at recreate, to balance the loss, is the sinister driving impulse. And as afterthought little by little forces its way in, measure for measure becomes a more and more conscious principle. The emotion is forced so much to the background, so that the damage can be closer examined, numeric assessments are being done of it and thereby a more accurate equation. From being a blind phenomenon of reaction the regenerated revenge in its reflected form exalts itself to be recognized as a sound principle of justice and as an indispensable part of the social mechanism. As an example it can be pointed out that the intimate connection between revenge and the common sense of justice is assumed in the old, Danish provincial laws. The Jutlandic Law juxtaposes killing as revenge and killing as self-defence – as opposed to the killing of an innocent person, which means that the law in reality acknowledges that the satisfaction reached by violence in and of itself is a fair claim. What can be considered reparation cannot, especially in matters of mental violation, objectively be assessed. The mental violence comes from organic destruction of brain-parts, and the measures which are needed for their reparation are individually diverse and varying in each case. Hence the incalculability in terms of revenge.
Until now only one of the roots to the principle of justice has been mentioned, the one by power enforced equation, the hostile, from vindictiveness sprung equation. It roots deeply, as we have reason to believe, in the vegetative and comes from the distaste for suffering losses, from its ardent wish to claim not being harmed in a specific area, which it considers to possess (an expression which one also dare to use about the unconscious). Apparently, this tendency does not lead to the principle of justice; the concept a just revenge can only appear as a conscious reflection about the damage of the unproportioned retribution to a continued social co-existence; the complete quantitative calculation, which a just revenge has, is unthinkable without that assumption. From the vegetative depth the sinister interests with relentless claims push up, it is the task of the reflection to accommodate their needs by working it through and learn from experience. Even more important to understand the concept of justice is the peaceful equation, based on agreements or quiet settlements. Until now there has only been talked about the reparation of losses, but there is another equation, not less important as a social factor, which consists of peaceful exchanging of valuables. It appears according to experience as the only possible condition for social co-operation, it has as it is the same root as the hostile equation: the distaste of suffering within a certain field, and it is the practical elaboration of this tendency all over where peaceful communities are found; if a peaceful exchange of valuables shall take place, it can only happen under equal consideration, if loss on either side should be avoided and mutual advantage be achieved (between these considerations there is apparently only one adversary, as we soon shall see).
The peaceful equation will show up, as soon as in society common projects appear, unsolvable by the individual like common defence or building bridges, which are in the interest of all, or more limited common tasks, which demand the co-operation of two or more (blood brothers’ oath, guilds). Maybe it is, after all, trade, which gives us the most glorious examples of the realization of the principle; trade has flourished long before the states were grounded, and there is hardly any doubt that the appetite for exchange along with the vindictiveness has been the thing, at the earliest to pound the idea of justice into the human race.
To have a trade take place both parties must think they get an advantage by it; without this being possible, no driving force. To the buyer A, A + x (the article) must be > A + y (the money), to the trader B on the other hand, B + y must be > B + x; after the exchange both parties will feel enriched, that is subjectively there has not been an exchange of equal values, on the contrary, if it had been so that x subjectively was = y, the exchange would never have taken place. The equality lies in the objective assessment, an assessment of the exchange value of the article or value in dealings, in no way anything arbitrary, but an assessment, which experience little by little settles in the mind, and which varies over time; exactly because it is not determined by a subjective fancy it makes possible to fulfill actually or apparently the needs of both parties sufficiently. Articles, which in trade are assessed as having the same values, are called fungible. Since there is only a very few of these, the circulation of them are enormously facilitated by the use of a go-between, which can be fine adjusted, and which is almost constant, that is the money. By that a high degree of equal worth can be reached, which is why the Romans called them certum. From what has been said the great mission of the objective assessment of equal worth to social co-existence is apparent. Just as it has great importance to find the right measure of value of the articles, it is likewise with the salary, which can be considered fair for the work done. At it is a sign of sound societal conditions, when the salary does not move too far outside of the equal compensation; it is of great importance to business that no disturbing forces from outside gets the possibility of dumping the salary down under the agreement, but just as wrong is it, if it becomes disproportionately large.
So a closer consideration of that principle, which the Greek and Roman philosophers found at the bottom of their unwritten laws and which they granted universal validity, show us, how this truly deserves the name of natural justice (jus natural), because it has its roots deep din in the organic conditions of life.
Yet, even though fairness is a concept, which is based on the perception on equal value, it has nothing at all to do with the theoretical “human equality”, so that it should indiscriminately aim at distribution to all people of the same. (This is just one of countless misconceptions of fairness). Fairness is very far from tarring all with the same brush, since on the contrary it begins by assessing the differences in each, that is the difference in their work or offense, and corresponding to this they are given completely unequal measures A/B = a/b. Where it puts a sign of equation, the individual income will always be found on the one side.
We have not gathered some presuppositions to evaluate the question, which was posed at the beginning of the chapter, whether the term fairness could be seen as a primary concept or as a secondary one, derived from the positive legislation. Do you have to agree with Rée, when he in connection with the quotation above says: “consider that a theft is not followed by the judgment of society: suffering is the consequence, which is proper. Then one would probably try to achieve indemnity, perhaps even retribution in an egotistical sense, revenge, but one would never come up with the idea: the deed in itself deserve punishment as proper retribution, apart from our personal suffering”. It appears to me beforehand even more implausible that one “should get the idea” that the deed in itself deserves painful retribution, because the law or others declare, that it deserves it. Logically, it seems totally impossible to come from the first to the second. The assessment fair – unfair has been shaped long before state and legislation, probably the trade relations have been one of the most important sources to its coming into being. The objective compensation of an article, the right price is not assessed by authorities – there role seems rather to be that of obscuring the assessment; it is fastened little by little from experience, a transaction cannot happen without the concept of the right compensation; if one sells ones work, one’s time, likewise assessments based on experience will be found, which are the proper ones. But it is not only the quantification of the compensation, which experience assesses, it can just as well without interference from authorities assess “the idea that some things deserve retribution!” What is meant by that in this context? When A lends B. an article, this action deserves a retribution, i.e. that it is returned, or some other compensation. More precisely expressed it means that B owes A something in return. Should it be impossible for B to recognize this debt without help from the authorities? Without stressing the origin of the concept of debt further it may after all be considered plausible that the practice in business-life concerning its demands on credit just as well would be able to create the principle itself of respecting debts as the assessment of what the debt in any actual case quantitatively and qualitatively contains. As it is any outer authority would never be able to impose such a sanction; inner respect for the principle can only be accomplished through personal experience about its consequences. If we imagine the principle ultimately sanctioned in the trading field, it will possibly spread to the other areas of life, and here and there will one, also in spiritual matters, find actions of either good or bad, which deserve retributions. When credit and matters of debt are finally recognized as a practice worth respecting, one must logically just as well admit ones debt to another as the opposite, and the conclusion: I deserve punishment for this and that deed! will just as little need authoritative support to be drawn: You deserve punishment!