Friday, January 28, 2011

deus ex machina

Consider a war in which a country goes to war based on good reasons. They have justification for their invasion and attack. But as it turns out, their war was unjust because the information they had which they based their justification on was false. This is called subjective justification. Sometimes people may believe they are justified subjectively when they are not. Consider the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Joseph Lieberman who voted for the invasion has said that he would vote again because the information available to them at the time suggested that the invasion was justified. Thus he was appealing to subjective justification to avoid culpability. Objectively there were no WMD and links to al Qaeda but he claimed that at the time, there was subjective justification. But this is not subjective justification because there was no subjective justification (no solid evidence) even at that time to justify war.

Now imagine that a country does have subjective justification. All the best sources tell them a foreign country is a danger to their existential existence and that they must resort military attack to defend themselves. They try to avoid war as much as possible and try to obtain the best most accurate information but the information still suggests that they are under grave threat. But it later turned out that they were wrong despite their best efforts.

Now are they responsible for the damages and lives lost during the war? My intuition is that they are not blameworthy for the war since they had subjective justification but that they may be responsible for the damages and lost lives. Blameworthiness and responsibility are not the same things though they usually suggests that one implies the other. Take for example a small child who breaks a window by accident. The parents are not blameworthy for the breaking of the window but they certainly are responsible for it. In the example I used, the warring nation may be responsible to try and restore the other country as much as possible to before by offering aid and restitution, etc, but they are not to blame for their actions.

Now consider our own legal institutions. They are ideally designed so that there is maximal epistemic reliability so that the guilty are made to be punished and the innocent set free. However, sometimes, the innocent are punished. No real state even "maximally" insures epistemic accuracy meaning they try their best and have the best institutions in place to insure it, never mind guarantees it. No state will ever guarantee it because it is not possible but some may eventually maximally insure it. Now is the state responsible to the people unfortunately but inevitably "falls through the cracks" despite their best efforts in the same way?

Some US states allows people who have proven that they were sentenced to do time when they had been innocent all along to sue to state and gain compensation for their loss despite the fact that the legal process in which resulted in their incarceration went wholly accordance to the law (no malfeasance and no corruption e.g. on behalf of the justice system). Sometimes the technology wasn't available at the time they were falsely convicted to exonerate them (DNA tech e.g.).

Let's say that this happened to some individual and he is found guilty in a court even when he is really innocent. Let's also say that by some miracle or some force capable of producing miracle's to force the state to the state into restitution. We will call this force "deus ex machina." This force would thereby not violate any of the state's rights. But the state may have subjectively justifiable reasons to seek to defend itself against such forced restitution, perhaps even using deadly force in return if they are not made aware of their error. So it would seem that in this case, there is a kind of irredeemably unhappy situation for all where justice may, in some form or other, lay at the feet of all sides even when they are against each other.

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