Creon and Moral Obtuseness

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Justice is often a set of rules or guidelines, outlining consequences for various actions. Yet, with every situation being individual in some way, there can’t simply just be one set of guidelines which is applicable to all situations. This is why in her book Love’s Knowledge, Martha Nussbaum analyzes phronesis and situationally aware justice. There’s a certain interplay when looking at justice and goodness, which becomes increasingly clear when analyzing our judicial system. Every society has a set guideline, rules and laws put in place to promote a harmonious state. Rules which state partaking in certain “unlawful” actions will result in punishment. This is the justice of the situation, the equal and fair reciprocal. The reaction to each action. Still, problems are introduced when just actions fails to correspond to morally correct actions. As every parent loves to tell their child, life isn’t fair. Phronesis, defined as wisdom or intelligence focusing on practical action, is the ability to decide what the virtuous act is. It’s the moral skillfulness you possess, and the intersubjectivity between the parties involved. We see a lack of such skillfulness displayed in Antigone, portrayed through Creon. Despite plenty of outside guidance discouraging him from sentencing Antigone to death, Creon remained locked in a state of moral obtuseness. Unable to see past his view of the just punishment he felt Antigone was deserving of. Unfortunately, Creon failed to display a developed sense of phronesis, incorrectly prioritizing the rules over morality.

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Additionally, my brother-in-law found himself in a slightly similar situation recently after he’d been rear-ended by a drunk driver around midday. Blind justice, as its often referred to, would argue that everyone should be punished fair and equally. Meaning, regardless of who the driver was and who he backed into, we should view the crime indiscriminately. Despite this, my brother-in-law drove the man home and agreed to have him pay for the repairs. Phronesis brings to light what justice fails to, the whole picture. Instead of zeroing in on the action which was unlawful, it’s crucial to consider the human aspect of what occurred. What makes us advanced as a species is our moral agent, and ability to reason beyond the surface. If the cops had been called, the driver would’ve faced multiple repercussions, possibly losing his license and paying a hefty fine. You could argue that the driver brought those upon himself, but on the flip, the driver clearly wasn’t wealthy, and most likely uses the car to commute to a job which supports his family. Therefore, is it genuinely beneficial to society to derail his life for a mistake? Same holds true for a person stealing in order to feed their baby, or someone stealing medicine which they otherwise couldn’t afford. This isn’t to endorse breaking the law, but ultimately human life is complex. Frequently, the virtuous act isn’t the just one, it’s the morally correct one.

The previous brings to question our view of the true nature of goodness and justice. This notion that people are born altruistic, is a false one. This isn’t to say humans are born cynical, and evil. We are born primal, and the intricacies of thought have yet to develop. It brings into question the balance between how much of this sense of justice we have is instinctual versus formed by society. Are we born with a sense of what is correct, and virtuous? Or over time, as we observe and learn, do we begin to see what pleases those around us? Referring back to the Ring of Gyges, hypothetically if someone were to grow up without social construct, could we expect them to have this human virtue of goodness. If this hypothetical were possible, we can imagine the subject would do what he viewed as beneficial to himself. Ultimately, isn’t that every person’s goal. Therefore, its entirely plausible that without negative reinforcement or punishment, he would never develop a sense of justice or what is equal. Comparing humans to nature, it’s clear that power hierarchies exist and the method of obtaining status isn’t the most fair at times. We often mistake a person’s character as a function of his personality rather than of his surroundings.

Ultimately, no definition of justice truly exists. Without the ability to test our hypothesis, we must only use out thought to conclude. This is where the beauty of hypotheticals lies. Each individual has offered their own insight into what they believe the nature of justice and goodness to be. Although, I argue justice is not truly good, and vice versa. This isn’t to say humans are cynical in nature, and evil people. It’s more so acknowledging the truth that everyone is slightly selfish in nature, and justice shouldn’t be viewed as this high-horse characteristic which holds a person to a high moral standard. 

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Creon And Moral Obtuseness. (2022, Apr 06). Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from
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