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How Not to Interpret a Parable

by Tony M.

In readings on economics and justice, one sometimes comes across strange stuff. Such as a book by Wojciech Sadurski, "Giving Just Desert Its Due - Social Justice and Legal Theory".

There is actually quite a bit to like in this book, not least because he attempts quite directly (and with a certain degree of success) to take down Rawls and his theory. But there is also much to cause one to throw up one's hands in despair. Such as this:

The upshot of Hobbes argument is that the distinction between commutative justice and distributive justice is not a proper dichotomy. They do not apply to two parallel types of situation but rather involve standards located on different levels: distributive justice is a matter of “defining what is just” while commutative justice is a matter of “a performance of covenant”. Principles of distributive justice answer the question about what rules are just rather than about an obligation to obey the existing rules or to keep promises. As we are concerned with the standard of just law (and not merely with the justice of obeying valid law, irrespective of its moral value), we are also concerned with what makes a distribution produced by an agreement just, and not merely with the justice of fulfilling an agreement. In other words, the Aristotelian idea that distributive and commutative justice operate independently, applying to two distinct spheres of life (public distributions and private transactions), obscures the fact that in reality both concepts of justice apply at the same time though in a different way. ‘Commutative’ justice, in the interpretation suggested above, is identical with a vindication of legal rules; distributive justice is a matter of moral demands.

This is nicely brought out by the Biblical parable:

The kingdom of Heaven is like this. There was once a landowner who went out early one morning to hire labourers for his vineyard; … [Matthew 20: 1-16 - the author give the whole parable]

Now this is an obvious case of a conflict between the principles of distributive justice and ‘commutative justice’ reducible to the fulfillment of n agreement. Let us call, for brevity, those workers who worked the whole day, Blacks, and those who worked merely one hour, Whites. On the basis of distributive justice the allocation of their wages should be proportionate to their merit; since the only relevant information that we have about their merit is the length of their work (that is, there is no reason to suppose that their productivity, or quality of their products, was different to such an extent that it could explain the differences in wages), the just distribution should operate proportionately to the length of their work. But the second principle, invoked as an argument for equal pay, is contained in the words: “You agreed on the usual wage for the day, did you not?” The owner does not break the agreement: he gives the Blacks what he promised. The agreement became a source of their mutual legal obligation; since they exchanged their services and money in accordance with the agreement, law was respected. But the action may be both lawful and unjust. The Blacks’ complaint is not of a legal but of a moral nature. They have got their due in the legal sense, and yet they feel morally wronged because, as compared with the Whites, their contribution was not reflected in their share of the total benefit distributed. If they hadn’t know the Whites’ wages, they would not be in a position to make any judgment of justice; they would simply have to acknowledge that the wages obtained conformed to their legal entitlements.

These are, therefore, considerations of different types; the Blacks argue about social justice, the owner about his legal duty. Here the conflict between two orders of reasoning is not very dramatic because the Blacks received what they expected (before having learnt about the Whites’ wages) while the Whites have got more than distributive justice dictated. Injustice which consists in allocating more than one deserves is not a tragedy but still it is an injustice because the proportion of benefits (or burdens) is not respected. The analogy would be to a parent who punishes one of his children and forgives another one for the same misbehavior. No one has lost anything but injustice was committed because the proportion of guilt and punishment was not respected. A parent could do it because he has power over his children, but still it is not just. Similarly, in the vineyard parable: the owner was entitled to distribute wages in such a way, but it was not just. The true source of his power is disclosed in his words: “Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money”. Surely he is. Money gives him power over the allocation of wages, including power to be unjust. Being free to do what he likes, he is free to be unjust as long as he keeps his promises. But this freedom does not make his acts just, it only renders them lawful on the grounds of existing legal rules.

It is possible to conceive of objections to that way of tackling the problem. Suppose someone says that what the parable really exemplifies is not the conflict between social and legal justice but between justice and generosity. The owner asks: “why be jealous of me because I am kind?” In this question he focuses on the moral character of his action: kindness. He has decided to be generous although in an arbitrary way; he did not deprive anyone of his entitlement but he gave some workers more than they deserved. Suppose, for the sake of this hypothetical argument, that the Blacks were paid as much as they would be anywhere else, so that in terms of comparison with other workers in a community (with the exception of the Whites in this particular day) there was no distributive injustice done. Suppose also that the Whites were not otherwise treated preferentially and that this particular remuneration was a windfall rather than a part of the general pattern of privileges. We might then say that the vineyard owner was generous yet unjust, kind yet arbitrary.

If, however, we accept this hypothetical argument and view the main issue of the parable not as legal versus social justice (as I have suggested earlier) but as justice versus generosity, then we inevitably reach the limits of the moral argument within the conception of justice. The latter is unable to decide the conflicts between justice and other values. What it can do, is to declare incompatibility of justice with some other values. Justice excludes arbitrariness; generosity (in the form manifested by the vineyard owner) is arbitrary. Justice requires good moral reasons for a proposed distribution; generosity does without them; actually, part of the nature of a charitable act is that it does not have to be just. That was, in any event, the case of the vineyard owner who explicitly declined to give any reasons for his distributions other than ‘being kind’.

And yet it should be noted that even if the parable is interpreted in terms of supererogatory action rather than justice, still the legal justice constitutes the basis of the charitable act. The owner can be generous only because he has legal entitlements over his resources; therefore, he has legal power to allocate wages. In this sense, these two phrases are inherently linked: “Why be jealous because I am kind?” and “I am free to do what I like with my own money”. The supererogatory action suggested by the first sentence is made possible by the legal entitlement described by the second. In this way, charity derives from legal justice. But this only means that a legal set of entitlements makes it possible for some people to distribute goods arbitrarily, even if generously. These legal entitlements may, as in our example, provide some people with power over other people’s labour and rewards.

And the author goes on to make it clear that in his view, this "supererogatory action" interpretation in no way satisfies his basic stance that unequal application of generosity (or distribution of goods however that is achieved) is, per se, irrational, and therefore is fundamentally flawed as an approach to rightness. It cannot be explained and is thus a form of wrongness.

To get back to my title: this parable starts out with Jesus saying "The kingdom of God is like...". We know, then, that he is using human affairs to reflect on something higher. But throughout the Bible (and to all of the Jews who, who have heard the Old Testament read to them all the time), we already see that God gives to one what he chooses not to give to another. And we see Him declaiming "My ways are not your ways" and "Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?"

So, I put the question to you, dear readers: is this parable an example of Jesus showing the vineyard owner being wrong, irrational, arbitrary and in violation of distributive justice? Or has the author gone off the rails rather horribly?

Comments (11)

Wow. That's wild. Let's just say, to kick off the conversation, that Sadurski is definitely disagreeing with Jesus. That is to say, Jesus himself clearly does not intend to condemn the vineyard owner in the story as unjust. On the contrary, the vineyard owners is pretty clearly representing God in the parable, giving to some more generously than they deserve. My suspicion is that the parable foretells God's giving the Gentiles salvation along with the Jews, who have been God's people for a longer period of time and had, at that time, suffered more (qua people group) for their service to God. Jesus is condemning the begrudging laborers for envy.

Well, I think Jesus is condemning the early workers for begruding the later ones of good fortune also. But the real question, of course, is which interpretation is RIGHT.

On the contrary, the vineyard owners is pretty clearly representing God in the parable, giving to some more generously than they deserve. My suspicion is that the parable foretells God's giving the Gentiles salvation along with the Jews, who have been God's people for a longer period of time and had, at that time, suffered more (qua people group) for their service to God. Jesus is condemning the begrudging laborers for envy.

I think that the referent, which you correctly identify, is God's generosity to men generally, and God's mercy to the Gentiles in particular. And I think, also, that in order for God's act to be "explained" by this parable, it has to be the case that the vineyard owner's action is just to the early workers while being generous to the later workers. The figure is a parallel arrangement, it is precisely the rightness of the vineyard owner's behavior that God is using to elicit an understanding of God's behavior. Sadurski, I think, turns parable-izing on its head to get his construction out of it.

I suppose it's possible that Sadurski doesn't care what Jesus' intention is. Perhaps Sadurski is not, in that sense, interpreting the parable but rather giving his opinion of the scenario in the parable. Rather as if someone read the Grand Inquisitor story in Dostoevsky and then, as Ivan in fact does, decided that he agreed with the Inquisitor, even though Dostoevsky clearly is portraying the Inquisitor as wrong. I couldn't tell from a brief look if Sadurski regards himself as any sort of Christian. Perhaps the parable is just a convenient available story for him to make his own argument. Now, if he's claiming to be telling us what the _biblical_ point of the parable is, he's not only wrong politically (about justice) but also wrong hermeneutically and abusing Scripture.

Lydia is indeed correct; the parable has little relevance to earthly political economy.

Injustice which consists in allocating more than one deserves is not a tragedy but still it is an injustice because the proportion of benefits (or burdens) is not respected. The analogy would be to a parent who punishes one of his children and forgives another one for the same misbehavior. No one has lost anything but injustice was committed because the proportion of guilt and punishment was not respected. A parent could do it because he has power over his children, but still it is not just. Similarly, in the vineyard parable: the owner was entitled to distribute wages in such a way, but it was not just. The true source of his power is disclosed in his words: “Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money”. Surely he is. Money gives him power over the allocation of wages, including power to be unjust. Being free to do what he likes, he is free to be unjust as long as he keeps his promises. But this freedom does not make his acts just, it only renders them lawful on the grounds of existing legal rules.

It is possible to conceive of objections to that way of tackling the problem. Suppose someone says that what the parable really exemplifies is not the conflict between social and legal justice but between justice and generosity. The owner asks: “why be jealous of me because I am kind?” In this question he focuses on the moral character of his action: kindness. He has decided to be generous although in an arbitrary way; he did not deprive anyone of his entitlement but he gave some workers more than they deserved. Suppose, for the sake of this hypothetical argument, that the Blacks were paid as much as they would be anywhere else, so that in terms of comparison with other workers in a community (with the exception of the Whites in this particular day) there was no distributive injustice done. Suppose also that the Whites were not otherwise treated preferentially and that this particular remuneration was a windfall rather than a part of the general pattern of privileges. We might then say that the vineyard owner was generous yet unjust, kind yet arbitrary.

One could also use a similar argument to justify affirmative action, since it is the institution's prerogative (say UC Davis Medical School as in the Bakke case) to use affirmative action policies to fulfill an institutional or societal goal of increased racial or socioeconomic diversity of the student body or graduating students who are more likely to serve disadvantaged communities. I remember Peter Singer in Practical Ethics uses this argument for affirmative action, although he does elaborate on innate genetic differences between races but merely acknowledges the possibility of them. Appeals to the principle "merit", independent of the consequences of admitted students with lower standards, in such a case are therefore red herrings; in other words, more meritorious students are not more "entitled" to receive admission than those with who receive preferential consideration due to their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. This conclusion comes quite naturally in a utilitarian ethical theories since it dispenses of concepts such as justice.

And yet it should be noted that even if the parable is interpreted in terms of supererogatory action rather than justice, still the legal justice constitutes the basis of the charitable act. The owner can be generous only because he has legal entitlements over his resources; therefore, he has legal power to allocate wages. In this sense, these two phrases are inherently linked: “Why be jealous because I am kind?” and “I am free to do what I like with my own money”. The supererogatory action suggested by the first sentence is made possible by the legal entitlement described by the second. In this way, charity derives from legal justice. But this only means that a legal set of entitlements makes it possible for some people to distribute goods arbitrarily, even if generously. These legal entitlements may, as in our example, provide some people with power over other people’s labour and rewards.

Most economic transactions and contracts are not done out of benevolence or kindness but from perceive mutual interests and bargaining power, thus any appeal to "justice" is moot or serves to illuminate the realist, eliminatist position on justice in the economic realm. Now, from a context independent of any spiritual message, the parable illustrates that the decision of the vineyard owner to compensate his workers with disparate rates for their labor comes from the owner's whim and his control of his economic resources such as his money and the power of the state to enforce contracts he enters with his workers. The normative question of whether the workers should be paid in proportion to the labor they expended becomes irrelevant in this case since the differing wages that the owner pays is solely justified by his control of economic resources which grants him the ability pay his workers whatever he agrees to. Of course, there are legal and economic limits to the wages minimum he could pay, such as minimum wage laws or a market-based wage floor for manual labors set by supply and demand, but he certainly has the liberty to compensate any worker above the legal and practical minimum. The aforementioned case of compensating workers above any legal or practical minimum is not relevant to me since it is not that common in the real world, but the appeal to owner's control of economic resources to justify the owner's relative generosity to a contingent of workers (an exceptional case) would also dismiss the legitimacy of any consideration the worker's financial needs or fair treatment in the dispensation of wages or the notion of a just wage itself. The dismal conclusion is that wages can be set according to one's economic power irrespective of of any humanitarian or social concerns.

Lydia is indeed correct; the parable has little relevance to earthly political economy.

I didn't say that or intend that. Not sure where that is coming out of my comments.

Now, from a context independent of any spiritual message, the parable illustrates that the decision of the vineyard owner to compensate his workers with disparate rates for their labor comes from the owner's whim and his control of his economic resources such as his money and the power of the state to enforce contracts he enters with his workers.

But what if the owner's action ISN'T based on a whim. What if, instead, it is based on a consideration that every one of his workers needs the wherewithal for a day's support regardless of whether they were working the whole day.

Also, there is nothing in the parable that mentions the state or any backdrop of "legally enforceable contracts", there is simply the agreed wage level. People can make agreements whether there is a state or not, whether there is a law or not.

The normative question of whether the workers should be paid in proportion to the labor they expended becomes irrelevant in this case since the differing wages that the owner pays is solely justified by his control of economic resources which grants him the ability pay his workers whatever he agrees to.

Not justified "solely" by his control of the economic resources, but justified by desire to do good to his fellow man, also.

And it isn't "control" of economic resources to "pay whatever" was mutually agreed upon between two parties. It is just meeting your due obligation to fulfill your own word.

Most economic transactions and contracts are not done out of benevolence or kindness but from perceive mutual interests and bargaining power, thus any appeal to "justice" is moot or serves to illuminate the realist, eliminatist position on justice in the economic realm.

That's way too simplistic. I run into people all the time who go out of their way to NOT OVERCHARGE for a service or a good (especially sold second-hand). There is more going on than you admit.

Latias, I agree that you have captured the tenor of Sadurski's thought. You haven't made any argument about it's rightness, so far as I can tell.

If God is Love,surely any parable in it's essence must demonstrate this if the assumption as in this case is that the landowner stands in for the Lord.If love is wishing the best for the other for the sake of the other,each worker received what was justly agreed and should accept in love and not compare in envy, sinfully, because of some irrelevant rational notion of justice either commutative or distributive.

One could also use a similar argument to justify affirmative action, since it is the institution's prerogative (say UC Davis Medical School as in the Bakke case) to use affirmative action policies to fulfill an institutional or societal goal of increased racial or socioeconomic diversity of the student body or graduating students who are more likely to serve disadvantaged communities.

Indeed, Sadurski does exactly that. And one need not even appeal to the social value of getting disadvantaged communities served: Sadurski thinks it justified simply on the grounds of equalizing the benefits of medical degrees (and comparable education generally) among the whole population. Equality of outcome in who has degrees and who has the good jobs is adequate rationale in his theory.

Of course, there are unstated costs of doing this. One of them is that by NOT taking some (intellectually) more qualified person, the schools deprive society of the benefits THAT person would have given us - maybe new research, new insights in medicine, etc. It is of course allowable for a society to willingly take on less development, less progress, less improvement in order to fulfill some other good - especially when society expressly is aware of what she is giving up to make that choice (it isn't really a choice when people don't even mention the downsides that come with). But the notion that this represents a BASIC principle, that one ought to always and everywhere achieve equality even if that undercuts achievement, is a foul, pernicious notion and one that would put the lid on ALL development of wealth, all progress of material capacity, indeed all excellence in the arts and schools as well. (It is, writ large, equivalent to saying that it is better to use this money to feed 5 hungry people today than to buy a new fishing rod and feed 2 of them in perpetuity. It is condemning all the future poor to not meeting their needs any better than you don't meet needs now.) There must be a more important principle than that John has less than Joe means Joe must give some to John to achieve equality. And Sadurski doesn't leave room for such a principle. His thesis is that justice - the kind of justice that is the goal of the state and society as a whole, consists in an equalization of benefits and burdens among all.

Which, I suggest, is pretty much the same as C.S. Lewis's depiction of Satan's realm: uniform, same, dull, mediocrity.

Also, there is nothing in the parable that mentions the state or any backdrop of "legally enforceable contracts", there is simply the agreed wage level. People can make agreements whether there is a state or not, whether there is a law or not.

Well, the parable isn't about political philosophy.

Not justified "solely" by his control of the economic resources, but justified by desire to do good to his fellow man, also.

And it isn't "control" of economic resources to "pay whatever" was mutually agreed upon between two parties. It is just meeting your due obligation to fulfill your own word.


Again, while the vineyard owner's actions can be considered commendable, the question of justice Sadurski addresses deals with the distribution of goods. If he negates the concept of justice, then most economic transactions are conducted on the basis of the party's economic power (and the legal "power over other people’s labour and rewards") not on goodwill and amity. In Sadurski's assessment, the freedom of the parties to come to a mutual agreement in contracts (and all the financial and legal obligations that entails) apparently trumps any consideration of justice; the generosity of the vineyard owner is just icing on the cake. As Karl Popper stated in the Open Society and Its Enemies:

The solution to this paradox is eloquently stated by Popper as follows in The Open Society and its Enemies 4 ed (1962) Vol. II at 124 -- 5:

"Freedom, we have seen, defeats itself, if it is unlimited. Unlimited freedom means that a strong man is free to bully one who is weak and to rob him of his freedom. This is why we demand that the state should limit freedom to a certain extent, so that everyone's freedom is protected by law. Nobody should be at the mercy of others, but all should have a right to be protected by the state.

Now I believe that these considerations, originally meant to apply to the realm of brute force, of physical intimidation, must be applied to the economic realm also. Even if the state protects its citizens from being bullied by physical violence (as it does, in principle, under the system of unrestrained capitalism), it may defeat our ends by its failure to protect them from the misuse of economic power. In such a state, the economically strong is still free to bully one who is economically weak, and to rob him of his freedom. Under these circumstances, unlimited economic freedom can be just as self-defeating as unlimited physical freedom, and economic power may be nearly as dangerous as physical violence; for those who possess a surplus of food can force those who are starving into a 'freely' accepted servitude, without using violence. And assuming that the state limits its activities to the suppression of violence (and to the protection of property), a minority which is economically strong may in this way exploit the majority of those who are economically weak.

If this analysis is correct, then the nature of the remedy is clear. It must be a political remedy - a remedy similar to the one which we use against physical violence. We must construct social institutions, enforced by the power of the state, for the protection of the economically weak from the economically strong. The state must see to it that nobody need enter into an inequitable arrangement out of fear of starvation, or economic ruin."

Contrast this with Sadurski:

Similarly, in the vineyard parable: the owner was entitled to distribute wages in such a way, but it was not just. The true source of his power is disclosed in his words: “Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money”. Surely he is. Money gives him power over the allocation of wages, including power to be unjust. Being free to do what he likes, he is free to be unjust as long as he keeps his promises. But this freedom does not make his acts just, it only renders them lawful on the grounds of existing legal rules.


Surely, Popper's concerns are quite relevant in a world where the geoeconomic and technological climate favor the mobility of capital, erosion of sovereign boundaries, and an inexorable trend towards automation where labor progressively losses its bargaining power due to the aforementioned structural trends. Many economic transactions and laws are not positive-sum, "win-win" situations (such as the Apostle of free trade, Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage), but also describe grim realities such as Ricardo's Iron Law of Wages.

Popper does not invoke "justice" but he wants a proactive government that can solve the problems of the populace through "piecemeal engineering" that deals with problems amongst the citizenry (as opposed to teleological utopian engineering that consciously directs society towards a utopian goal despite the objections of the citizens). Popper's political philosophy is negative utilitarianism: the state's goal is to minimize the amount of misery rather than maximize the amount of happiness.

But the notion that this represents a BASIC principle, that one ought to always and everywhere achieve equality even if that undercuts achievement, is a foul, pernicious notion and one that would put the lid on ALL development of wealth, all progress of material capacity, indeed all excellence in the arts and schools as well.

Yep, and I would add is far from the message of the parable. One cannot get from the idea that this vineyard owner was justified in generously paying some workers more than others to any kind of justification for the kind of social engineering that is affirmative action.

Latias, the most critical clause of that Popper quote is the following:

If this analysis is correct,

For, of course, I don't think it is. Certainly not without so many qualifiers and conditionals as to render it practically null.

Let me do this 2 ways, first taking it in the extreme, then by way of first principles.

Sadurski too, with Popper, declaims against transactions that are between those with unequal economic standing. He does so with one eye to (as Popper does) those who are effectively forced to agree to poor terms because they are hungry, cold, etc. Clearly (says they) the so-called "agreement" to work for slave labor terms when one is starving and the other is at ease with plenty of surplus is not an "even" exchange. But the other eye is on an extension of that problem to forming the solution in the general, the universal, the uniform: the mere fact of economic inequality in the two parties makes the exchange unjust.

And that extension as a universal is outrageous. If two absolutely equal parties, both having surplus and neither needing to enter into the transaction for a "need" of any definite sort, decide that the equitable exchange rate is 8 loaves of bread for 1 pair of shoes, then that exchange rate cannot become UNJUST because the same rate is agreed upon between two very unequal parties, one of whom has a great deal of wealth and surplus, the other of whom has only a little surplus wealth. Nor can it become unjust when the second party is instead needy. If the rate of exchange is a just rate for economically (and socially) actors, having actors who are economically unequal does not turn the very same transaction unjust. And yet Sadurski and his ilk describe it so: the very inequality of the actors vitiates the transaction beyond repair.

The reason Popper's description of the problem is wrong in principle is that he mis-uses the term "freedom" throughout. Without correcting for different senses of freedom, you CANNOT express the truths adequately.

Freedom can (and often is) used to describe a condition of "not being interfered with by physical force by external moral agents" like police or soldiers or other agents of physical force. In an extension of that usage, it can also be used to describe a condition of "not being constrained by the promise or threat of consequences that might be imposed by agents of physical force". It would be an _analogy_ to that extended sense to apply it to "not being constrained by the promise or threat of consequences that might be imposed - not as physical force, but in other terms (economic, social, etc) that are imposed BY CHOICE of other agents rather than as the automatic consequences of the act." These are all freedom from EXTERNAL constraints.

In addition, some people think freedom would mean "not being constrained by the natural consequences of chosen acts", such as not being constrained by the thought of hunger if you don't do anything to prepare the food - the hunger being a "constraint" on the freedom not to act. But this is clearly pushing the idea of freedom to an extreme level.

But there is another level of freedom, freedom from internal constraints as well: freedom from the vice of alcoholism, for example. Or, even more strikingly, freedom from even temptations or inclinations to do undue or disorderly actions. In the sense of St. John's account of Christ's promise that the truth will set us free, then, freedom is something more than merely EXTERNAL.

Proper to the meaning of freedom considered rightly is the notion that man is ordered to a certain sort of end. Freedom is in relation to that end. That man is more free who is more able to achieve his end - more ready to act for it, more of the time, in more ways, with more voluntariness and ease, in more fullness of his will. That man is less free who has more impediments to acting toward that end: he is less ready to choose well, he has less ability, he has more things that prevent it.

As an example and a metaphor for the moral picture, let us compare the trained baseball pitcher with the neophyte: the neophyte must think about each element of the mechanics of a pitch, the muscles and bones providing leverage and force, he must force the muscles to do things they are not fully strengthened for, and he cannot perform a pitch well. Even when he manages to get one over the plate, it is too slow or too fast, breaking the wrong way, and he cannot repeat it readily. The expert pitcher's muscles are stronger, he has trained his body to "know" exactly what he is asking of it, and he is much FREER to produce a great pitch time after time. His making a good throw is more voluntary, he does it with more ease (less effort), and with more pleasure both because the doing is easy and because he is confident of its being done well. Thus his trained up capacity constitutes a kind of freedom: he MORE ABLE to achieve his end, to achieve it better, more worthily, more humanly.

The same thing applies to the man who is completely developed _as_a_man: the man of solid virtues (of justice, temperance, courage, and prudence, and all the ancillary virtues) is MORE ABLE to make acts of choosing the good, more readily, with more pleasure and more human dignity. He is not only able, but ready and inclined to be just in his dealings, so that the act called for by justice is indeed a pleasure to him, not a chore. But this implies, of course, that he is UNready to act as a bully, UNinclined to cheat his fellow man merely because he has the "opportunity." That's like the "opportunity" to eat mud, or the "opportunity" to bash your thumb with a hammer. The man of virtue doesn't treat the opportunity to cheat someone as a quandary of choice between "what he wants" and "what he ought to do" because he WANTS to do what he ought to do - the good choice of acting justly - because that choice is more fully satisfying, it is more complete in achieving his end as human. The condition of "not having external agents (like police or courts or threat of fines) preventing him" from cheating is an irrelevancy to his motive for acting justly.

Taking this more principled notion of freedom into account, though, undercuts the whole description of Popper's

Unlimited freedom means that a strong man is free to bully one who is weak and to rob him of his freedom.

That's not "freedom" in its real sense, that's 'freedom' (of one man) from certain kinds of (external) restraint but not not freedom of the other man, and it's not freedom to pursue the due good because the due good of man does not include bullying others by threat of force for economic gain. Or, if you prefer, it is just plain bullying and using the word "freedom" there is just less than useless. Failure to analyze the misuse of physical power and threat of force as being a way of acting contrary to human good undermines the capacity to speak intelligibly about freedom. The better term would be "power" or something like that.

If we go back to the parable: nothing about the givens in it require of us that we place the vineyard owner as having unlimited power over workers, nor of workers who are simply constrained by hard reality to accept a bad transaction. Maybe the workers who came late to the party were ALREADY working earlier in the day, but got finished early. Maybe they were drunk and recovering from their hangovers. Maybe they only need one hour's wages because Daddy's trust fund provides 7/8 of what they need. We simply aren't told why they weren't there earlier. Nor are we told just how rich or poor the vineyard owner is - maybe he is "land-rich" but money-poor, maybe he has only enough for tomorrow's table, and his giving to all the workers a whole day's wages was 'one last fling' in the face of bankruptcy. Maybe he has all that money because the day before, the very same workers came to his wedding and made gifts of cash to him and his wife. We simply aren't told. To read into the given scenario one of capital exploitation of labor is just BIZARRE.

the question of justice Sadurski addresses deals with the distribution of goods. If he negates the concept of justice, then most economic transactions are conducted on the basis of the party's economic power (and the legal "power over other people’s labour and rewards") not on goodwill and amity.

And if you stop looking at the actions as being due to real human choices, but as simply neurons firing in certain sequences giving the false appearance of free will driving actions that are mechanically and evolutionarily determined, you can discount any reason to speak of justice at all.

Of course, that sort of does away with the whole conversation.

The just-so story of "most economic transactions are conducted on the basis of the party's economic power" cannot be maintained as intelligible. There simply is no coherent way this story works as a totality. Try using it to explain the story of Abraham buying the burial land for his wife Sarah, Genesis 23. And if it impossible as a totality, then there is perforce a larger backdrop to just economic exchange that constitutes BOTH the basis for finding just exchange rates AND the basis for treating power-mad and greedy transactions as contrary to human good. That larger context is the free market, where "free" is used in its proper sense.

The fact that many people have little or no surplus cannot mean that all the transactions they enter into are unfree and vitiated: some of them are between others equally poor, and some others are at the same rates of exchange as the ones they choose to enter into with their co-equals. As an example, my father, the son of 2 immigrant parents, was a blue-collar working man his entire life, he never saved enough to stop working, worked until the day he died. But he did things 'on the side' of his 8-to-10 hour regular job: he was talking to an acquaintance who had a sidewalk in not very good repair, and my father offered to do the repair for X amount, which offer was accepted. Then he went and borrowed a truck, a couple shovels and some other tools, hired a guy off the street to help him (for Y amount), and worked 3 evenings to finish the job. Now, to call my father a "capitalist" because he hired the other guy would be laughable, and to extend it into a picture of exploitation because he had "control" and "power" over the transaction would be beyond laughable into pure idiocy. The other worker was at least as free to take the offer or not as was my father, and my father was entirely free to not suggest the repair job to begin with. He saw another person's (qualified, moderate) "need" as his opportunity, and both benefited. The freely chosen human act to satisfy his neighbor's need and in so doing pursue the satisfaction of his own need is precisely the sort of thing that answers to "truly human good" in the marketplace.

Many economic transactions and laws are not positive-sum, "win-win" situations

Even where it is true that many economic transactions are not win-win, the analysis of where the just arrangement would lie and where the disorder springs from starts with a position that sees that the sphere of human transaction is designed by nature and ought to be ordered to truly human goods, (which implies justice), and this justice includes the justice of the market place. The justice of the truly human marketplace, where truly human choices have actors take regard for each other's needs but also allow the other to take responsibility for ordering his own needs with his own preferences, desires, and other resources and express these in negotiating an agreeable transaction, cannot ignore fundamental laws that control the production of wealth any more than they can ignore the laws of gravity or the weather, but they can take them into account.

The fact that there are other kinds of moral human social acts in addition to the just acts of the marketplace also puts into context the ordering of such transactions toward human good. The just marketplace is neither morally neutral nor morally naked, but it there is a justice proper to it that doesn't factor in acts of gift, charity, benevolence, etc that are not market transactions.

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