A Just Choice

    Crime and Misdemeanors tells two parallel stories of Judah, a wealthy ophthalmologist and Cliff, a struggling director. Both characters make me wonder about different dimensions of a “better” life from the aspect of justice: superficial impression about justice may fool us, and being just may not necessarily mean a happier life but definitely helps us to make a more rewarding decision.

    According to Thrasymachus, people live better if they are unjust. As far as I am concerned, being unjust may not necessarily make our lives better because it is hard to tell what is better (is rich really better than poor?); however, I do agree that being unjust can make life easier and happier. In the film, Judah is an unjust person. Merely focusing on his own affection to Dolores, he cheats on his wife –ignoring his responsibility to his wife and family. At the early stage of this affair, we could say that Judah is happier than before because his desire for another woman has been satisfied. We have to admit that having an affair is a pleasant experience, otherwise why would Cliff want to be with Halley so badly? However, when Dolores wanted to tell Judah’s wife Mariam the truth, Judah made a decision to escape from the punishment of this affair: to let Dolores disappear and to pretend that nothing ever happened. Because Judah only cares about his own advantage, his injustice “helps” him to solve the problem in an “easy” way. More importantly, Judah has also achieved the “best to do injustice: not paying the penalty”(Plato, 1000). Therefore, being unjust makes it easier to make a choice because all one has to think about is personal desire or happiness. However, that is not the same as a good decision because I am sure that most of us do not want to have a life like Judah’s. I think being just helps us to make better choices: ones that consider the feelings of people we care, that include the benefits of the majority and that show the meaning of our lives. As we are the “sum total of our choices” (Crime and Misdemeanors), those just decisions help us live a better and a more meaningful life.

    There is another interesting connection between Plato’s Republic and Crime and Misdemeanors about justice. “Doing the greatest injustice is provided with the greatest reputation for justice” (Plato, 1001). I found it particularly true because Judah is regarded as a generous person who is trusted by his family and friends. Therefore, no one doubted him when he said he had to pick up the documents at his office, but he actually went to the crime scene. For instance, if there were two speeches given by two people, and one had a good reputation for integrity while the other had a criminal record, I think most of us would believe the first person even if his speech was more unjust. Superficial reputation would fool us and cover for the injustice a lot of times.

    The idea of a moral life or a better life might be quite subjective: interaction between each other can develop our moral judgments, religious belief can build our moral values, and social norms can also regulate our moral behavior. Despite the fact that moral values might differ under certain circumstances, there is a general guideline of justice and injustice. Therefore, it is hard to say that being just can make an individual’s life better because of different values (for example egoism and altruism), but I believe a just decision would create more benefits to society as a whole.

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One Response to A Just Choice

  1. sashafreger says:

    I agree with your point of the ambiguity of “better.” The film did show the ease of injustice, but it did not portray any happiness in it. Lester knows he is immoral and might even feel guilty about it. Lester gets very angry when Cliff shows the film critiquing Lester’s faults, which is understandable, but he also gets defensive, asking where Cliff got the footage from. Judah, although claiming to suffer no ill effects, seems unhappy. He doesn’t enjoy the party, but rather drinks and sits alone with Cliff, the only other depressed person at the party. He also admits that the man who committed the crime sometimes gets bouts of guilt.
    I also found your point about injustice being “provided with the greatest reputation for justice.” This is a great point, not just about the movie, but about our society. Glaucon even says that the one of the only reasons justice is practiced is for reputation and rewards. It is easier to trust someone with a good reputation, but their outward appearance does not determine their actual propensity for justice.

    Speaking of just decisions making society better, here’s a Charlie Chaplin monologue that advocates living a just life:

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