Argument from justice

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The argument from justice is based on the alleged need for consequences to human actions and concludes that an afterlife must exist. The argument is an appeal to emotion and wishful thinking because it exploits human desire for justice and security. The argument is related to the Moral argument because they both depend on the existence of absolute morality.

The concept is similar to Karma which supposes our actions influence our future though spiritual processes. In the Myth of Er, Plato argued that human actions have inescapable consequences, the immortality of the soul and justice in the afterlife.

In Christianity and Islam, the afterlife of a person is usually considered to be either heaven or hell. Infinite reward and infinite punishment are not suitable for a life containing a mixture of good and evil, so a finite state of punishment may exist, such as Purgatory. Religions that teach reincarnation usually say that actions will be rewarded or punished in future lives.

" 'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?' "

— Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Formal statement[edit]

  1. People do good and evil actions.
  2. People are not necessarily held accountable or rewarded in this life.
  3. People are held accountable or rewarded for their actions.
  4. Therefore an afterlife exists in which people are rewarded or punished depending on their actions.

Presumably, the standard of justice used here is human morality. If the argument is based on divine morality, the argument is begging the question by assuming a particular religion is true.


  1. Absolute morality does not exist but is a human construct we use to subjectively describe actions.
  2. The premise that there must be consequences to human actions is not supported by any evidence and is a case of wishful thinking.
  3. The afterlife may also contain injustice.
  4. The argument depends on wrong actions being punished. According to some Christians, salvation depends on faith not works - this doctrine is incompatible with the argument from justice. The possibility of being born again, attaining salvation or forgiven by God apparently enables a person to escape the consequences of actions (unless Purgatory exists).
  5. The concept of heaven and hell, which are supposedly infinite reward and infinite punishment, are not suitable for finite human actions and are therefore not just. Therefore, the argument from justice disproves heaven and hell.
  6. The alternative of reincarnation based on a person's actions is ignored.

Bertrand Russell's argument against the existence of justice[edit]

Bertrand Russell in 1907

In his essay Why I Am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell says that we can only know if justice exists based on the available evidence here on Earth. All available evidence indicates that there is no perfect justice.

Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, "After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also." Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, "The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance." You would say, "Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment"; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, "Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one." Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.

Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in God.

Punishing sinners doesn't make up for suffering they caused[edit]

"They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more suffering."

— Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov

"Must crimes be punished but by other crimes, And greater criminals?"

— Byron's Manfred

God should have prevented the evil happening in the first place, rather than inflict suffering those who caused suffering. Hell provides no justice.

Heaven precludes genuine charity[edit]

Main Article: Heaven precludes genuine charity

If there is an omnipotent and perfectly just God and an everlasting reward, there is no reason to act morally except to secure one's own well-being in the afterlife, i.e. loving your brother can only be a rational means to one's own ends not the well-being of one's brother.

"Ye want to be paid besides, ye virtuous ones! Ye want reward for virtue, and heaven for earth, and eternity for your to-day? [...] Ah! this is my sorrow: into the basis of things have reward and punishment been insinuated—and now even into the basis of your souls, ye virtuous ones! "

Friedrich Nietzsche

See also[edit]

External Links[edit]

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes