Just world hypothesis

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The just world hypothesis, also known as the just world fallacy, is the idea that all actions have predictable and just consequences. The hypothesis implies (although sometimes only subconsciously) a belief in some sort of universal force that ensures moral balance in the world, in such a way that person who exhibits good and moral behavior will eventually be rewarded, while evil and immoral actions will eventually be punished. It is both a concept in theology and considered to be a cognitive bias in psychology.

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[edit] Religion

Just world hypothesis is commonly seen in theologies with some form of predestination such as Calvinism. It is also present in Buddhism and Hinduism in the form of karma. Gottfried Leibniz, attempting to solve the problem of evil, famously argued that since God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, that this must be "the best of all possible worlds."[1] Alvin Plantinga has argued that there is no "best of all possible worlds."[2]

A statement of Jesus in Luke 13:4-5 is often cited in opposition to the idea that people who suffer "got what was coming to them":

[T]hose eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

[edit] Psychology

In psychology, the just world hypothesis also goes under the name of "system justification theory."[3] Just world or system justification can be seen at work when people blame rape victims because their hemlines did not meet specification or whine that poor people are just lazy slobs, otherwise they would have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps already. Just world thinking is correlated with religiosity, conservative political orientation, and admiration for political leaders, but also altruism in some cases.[4]

You can see two motivators underlying this. The first is the desire to believe that all the good things you have are attributable primarily or solely to you, your hard work, and your generally superior character and morality. The second is a refusal to accept that bad things can happen to you and your loved ones due to circumstances beyond your control. This is a scary idea, and some just can't handle it. Worried your daughter might be raped? Tell her to wear a muumuu and abstain from alcohol and avoid giving the impression that she wants it. Boom, problem solved.

[edit] Panglossianism

Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings.

—Dr. Pangloss[5]

Leibniz's concept of the "best of all possible worlds" was parodied in Voltaire's Candide with the character of Dr. Pangloss.[6] Thus, the term "Panglossianism" is often used synonymously with the just world hypothesis. However, it also carries the additional connotations of blind optimism or a conception of the world in which things are optimized for some purpose.

[edit] In evolutionary biology

Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin famously used the term "Panglossian" to refer to a style of adaptationist thought that overstated the power and prevalence of natural selection. They argued that what may appear to be evolutionary "design" may actually be the result of mechanisms other than natural selection or a by-product of some other adaptation.[7]

The faddish Gaia hypothesis promotes a teleological conception of evolution and the biosphere in which nature is seen as a self-equilibrating system that optimizes the planet for life.

The notion of teleology and progress in evolutionary theory is related to the conflation of cultural evolution with biological evolution. The two were linked as in the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck until Charles Darwin disputed the connection.[8]

[edit] In economics and political theory

There is a noticeable strain of Panglossianism in laissez-faire economic theory. The notion that people pursuing their own rational self-interest will create an optimal society is a common one in this ideology. As Frederic Bastiat wrote, "All men's impulses, when motivated by legitimate self-interest, fall into a harmonious social pattern."[9] This ties into the idea of markets as systems that tend toward equilibrium, full employment, and optimal allocation of capital and resources. Any "interference" in the market is considered a "distortion" of this self-correcting system. An extreme example of this is the Austrian school of economics. Adam Smith's concept of the "invisible hand" is often invoked as the optimizing mechanism of the market, though this is a misrepresentation of Smith's own views.[10]

As above, economic Panglossianism is often tied into the notion of progress and evolution. It also tends to come packaged with Social Darwinist ideologies -- Herbert Spencer was a well-known popularizer of said ideas. In more recent times, the ideology of techno-optimism, or "Cornucopianism," has adopted the Panglossian view. Matt Ridley, for one, has advocated this viewpoint in The Rational Optimist.[11]

It is also associated with biological determinism, where the existing class and social structure is justified by appeals to the "innate" inferiority of the lower classes, other races, or women. This is exemplified, for example, in the works of eugenicists such as Francis Galton.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Leibniz on the Problem of Evil, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Is This the Best of All Possible Worlds? PBS Closer to the Truth
  3. John T. Jost, Mahzarin Banaji, Brian A. Nosek. A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo. Political Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 6, 2004
  4. The Just World Theory, Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, Markula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University
  5. Chapter 1 - How Candide Was Brought Up in a Magnificent Castle and How He Was Driven Thence
  6. Voltaire's Candide or Optimism, A.C. Grayling
  7. Gould, S. J. And Lewontin, R. C., "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique Of The Adaptationist Programme," Proceedings Of The Royal Society of London, Series B, Vol. 205, No. 1161 (1979), Pp. 581-598.
  8. Evolution as Pseudoscience? Massimo Pigliucci
  9. Frederic Bastiat. (1850) Economic Harmonies, hosted at Library of Economics and Liberty
  10. Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand: From Metaphor to Myth, Gavin Kennedy, Econ Journal Watch
  11. Matt Ridley: Optimism Without Limits, New Scientist
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