Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The perfect as enemy of the good

I have argued that it is not the failure to live up to an ideal that constitutes hypocrisy, but pretending to one you don't believe. Any person with moral convictions will often fail to achieve them. Should that fact mean the ideal ought to be abandoned? In a column commenting on "empathy" in judicial decision-making Jonah Goldberg makes a  related point with a broader application:
.... As former Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman put it last year: “I’ve never been sure why Lady Justice wore a blindfold as part of her permanent wardrobe. Yes, it’s supposed to be a symbol of impartiality. But it does limit her vision a bit.” For Goodman, the best judges reject the “myth” of impartiality.

Of course impartial justice is an abstraction, but it isn’t so much a myth as an ideal. Since we are all designed from the crooked timber of humanity, we can only approximate perfect justice.

What I don’t understand is why we should abandon an ideal simply because it is unattainable. If I can’t be a perfect husband, should I get a divorce? If an umpire can’t call each game flawlessly, should he stop trying? Maybe for 95 percent of pitches the ump should call ’em straight, but for the other 5 percent he should give the black or gay batters the benefit of the doubt? ....
Empathy and the Supreme Court - Jonah Goldberg - National Review Online