William C. Mims: The Madison Vision Series
Articles,  Blog

William C. Mims: The Madison Vision Series

Good afternoon everyone thank you I’m John
Alger president of James Madison University and I’d like to welcome you to this year’s
first installment of the Madison vision series. The goal of this series is to bring prominent
leaders to campus to look at our current civic landscape through the prism of creating an
engaged and enlightened citizenry. Later this semester we will hear from Jeff
Rosen chief executive officer and president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
We will also have a unique presentation in November from a national debate team from
Rwanda who will share the story of recovery in Rwanda through the eyes of a post genocide
generation. In the spring we look forward to bringing
you Mary Ann Mason co director of the center for economics and family security at the University
of California Berkeley and Harvard’s Lawrence Lessing an internationally
renowned expert on issues related to cyberspace and ethics.
We want to thank all the supporters of the Madison vision fund and the series cosponsor
the office of Madison Institutes in outreach and engagement who have made this series possible.
And now let me turn to the main event today Constitution Day 2014.
What a great joy and privilege it is to be joined by a very distinguished native son
of Harrisonburg the honorable William C Mims. In 2011 Justice Mims was appointed to the
Virginia Supreme Court after serving both as Attorney General of Virginia and Chief
Deputy Attorney General, as well as having served in the Virginia senate and House of
Delegates. Justice Mims is Virginia’s 100th justice
and only the second to previously server as a lawmaker and Attorney General. Making him
that rare individual who has served in all three branches of state government at the
most senior levels. While his public service career has certainly
been impressive we are equally excited about his ties to Harrisonburg and JMU. We are joined
today not just by Justice Mims but also by his sister former JMU faculty member Diane
Mims Langhurst, and Diane where are you? I saw you earlier. There she is, thank you so
much for being here, welcome back glad
to have you. It’s a bit of a family reunion today, as
you’ll see the Mims’ family history in Harrisonburg actually began in 1954 when Bill
and Diane’s father, Latham Mims, came to Harrisonburg to serve as the editor of the
Daily News Record. A role he held until nineteen eighty. In the intervening years he raised
a family not far from where we sit today off of Mason Street. In fact the current Justice
was known to play on campus with his three siblings at Hillcrest the president’s home
at the time. If you want to play over Oak View later we can do that too though.
While attending Harrisonburg High School in the early nineteen seventies, in the site
that of course is now known as Memorial Hall and is home to the JMU college education,
Justice Mims played football. Where he was named an all district offensive tackle, wrestled,
ran track, edited the school newspaper maybe a little bit of the family business in the
blood there, and was an honor student. After his formative years in Harrisonburg
the Justice went on to receive a degree in history from the college of William and Mary,
where he also did graduate work in public administration. He has law degrees from George
Washington University and Georgetown University. As a sign of how our early years shape us
this track athlete still enjoys running, and in fact crossed the finish line at the Boston
Marathon just minutes before explosions rocked the finish line just 17 months ago.
I love the title of today’s lecture be it ever so humble justice as a virtue. It reminds
us of a quote from Madison at the Virginia ratifying convention in 1788 that is in your
program. Is there no virtue among us, if there be not we are in a wretched situation.
Indeed, just as Mims himself expressed the importance of humility, in an interview from
around the time of his appointment to the Virginia Supreme Court, when he said, “I
hope I will be regarded in Virginia history as one for whom public service was an honor
and a privilege, and one who added value to the legislative, executive, and judiciary
functions.” The task of a justice is not to make a name for himself or herself. Consequently,
I would not expect my name to be featured prominently in history. That is not the task
to which I’ve been appointed. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great pleasure to welcome
to the Forbes Center stage, Justice William Mims.
After that introduction I have to catch my breath. Thank you so much, Jon [President
Alger]. After that introduction, I have to catch my breath. Jon, thank you. Thank you
very much, it is a true honor and a pleasure to be here. I will say that here, I am not
Justice Mims, I am not Mr. Mims, for the most part I am not Bill Mims. To those who are
here, there are a whole bunch of folks here who know me as “Billy Mims.” And that
puts the name in historical context. If we can go ahead and hit a slide… there we go.
Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. In many ways, that’s true. The sleepy Harrisonburg
where I grew up, population 14,000, is no longer. Likewise, Madison College, whose quaint
bluestone campus was the sight of my elementary school just two doors over, is but a memory.
My home on Mason Street was merely old. It was not yet part of “old town.” But I
take issue with Mr. Wolfe, as indicated by the title of this talk, which I’ve taken
from a 19th century song, ‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever
so humble there’s no place like home!’ Indeed there is no place like Harrisonburg,
and no University like James Madison. What is not humble is the success that JMU has
experienced over the past 50 years, during the presidencies of Tyler Miller, Ron Carrier,
Lin Rose, and now Jon Alger. And I’m old enough that I’ve known that all. My family’s
connection with JMU, likewise, aren’t humble as indicated by my sister’s introduction.
There is a journalism scholarship named in honor of my late father, Lathan Mims. My other
sister, Sandy Rowe, was once on the Board of Visitors. (laughter) My history at JMU,
though, is more checkered. The campus was my playground as a child. I committed transgressions,
here, as a teen. One of which, and only one of which, resulted in juvenile court. So,
this talk is actually an opportunity for redemption. I’m also humbled as I note your speaker
for constitution last year was A.E. Dick Howard, a renowned constitutional scholar. I’m hardly
worried to carrier his briefcase, but I appreciate being able to carry this particular day at
this podium. Enough about me. Got it. Let’s talk about virtue. What is virtue, the simple
definition is behavior showing high moral standards. Its synonyms include goodness,
righteousness, integrity, dignity, and honor. If I were to ask: “Is Mother Teresa a paragon
of virtue?” Surely, the answer would be a resounding ‘yes.’ What about Jon Alger?
(laughter) Well, he’s no Mother Teresa. (laughter) But the answer, clearly, is ‘yes.’
Now if I asked if Mother Teresa and Jon Alger are ‘just,’ you might puzzle over the
meaning of that term before saying ‘yes.’ We don’t usually think of a variant of justice
as a virtue. I recently asked a group of friends, what does it mean when I say someone is just?
Their responses were: fair, good, respected, honest, kind, compassionate, those responses
pretty much hit the mark. They an innate understanding that even though we don’t call people just,
we understand that justice can be a virtue. That’s what this talk is about. It’s justice
as an individual ideal. It’s divided into three parts. First I’ll examine justice
as we commonly perceive it, which is as a governmental or societal goal. Then, I’m
going to touch briefly upon two historical precedents for considering justice as a virtue.
Then, finally I’ll ask, “What are some characteristics of individuals who aspire
to the virtue of justice?” Ultimately, I intend to challenge you. And
I intend to challenge myself to do justice. I also want to quickly make two disclaimers:
I am not an accomplished speaker. I’m nervous, I grip the podium, I’m going to talk entirely
too much from my written text. I wrote it myself, though. There is no one who writes
it for me. And my PowerPoint is so 1990’s. But what I lack in polish, I hope to make
up in sincerity. I’m also not an academic, and this is not an academic lecture. I’m
neither a scholar, nor a philosopher. And so terms such as meta-ethical, normative,
empiricism, and rationalism will not cross my lips today. Primarily, because I don’t
understand them. Rather, I’m a lawyer from Harrisonburg, who has been blessed with a
career in public service. Now, lets get started. Jerry Reed in the movie Smokey and the Bandit
said, “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” The sheriff
in that movie, Buford T. Justice, is not the individual justice that we’ll be referring
to. (switches slide) That’s the justice that we’ll refer to. What is justice? I’ve
spent more than a generation in the justice business. I spent 14 years serving on the
Courts of Justice committees in the general assembly, crafting the laws relating to justice.
In four years at Virginia’s Department of Justice, the Office of the Attorney General.
And now for 4 years, justice is a title that I wear along with the robe that is a mantle
of judicial authority. The first duty of a judge is to be just. That’s also the duty
of every citizen. But only recently, have I asked the fundamental question: “What
is justice?” The dictionary definition is less that satisfying. It just really doesn’t
do it for me. So, lets get past the dictionary and talk. I feel like Joan Rivers, “Can
we talk?” Justice is a civic mantle that children begin to learn as early as kindergarten.
When they pledge allegiance to the flag, they close with “justice for all.” Our leaders
promise it and some even strive for it. Who can forget Martin Luther King’s soaring
eloquence as he paraphrased this verse from the prophet Amos. “We will not be satisfied
until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Variances
are injected into our political debates. We speak of a just war, a just society, or a
just wage to justify our policy views. Lawyers and judges even know that justice can trump
the letter of the law. Courts sometimes apply with what is known as the ins-of-justice exception,
which is a doctrine of mercy when the strict application of the law would lead to an unduly
harsh result. So everyone is talking about justice, but what does it mean? United States
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart expressed it succinctly. Fairness is what justice really
is. That’s actually a good start. Justice is primarily about fairness, particularly
when you talk about court procedures. But is fairness all that justice is? But that
formulation is pithy and easy to grasp, justice as fairness can descend into quicksand of
moral relativism. It is easy to conclude that a policy is fair, and thereby just merely
because I agree with the end result. So we have to dig deeper than mere fairness in order
to answer the question. In our society Justice often refers to courts and particularly the
criminal justice system in which guilt is determined, punishment is meted out, and restitution
and me rehabilitation hopefully are achieved. Likewise, justice can refer to the civil litigation
process in which non-criminal disputes such as breaches of contracts or fault for personal
injuries are adjudicated. Justice also refers to the procedures in those courts, that ensure
fair treatment including trial by jury, confrontation of witnesses, and the right to counsel. Outside
the judicial sphere, justice can refer to social justice that refers to ameliorating
societal ills such as poverty, domestic violence, and sub-standard education. I would classify
all of these: criminal justice, civil justice, procedural justice, and social justice, as
societal or systematic justice. They describe desired goals or systems within the state.
But let’s go deeper than that. What about the virtue of individual justice? The ideal
characteristics possessed by a just man or a just woman. Because surely their cultivation
of just citizens would help us to achieve a just society. Some of the earliest exhortations
to strive for individual justice are found in Hebrew Scripture, and Athenian philosophy.
Let’s begin with the Hebrew Bible. There’s two terms that we translate into the English
were justice: mispat and zedek which appear there hundreds of times. Doctor King’s quote
was a paraphrase from the Prophet Amos. If he had read from the Hebrew text he would
have said, “Let mispat roll down like waters.” The oft-quoted verse from the prophet Micah
to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly translates, and what does God require of you
but to do mispat. Zedek appears in the promise given by God to the Hebrew people in the Torah
that is read annually in synagogues. Justice! Justice! Zedek! Zedek, shall you pursue. That
you may live, and inherit the land, which the Lord your God gives you. Mispat is individual
justice. It’s the virtue that impels a person to do something. Zetec primarily relates to
an end result. Social justice for the poor and dispossessed. Rabbi Melanie Arun expresses
it this way: mispat is often identified with even-handed justice, with fairness, with treating
everyone the same. This is justice as equal justice under law. Zedek is different. We
create Zedek by creating a system, remember I said systematic justice, for the fairer
distribution of goods, services and opportunities. So mispat is individual justice, Zedek is
the result– The societal justice. What’s the difference between the two in the context
of modern America? The struggle for civil rights that Martin Luther King led was to
do mispat. He exhorted Americans leaders individually. Be true to what you said on paper in the constitution
about civil rights. The poor people’s campaign that took him to Memphis on that fateful April
night in 1968, was an example of Zedek. A struggle for economic justice. So, there is
the first example individual justice– mispat. Now, let’s travel a few hundred miles, and
a few hundred years to Athens. The writings of Plato, particularly the Socratic dialogue
in the Republic, give us another indication individual justice. The Republic is Plato’s
compilation of dialogues between Socrates and his students. And I can assure you that
the last time I ever looked at the Republic I was in a classroom much like you find here
James Madison, until I became a justice and wanted to know what is it that we’re talking
about here? It’s primarily a discussion of the meaning of justice, the characteristics
of a just man, and the relationship of the just man to the Police, the city-state. And
by the way, I want to immediately say that we’re dealing with 2500 years ago and today
we’re talking about the just women and the just men, despite what the Greeks may have
said 2500 years ago. Interestingly, as well, Socrates and his students had just as much
trouble defining justice as Webster’s does now. They did identify justice as one of four
virtues possessed by individuals along with wisdom, bravery, and temperance. Justice was
the highest aspiration. Potter notes that the one who commits injustice is more to be
pitied than the one who suffers injustice. Plato viewed the just individual is guided
by a vision above that which is good. That vision caused reason to govern passion and
ambition. Plato understood that the internal compass on the individual was essential to
his external direction. Individuals must be just and do justice in order for the city-state
to flourish. No one key concept expressed in the Republic is that the Polis, the city-state,
are to be ruled by philosopher kings. Just individuals, who are motivated by the collective
good, rather than personal gain. Though we no longer speak up for philosopher kings,
that ideal resonates across the centuries to the American Republic. And particularly
it resonates on Constitution Day. There’s not enough time to continue to delve into
Plato’s though, but what is important to remember is that Justice in his writings is
the highest aspiration of the individual. And only if the individual is just, will the
society be just. It is the noble virtue that is primarily concerned with others instead
of self. Now, this conversation with Socrates and Plato and others in Greece, then was continued,
carried over into Rome, and was carried on by Cicero and Justinian, among others. I’ll
tell you that from my perspective, even though I’m nervous this has been kind of fun because
I’ve just covered about two thousand years of history in about 10 to 15 minutes. And
as a history major, I wish it could be done that way. But we’re going a little slow, so
I’m now going to cover 1600 years in less than 60 seconds. The judeo-christian spiritual
stream and the greco-roman philosophical stream that we’ve talked about began to flow together
as one river during the waning years of the Roman Empire with Saint Ambrose and Saint
Augustine. That after a long dry spell, they flowed freely again through the writings of
Thomas Aquinas, and each if these great thinkers going all the way back to the Hebrew prophets,
grappled with the concept that individual justice, as did enlightenment philosophers,
such as David Hume, who also tested these waters. So, sixteen hundred years later we
have come to the shores of the new world. There won’t be a test on that last part, by
the way. Specifically, the rebellious American colonies in the 1770s, talk of independence
and liberty is on every lip. Now, America’s Founders were schooled in Greek and Latin,
and you may not have known this, but James Madison even studied Hebrew. They were knowledgeable
about Aquinas, and they were quite familiar with the enlightenment philosophers. So, what
did America’s Founders, and particularly those who crafted the Constitution, have to say
about individual justice? About justice as a virtue? Not as much as you might expect.
At first, this might seem surprising, but the founders were not primarily concerned
with enshrining the virtual of individual justice. Rather, they had other concerns that
were more pressing. The Constitution was how the people of the states delegated sovereignty
to a federal Republic. It was something that had never been done before successfully, on
such a grand scale. So the virtue of individual justice was not their highest priority at
the time. They were more about telling the federal government what is could and could
not do, rather than telling individuals what they should or should not do. Even the addition
of the Bill of Rights lacks a moral imperative for individuals. The Bill of Rights is a guarantee
that the power of government is not wielded unjustly against the people, but it doesn’t
speak to the highest aspirations of the people themselves, as citizens. James Madison in
supporting the Bill of Rights said he wished to fortify the rights of the people against
the encroachments a government. In many ways, though, James Madison, the father of the Constitution,
and a proponent of individual rights, likewise was an articulate advocate for individual
justice. Now, Madison was no mountaintop sage planning for the perfectibility of man. Those
of you who went to the University of Virginia, I apologize for that last sentence. But you’re
not going to like this next one much better. While Thomas Jefferson was pursuing happiness
in Paris, Madison, ever the sober realist, was wrestling in the Federalist Papers with
man’s depravity. I quote, “as there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires
a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature
which justify a steam and confidence.” Republican government reposes the existence of these
qualities. Madison Riley noted that we are not angels. A charge that could apply equally
to him after his backroom scheming against President Washington, while serving in Washington’s
cabinet. And he certainly didn’t believe that individual citizens became more angelic when
they gathered together as legislatures. I quote Madison again. “Passion never fails
to wrest the scepter from reason, had every Athenian been a Socrates, every Ahtentian
assembly would still have been a mob.” But Madison did believe that virtuous that is
just individuals could be found to rule. He said, the aim at every political constitution
is to obtain for rulers men who possessed the most wisdom to discern, the most virtue
to pursue the common good of the society. (switches slide, laughter) Distressing, though,
as we proceed through American history, we may listen for expression of individual justice
from our leaders, but there are few. We rarely hear our leaders speak of virtues generally
or individual justice, in particular. And few seem to recognize a causal link between
individual justice, virtuous leaders, and a just society. James Madison, Abraham Lincoln,
and Martin Luther King certainly did. But one profit per century does not be movement
make. Part of the problem could be a lack of a simple definition of individual justice
to carry the message. I’ve already put a definition on the board that is unsatisfied. The first
book of the Republic is almost entirely devoted to what is justice in terms of defining it,
and Socrates and his students were unable to. Now, I’ll tell you, if Socrates can’t
do it, then Billy Mims from Mason Street isn’t going to try. Let me take a more humble approach.
(switches slide) What characteristics are usually present in just men and women? I believe
there are at least three. The three that I’m referring to are humility, empathy, and mercy.
If one is humble, empathetic, and merciful, their resulting actions are likely to be fair.
And is noted, justice is fairness. So let’s examine these characteristics. They don’t
stand-alone, they are interrelated. Humility was not favored in antiquity in Greece and
Rome. Professor Alastair McIntyre notes that Aristotle’s greats old man is extremely
proud, he despises honors offered by the common people, he indulges in conspicuous consumption
for he likes to own beautiful and useless things since they are better marks of his
independence. Conspicuous consumption, beautiful and useful things. Excuse me, beautiful and
useless things. Let me make sure I get that straight. Does that remind you of any modern
culture? (switches slide, laughter) Oxford’s, Robin Lane Fox observes, among pagan authors,
humility had almost never been a term of commendation. The notion of humility of servant hood, as
a virtue, took root from the Jewish thinkers and prophets as well as the early Christian
church. But one would expect theologians to speak of humility. More noteworthy is how
this virtue has been embraced today in the business world. And particularly as a characteristic
of what is known as servant leadership. Jim Collins is the best-selling author of Good
to Great and Built to Last, and he describes humility as the essential quality for the
most successful leaders. The leaders who sacrificed their own egos for the benefit of the many.
James Madison University alumnus G.J. Heart, who also went to high school in Harrisonburg,
and spoke on the James Madison campus, recently, is the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, one
of the most successful business leaders in America. He describes how he knows whether
a management prospect will have leadership potential. He says, I can usually tell if
they have the humility to make it. Now politicians have been a little slower to jump on the humility
bandwagon, and it’s perhaps due to the nature of the electoral process. My former colleague,
Clint Miller, who at the time was a delegate from Woodstock, was infused with Shenandoah
Valley candor. And he once told me, “My momma taught me not to brag, but my momma
never ran for office.” So we’ll give the politicians a pass on this one. However, my
favorite humble person in American history may be a politician although certainly more
of a statesman. None other, then James Madison. In addition to the quote that’s on the screen,
I love what Richard Brookhiser says about him. He was quiet and unprepossessing. Even
willing to be the straight man for Jefferson’s jokes. Madison was a great man and was not
afraid of deferring to other great men. He also worked with the less than great. Hatchet
men, and gossips. Snopes and spies. They do the work of politics, too. They are part of
the gain. Ay, yes. Not an angel among them. Even virtuous men have a few words. Now, many
politicians are strangers to humility, but they do speak freely and empathy, the second
quality of individual justice. Who remembers, “I feel your pain?” But truly feeling
one’s pain is risky. It is in fact painful. So it may be spoken of more than it is actually
practiced. Empathy often derives from faith. It’s expressed in the golden rule from Jesus’
Sermon on the Mount. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But this maxim
is universal. It is repeated. But this maxim is universal. It is repeated in all of the
world’s major religions, be one Buddhist, Hindu, the practitioner Islam, or a Jew, all
of those faiths encourage understanding and respect for the rights and feelings of others.
Although, the Athenians rejected humility they embraced empathy as a characteristic
of individual justice. Plato wrote that to injure a friend or anyone else is not the
act a just man, but of the opposite, who is unjust.
So that brings us to Mercy. If justice means giving to others what we owe them, then mercy
means giving to others more than what we owe them. This concept also has deep roots in
the soil of faith. Pope John Paul II the second observed that mercy reveals the perfection
of justice. Abraham Lincoln believed deeply that mercy is essential to complete justice.
And as I mentioned earlier, this principle of Anglo American law, dates back seven hundred
years that sometimes mercy will Trump the rule of law. The Lord chancellors equity court
began under the rule of Edward the third, and that was where the Kings Chancellor, the
King’s counselor, was able, when necessary and appropriate, to apply equity, to apply
mercy, rather than the law when a harsh result would have been the case.
But I’m gonna go out on a limb and I’m gonna paraphrase the prophet Micah “If
is it possible to truly do justice without loving mercy.” I used to think these two
virtues as being separate I put on my suit I went to the office I did justice, and then
I went home and changed in other clothes maybe I waited until the weekend and I volunteered
for a good or I went reached out to a friend in need and therefore I did mercy. They were
silos, the justice and the mercy, but I think that pope John Paul the second got it right,
I think there is no dichotomy I think there is a unity between justice and mercy. Micah
the Hebrew prophet got it right also; let’s talk about one additional word from uh from
Hebrew. In addition to mishpat, justice, which means action, which is what you do there’s
also a Hebrew word for mercy, and I’m going to probably not get it quite right, so if
there’s any human scholars in the audience who wanted to stand up and shout it out you
go right ahead, but that word is hesed it’s the attitude with which one acts. I love the
alternative English translation for hesed, it usually is translated as mercy but it also
can be translated as loving-kindness. So one should do justice with mercy and sometimes
even with loving-kindness.
Now I don’t have you up here this time John, okay other women and men who exemplify
these qualities of individual justice who we all recognize because they are internationally
and nationally famous ones that have the characteristics of humility, empathy, and mercy. Certainly
mother Teresa comes to mind along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela,
but perhaps my favorite example comes from literature, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.
His story begins, as he is the victim cruel punishment without mercy, as prisoner 24 6
01 then he was spared a return to prison by the gift Monsieur Bienvenu, the personification
of individual justice whose mercy spills over into exuberant loving-kindness. Valjean then
devotes his life to doing justice he has a terrible lapse that indirectly results in
Fontaine’s death, but nevertheless he does justice to the man who was falsely accused
of being prisoner 24601 took Cosette and Marius and even too inspector Javert. Javert is the
tragic figure who cannot comprehend and ultimately cannot live as the beneficiary of justice
with mercy. He is the personification of justice without mercy, Valjean is the personification
justice with mercy, but other examples who were not who were not among great world leaders
or who are not fictional creations are the less prominent leaders an everyday citizens
whose lives are devoted to individual justice of course there are many. Here is an interesting
leader who you may not have considered, what about Gerald Ford, as president he was a humble
man who was propelled to that office in a unique manner having never been elected to
any office except congress. His pardon of the despised Richard Nixon may have, probably
did, cost him election to a full term. His popularity on the day that the that the pardon
was announced dropped by almost 50 percent within 24 hours. Yet that was an act mercy
and historians have treated it much more gently then journalists did at the time. As Ford
later reflected the hate had to be drained and the healing begun even at the cost at
his own potential reelection as president, so a commitment to individual justice can
involve great personal sacrifice, it can even involve danger. Pastor Tim Keller in the book,
Generous Justice, writes of a young man he once taught, Keller says he moved to Sand
town one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore to do justice.
For the first couple years it was touch and go. He said the people thought, excuse me,
he said the police thought I was a drug dealer and the drug dealers thought I was a police
officer. I didn’t know who was going to shoot me first. In Richmond, where I now live, Janet
Kelley, Virginia’s former secretary of the Commonwealth, her husband Ryan and their three
children have just moved to Highland Park several young professional couples influenced
by the civil rights leader John Perkins have moved to the far north side of Church Hill.
What are these particular neighborhoods like? They are rough. One of the vehicles that cruises
through is an ominous black Hummer with the license plate “Blunts” you may not know
what “Blunts” means, a blunt is a marijuana cigar. These folks left comfortable and safe
homes, why did they do it? To do justice. They are in the vanguard of individual justice
propelled by empathy and mercy for their vulnerable and marginalized neighbors. As these examples
demonstrate there are those whose lives represent individual justice who may be more apparent
than first then than first appears to be the case, maybe more numerous than first appears
to be the case. Why is that? Perhaps because justice is indeed the humble virtue. Those
who practice it would rather help others then to promote themselves, but they
are our neighbors our coworkers and our friends. Now this talk has been about virtue generally,
and individual excuse me, virtue generally individual justice specifically and the characteristics
of humility, empathy, mercy, and ultimately fairness. That’s well and good but we are
on a university campus and so I have to ask how is the virtue of individual justice relevant
to academia and specifically how is it relevant to James Madison University? Richard Kirk,
the author and conservative political theorist asks that same question incisively and I quote
“Justice is a certain rectitude of mind, whereby a man does what he ought to do in
the circumstances confronting him.” So, Thomas Aquinas instructs us at every college
and university the faculty ought to inquire of themselves “do we impart such rectitude
of mind” and if we do “not whether be tolerable private or public order in the 21st
century” rectitude mind what is that? when I read that question I thought I need to go
look for what rectitude of mind is well I found a definition rectitude of mind in the
1828 addition of Webster’s dictionary. The definition is “it is the disposition to
act in conformity to any known standard of right, truth, or justice. It is the disposition
to act in conformity to any known standard of right, truth, or justice.” The question
resounds through the ages from Thomas Aquinas to the president to the present are the faculty
and administration at JMU committed to imparting rectitude of mind. For a moment I will figuratively
remove my judicial robe, I will step off of the bench, and I will become an advocate to
present evidence and answer that question. The evidence is the Madison collaborative
ethical reasoning in action. JMU’s innovative program to prepare students to be educated
and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives, and the answer is yes.
The Madison collaborative provides a framework for the learning process by asking eight key
questions, and by the way I understand that everyone who’s a student, faculty, or administrator
has committed these to heart, so what’s that it’s that it’s the Harrisonburg folks who
I’m running through them for quickly. It asks eight key questions that that that say and
I quote “That reflect the best of humanities ethical reasoning traditions.” The questions
highlight 8 vital human values, fairness, outcomes, responsibilities, character, Liberty,
empathy, authority, and rights. And because they are so important here are those eight
questions: Fairness – how can I act equitably and balance legitimate interests? Outcomes
– What achieves the best short – and long-term outcomes for me and all others? Responsibilities
– What duties and/or obligations apply? Character – What action best reflects who I am and the
person I want to become? Liberty – How does respect for freedom personal autonomy or consent
apply? Empathy what would I do if I care deeply about those involved? Authority – What do
legitimate authorities, for example experts, law, my religion, my god expect of me? And
Rights – What rights, for example innate legal or social, apply? This is the framework for
education here in the year 2014. Did you notice something about these questions? There is
a common thread. The virtue up individual justice, the Madison collaborative and similar
initiatives across the academic landscape give us hope that the virtue of individual
justice will flourish in the 21st century. I’m sorry about that didn’t realize that we
uh okay I apologize for running quickly through those last three I should’ve been turning
around each time. In conclusion, Robert Kennedy eloquently gave voice to the virtue. Each
time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot others, or strikes out
against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Those ripples build a current that
can sweep down the mightiest walls. Women and Men of James Madison University make ripples
do justice. Thank you.

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