Justice and the Self

by Akim Reinhardt

L-R: Tina Tintor and Maxi (Bojana Filipovic), Henry Ruggs (AP), crash site

Former NFL wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was recently sentenced to 3–10 years for a drunk driving accident that killed 23-year-old Tina Tintor and her dog. Ruggs had a blood alcohol level of 0.18 (>2x legal limit) and was driving his Corvette 156 mph when he struck her vehicle. Tintor’s Toyota caught fire and firefighters were unable to free her. She died inside the flaming wreckage.

Before the sentencing, Ruggs read a statement on the courthouse steps:

“I sincerely apologize for my actions the morning of Nov. 2, 2021. My actions are not a true reflection of me.”

But what, exactly, is a “me,” and to what degree can actions reflect it?

For centuries, a longstanding Christian theological debate has centered on the importance of faith vs. actions (or “works”). Generally speaking and in very simplified terms, Catholicism teaches that faith is paramount, and any immoral action (sin) can be forgiven through the Church if one believes, while various Protestant denominations emphasize how good acts reflect a devotion to God. Sometimes I think of it as Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefor I am”) vs. singer/songwriter Jim Croce’s:

After all it’s what we’ve done
That makes us what we are.

However, I’m a historian, not a theologian. When it comes to defining a person, I don’t see actions and ideas in such tension with each other. Nor do I see them dominating the debate to the exclusion of other factors. Rather, my understanding of “me” or “you” is temporally based. It is dynamic. I focus on the complex equation of continuity and change over time.

People maintain and express consistencies. However, very few, if any, run through a person’s entire lifetime. People change. People are always changing. Read more »