Book 05
Chapter 01
Justice is actions done for the good of one's fellow human beings.

Now we are ready to speak of justice. Justice is a virtue, like the others that we have gone over before (i.e. courage, temperance, liberality, etc.). Because it is a virtue, we know that it has two opposing vices, and we know it will come in between them (like how courage is between cowardice and recklessness). Yet we might wonder what, for justice, these opposing vices could be? It would seem that justice has only one opposite: injustice.

In order to know what justice is, we shall find the actions of justice - what a just person does - and also find the excess and deficiency, as we have in the past. However, the word 'justice' has a lot of weight to it; justice seems somehow different from ordinary things, and more important. Well, justice is a virtue like the other virtues, true, but we will soon show justice to be something quite special, and so we will also try to develop an especially good appreciation of it.

Now, what does it mean to say that someone is a "just person"? It means that the person will act justly when a situation calls for just action and they have a chance to do so. What's more, this person prizes justice and wants to see just outcomes. A just person is someone whom one can count on to do the right thing. An unjust person, on the other hand, will act unjustly if they get a chance to. An unjust person does not prize justice, and they will not make a just outcome happen for the sake of justice only (though they may sometimes chance to do something just, albeit unintentionally).

Let us also set down a general point while we are here. When there are things we know about (sciences) or things we can do (abilities), we have one thing (knowledge or power) from which we can get opposite things. For instance, there is a science of forecasting the weather. From that science we may forecast sun or rain: two opposite outcomes from one knowledge. Or another example would be the pilot of a ship steering it to the right or to the left: also two different outcomes that come from the one ability to steer. But for states of character, that is not so; it is not the case that having a state of character means that you might choose to do opposite things, do one thing at one time and then turn around and do the opposite at another time.

It is more like this: you have the ability, by training yourself beforehand, to come to have a good character or a bad character, be a just person or an unjust person. But once you have that character, you do not then pick opposite things at different times. Rather, think about these states of character like being in a state of health. A healthy person does not sometimes limp or drag themselves along like as if they were a sick person, and then at other times walk in an upright way. A healthy person always walks as a healthy person does. So likewise, a just person always acts justly.

And speaking of health, we note that it is often the case that we know what is healthy by what is unhealthy. Generally speaking, one contrary state is known because it contrasts with the opposite state. For instance, think of the firm muscles in the thighs of a great sprinter, and now recall how Odysseus said he was unfit for racing against the Phaeacians: "Only in sprinting, I'm afraid, I may be passed by someone. Roll of the sea waves wearied me, and the victuals of the ship ran low; my legs are flabby." The good condition (firmness of flesh) is known by the bad condition (flabbiness of flesh), and vice versa. Again, we know that which is healthy by what is unhealthy, and we know what is just by what is unjust.

But now let us suppose that we have two contrary states, and one of them is ambiguous. If that is so, then the other one will be ambiguous also. This is the problem we are going to have with 'justice' and 'injustice'. It is hard to say exactly what each means. This is because the terms have different senses in which they are used to mean different things. Let us now take a look at each.

First, let us talk about the 'unjust person'. Someone can be unjust in two separate senses. First, they can be unjust in the sense that the breaks the law. Second, they can be unjust in that they take more than their fair share (even though they might not be breaking any laws when they do so). OK, next let us take the opposite of these and see what we get for the different senses of the term 'just person'. A 'just person' may mean that the person abides by the laws. And it could also mean that the person is fair in their dealings with other people. So again, the just is the law-abiding and fair-dealing, and the unjust is the law-breaking and cheating.

Now, it may be surprising to hear that what a grasping, or cheating person cares about is things that are good! Does it not sound like we should be saying that it is the virtuous person that cares about things that are good? How is a cheating person different from a virtuous person when they are after the same things? Well, the cheat wants to get things that are good in themselves (e.g. gold, land, etc.), because someone will always have some need of them, and having them can make a person be well-off, and yet they may not even need them, and someone more deserving should really be the one to get them. A virtuous person would like to have such things, and be able to make a good use of them with their virtue, but they do not try to snatch them from those who should rightly get them. A virtuous person thinks of what they have need of, and then chooses to pursue it. A grasping person looks for anything to try to get ahold of, even if they have no real need of it, and after they get it, they then decide what to do with it.

Well, then, if someone does not try to get hold of things that they should not have, must that then mean that the person is just? No, there are other ways to be unjust. For instance, think about when there is work to be done and people have to divide up who does what. The unjust person will try to get away with being unfair; they will try to get out of doing their fair of the work and be unjust in their dealings with their fellows. When it comes to anything bad, unjust people try to push as much as possible onto other people, and then let them deal with it. So, a person can be unfair in two ways: (1) by grabbing hold of more than their fair share of something good and (2) by pushing their fair share of something not good onto someone else.

But let us get back to justice and say exactly what it is. The law of the state is supposed to make for justice in the state. So, let us look at how obeying the law and doing the right (i.e. just) thing relate to each other. Now, we said that lawless people are unjust and law-abiding people are just. Law-abiding means doing what the law says to do. From this it seems to follow that any lawful act is a just act. The acts that are set down through the art of Law are lawful, and each of these acts is just. Obviously, the law is not going to be made for unjust acts. But it is not so obvious why lawful acts have to be just and why it cannot be that lawful acts are neutral, neither just nor unjust. But we shall later come to see how this is so.

The laws are made for the good of all, or for the best or for those in power. These laws make for actions that are for the good of the political society, and actions that are for the good of the thing make for the happiness of that thing. So really, the laws should make the political society be happy. And if the laws make the political society be happy, then the people doing the acts are acting for another's good. We said before that justice is "doing right by" someone or that it is "another's good".

From this we should expect to find laws that command the citizens to do virtuous acts and forbid them to do vicious acts, and when we look at the laws, we see that this is the case. For instance, the law commands us to be brave and to not be cowards when it says that we must stand by our post and not flee the enemy or drop our gear. The law would have us all be temperate and good-tempered when it forbids adultery and assault and slander. There are other laws that relate to the other virtues and the other vices; some require us to do virtuous acts and others forbid us to do wicked acts. But note that it does make a difference how the law is framed. A better law is one that is carefully written; you can see that in how it does a better job of bringing about the virtuous acts and stopping the wicked ones. A law that is not so well put together will not get as good results.

When justice is realized in a state, through superb laws, laws that bring about virtuous behavior and prevent vicious behavior - when that is so we may say that we have placed within that justice all of virtue, virtue that is to the benefit of one's fellow citizens. Say again, good laws make for justice and (as the proverb says) "within justice is found all of virtue". Justice is, as we said at the start, something special, so much so that: "Neither evening nor morning star is so lovely."

Being a law-abiding citizen makes a person also be virtuous. This is because the law governs how we deal with our fellow citizens. Justice comes from people exercising virtue towards each other. Sure, many people can be virtuous when they are at home, but when they have to deal with their fellow citizens, the viciousness comes out. And so people love to quote the saying of Bias: "Rule will show the man." When a person rules, they, of course, must have dealings with others, and with society in general; and, being in a superior position, they may feel free to act in vicious ways (whereas before they may have wanted to act viciously, but could not, and so gave the appearance of having virtue). Again, in their dealings with their fellow citizens, the true character of a person, both the virtues and the vices of that person, will be shown.

It is also said that "justice is another's good", and that sets it apart from the other virtues. To be just, one must do things that are good for another person, and not only for oneself. You can see this if you consider that while the worst person is one that does bad both to themselves and to other people, the opposite of this, the best person, is not one that does good to themselves only; the best person does good to others as well. The realities of life make this hard to do, but we have said before that the best things, the most virtuous things are those which are hardest to do.

So we say again, that justice, in this sense of the word, is more than one of the virtues, it is total virtue. Injustice, in this sense of the word, is more than one of the vices, it is total vice.

If virtue is action for the good, generally speaking, then justice is, specifically, action for the good of one's fellow human beings. Both these kinds of actions (virtuous and just) come from the very same character, and yet they differ in their essence; this is because justice is all about relationships, how people stand in relation to one another, which we shall see in the following chapters.


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