Book 05
Chapter 02
The injustices that involve taking from fellow human beings are the worst.

Now let us look at injustice as being a part of vice, which is the choosing and doing of what is bad.

Injustice is set by itself, apart from the other vices, as the worst of them. None of the other vices involve someone reaching out and taking from another person. Someone may be lacking in good character, and because of that they will run away from danger, or say bad things from bad temper, or be too stingy with their money. Still, none of these shows as bad a character as does cheating someone out of what is rightfully theirs.

With this in mind, we have to separate out the two senses in which we use the term 'unjust'. The first sense is a broad sense that covers everything that breaks laws. This will include things like drunken brawls. That we separate out from the second sense, the narrow sense, which covers acts where one person's loss is another's gain. This second sense is especially bad.

So, for instance, one person may try to get with the spouse of another because they are driven on by lust. Another may do it because they think that once they set up that relationship, they can then make a gain of some kind, or otherwise profit from the relationship (while the first person may even lose money from what they spend on gifts and whatnot). So, we should not call the first person grasping (i.e. unjust in the narrow sense). But what that person does is unjust in the wide sense of the term, it is against the law, and it harms fellow citizens. However, the second person is unjust in the narrow sense, because they are looking to make gain by taking from another.

Again, for each unjust act we have a vice which matches to it (e.g. adultery matches to self-indulgence), but when the person doing the unjust act is doing it in order to take from another person, to gain at the expense of another, then we do not say that the taker is self-indulgent or cowardly or bad-tempered. And yet why not? After all, they do the same things. While that is true, we still call them by a different name, because they have a different kind of character, a worse kind of character. This kind of person specifically and intentionally looks to make themselves better off by making other people worse off. This is what we mean when we speak of the narrow sense, the worse sense, in which the term 'unjust' is used.

Another way to think about it is this: when it comes to the virtues, a person who will fight bravely for their country for the sake of honor is called courageous, and that person has one of the virtues. But a person who does the same thing, not for the sake of honor, but because they feel like they owe it to their country, such a person is just. And such a person will likewise do the liberal act, the magnanimous act, and so on, all from this sense and love of justice. Likewise also, the mean person will not help a friend, because they are trying to guard their money (and perhaps it is because they were once poor and not because they do not love their friend), but the unjust person does not help because they always are looking to put themselves ahead and others behind. The mean person may have some virtues, but the unjust person will have all the vices. Take King Ixion, as an example of a totally unjust person. Ixion refused to pay what he owed to the family of his wife. After his father-in-law tried to even the score by stealing back what he was owed, Ixion murdered him. And even after Zeus took pity on Ixion, Ixion paid Zeus back by trying get with his wife. Such is the character of a person that is always looking to take from others, they have many vices and do many wicked deeds.

At this point, it should be clear that there are two senses in which we use the words 'just' and the word 'unjust'.

Now let us bring the terms 'unlawful' and 'unfair' into the mix and figure out how to square them with 'unjust'. The law is supposed to make for justice, so anything that goes against the law is unjust. Say again, all that is unlawful is unjust. And in all cases where one person wrongfully gains from the loss of another, we say that is something which is unjust and unfair. But then what is the difference between unlawful and unfair? Unfair is to unlawful as part is to whole. Everything that is unfair is also unlawful (and so people file lawsuits to get back what got took from them), but not everything that is unlawful is unfair. Take, for instance, crimes due to negligence or passion (e.g. simple assault and battery) even though they may be most unlawful, the person that committed the crime did not gain anything by it, and so we do not say that they acted unfairly (fairness does not even really enter into it), but they did act unlawfully and unjustly.

It is, again, important to relate these to the character of the person and the sense in which we use the terms 'unjust' and 'injustice'. Many people make mistakes, break the law, and act unjustly in the wide sense. But that comes more from having some failing, some vice, rather than having a grasping character (i.e. being a taker in life). From such a character, people act unjustly in the narrow sense. The difference between the wide and narrow senses is not based on what the person does, but rather from what kind of character they have (our character being why we do what we do).

Now, the things that the law says we must do are those things which make for virtue as a whole, and doing them makes a person be virtuous. And we can think of the law as being educational in that way (i.e. the law teaches us what to do and not do in order to be virtuous). But while we must follow the law in order to be virtuous, what that means is going to be different for different people in different cases. We said before that these things cannot be set down exactly in advance. Life is complicated, everyone has their own different circumstances and problems to deal with; so different people are going to have to figure out different ways to both make a living for themselves and at the same time keep within the law. (And further, bear in mind we said before that virtue is hard.) So, therefore, if we are talking about some individual person, and what makes that person good as an individual, that is not something that we can cover in this current discussion.

We also cannot decide here whether or not the art of Politics is what would be used to educate the individual in how to be good. After all, it may well be the case that to be "a good citizen of Athens" and "a good citizen of Sparta" are not the same, and to be "a good person" (and citizen of the world) is also different from both of the others.

Finally, we go through several different kinds of interactions that people have with each other, and in each of those interactions justice is always going to come into play; the result is going to either be a just one, if each person gets what is fair, or an unjust one, if they do not get what is fair. First, we have the dividing up of shares, of money, or honor, or other such things, among everyone who has a stake in the whole (e.g. splitting the profits of a business between the owners or setting up the tax code for the city). Second is the justice that is about making things right and good in the dealings that people have with each other (i.e. trades and other transactions). We break these down even further into those that people do voluntarily (such as sales, loans, renting, etc.) (and these people do because they want to), and those that people do involuntarily (which happen to them against their will). The involuntary are the clandestine, or things done on the sly (such as theft and false witness) and the violent (such as assault and murder).


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