Book 5: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices—Concluded. Justice.

Chapter 11: Can a man wrong himself?

The foregoing discussion enables us to answer the question whether it be possible or not for a man to act unjustly to himself.

That which is just in one sense of the word we found to be those manifestations of the several virtues which the law prescribes: e.g. the law does not order a man to kill himself; and what the law does not Peters1893: V. 11, 2order it forbids: and, further, when a man, contrary to the law, voluntarily inflicts hurt without provocation, he acts unjustly (voluntarily meaning with knowledge of the person and the instrument). Now, the man who kills himself in a rage voluntarily acts thus against right reason and does what the law forbids: he acts unjustly therefore.

But unjustly to whom? To the state surely, not to himself; for he suffers voluntarily, but no one can have an injustice done him voluntarily. And upon this ground the state actually punishes him, i.e. it pronounces a particular kind of disfranchisement upon the man who destroys himself, as one who acts unjustly towards the state.

Again, if we take the word unjust in the other sense, in which it is used to designate not general badness, but a particular species of vice, we find that in this sense also it is impossible to act unjustly to one’s self. (This, we found, is different from the former sense of the word: the unjust man in this second sense is bad in the same way as the coward is bad, i.e. as having a particular form of vice, not as having a completely vicious character, nor do we mean to say that he displays a completely vicious character when we say that he acts unjustly). For if it were possible, it would be possible for the same thing at the same time to be taken from and added to the same person. But this is impossible; and, in fact, a just deed or an unjust deed always implies more persons than one.

Further, an act of injustice, besides being voluntary, if not deliberate, must be prior to hurt received (for he who, having received some hurt, repays the same that he received is not held to act unjustly); but he who hurts himself suffers that very hurt at the same time that he inflicts it.

Again, if it were possible for a man to act unjustly to himself, it would be possible to suffer injustice voluntarily.

Further, a man cannot act unjustly without doing an act of injustice of some particular kind; but no one commits adultery with his own wife, or burglariously breaks through his own walls, or steals his own property.

But the whole question about acting unjustly to one’s self is settled (without going into detail) by the answer we gave* to the question whether a man could voluntarily suffer injustice.

(It is plain that to suffer and to do injustice are both bad, for the one is to get less and the other more than the mean amount, which corresponds to what is healthy in medicine, or to what promotes good condition in gymnastics: but, though both are bad, to do injustice is the worse; for to do injustice is blamable and implies vice (either completely formed vice, what we call vice simply, or else that which is on the way to become vice; for a voluntary act of injustice does not always imply injustice), but to have injustice done to you is no token of a vicious and unjust character.

In itself, then, to be unjustly treated is less bad, but there is nothing to prevent its being accidentally the greater evil. Science, however, does not concern itself with these accidents, but calls a plcurisy a greater malady than a stumble; and yet the latter might, on occasion, accidentally become the greater, as, for instance, if a stumble were to cause you to fall and be caught or slain by the enemy.)

Though we cannot apply the term just to a man’s behaviour towards himself, yet we can apply it metaphorically and in virtue of a certain resemblance to the relations between certain parts of a man’s self—not, however, in all senses of the word just, but in that sense in which it is applied to the relations of master and slave, or husband and wife; for this is the sort of relation that exists between the rational and the irrational parts of the soul.

And it is this distinction of parts that leads people to fancy that there is such a thing as injustice to one’s self: one part of a man can have something done to it by another part contrary to its desires; and so they think that the term just can be applied to the relations of these parts to one another, just as to the relations of ruler and ruled.

We may now consider that we have concluded our examination of justice and the other moral virtues.


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