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

Chapter 6: (One can act unjustly without being unjust.) That which is just in the strict sense is between citizens only, for it implies law.

But since it is possible for a man to do an act of injustice without yet being unjust, what acts of injustice are there, such that the doing of them stamps a man at once as unjust in this or that particular way, e.g. as a thief, or an adulterer, or a robber?

Perhaps we ought to reply that there is no such difference in the acts. A man might commit adultery, knowing what he was about, and yet be acting not from a deliberate purpose at all, but from Peters1893: V. 6, 2a momentary passion. In such a case, then, a man acts unjustly, but is not unjust; e.g. is not a thief though he commits a theft, and is not an adulterer though he commits adultery, and so on.

We have already explained the relation which requital bears to that which is just. But we must not fail to notice that what we are seeking is at once that which is just simply [or without any qualifying epithet], and that which is just in a state or between citizens. Now, this implies men who associate together in order to supply their deficiencies, being free men, and upon a footing of equality, either absolute or proportionate.

Between those who are not upon this footing, then, we cannot speak of that which is just as between citizens (though there is something that can be called just metaphorically). For the term just cannot be properly applied, except where men have a law to appeal to, and the existence of law implies the existence of injustice; for the administration of the law is the discrimination of what is just from what is unjust.

But injustice implies an act of injustice (though an act of injustice does not always imply injustice) which is taking too much of the goods and too little of the evils of life. And so we do not allow an individual to rule over us, but reason or law; for an individual is apt thus to take more for himself, and to become a tyrant.

The magistrate’s function, then, is to secure that which is just, and if that which is just, then that which is equal or fair. But it seems that he gets no advantage from his office, if he is just (for he does not take a larger share of the good things of life, except when that larger share is proportionate to his worth; he works, therefore, in the interests of others, which is the reason why justice is sometimes called “another’s good,” as we remarked before). Some salary, therefore, must be given him, and this he receives in the shape of honours and privileges; and it is when magistrates are not content with these that they make themselves tyrants.

That which is just as between master and slave, or between father and child, is not the same as this, though like. We cannot speak (without qualification) of injustice towards what is part of one’s self—and a man’s chattels and his children (until they are of a certain age and are separated from their parent) are as it were a part of him—for no one deliberately chooses to injure himself; so that a man cannot be unjust towards himself.

We cannot speak in this case, then, of that which is unjust, or of that which is just as between citizens; for that, we found, is according to law, and subsists between those whose situation implies law, i.e., as we found, those who participate equally or fairly in governing and being governed.

The term just, therefore, is more appropriate to a man’s relations to his wife than to his relations to his children and his chattels, and we do speak in this sense of that which is just in a family; but even this is not the same as that which is just between citizens.


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