On justice: What it
WITH regards to justice and injustice we must (1) consider what kind
of actions they are concerned with, (2) what sort of mean justice
is, and (3) between what extremes the just act is intermediate. Our
investigation shall follow the same course as the preceding
This will take up all of this chapter,
and one reason for this is that, as Aristotle says in
, Justice in this sense, then, is not
part of virtue but virtue entire.
And it is noteworthy that in this Book
Aristotle starts discussing the intellectual virtues.
We see that all
men mean by justice that kind of state of character which makes people
disposed to do what is just and makes them act justly and wish for
what is just; and similarly by injustice that state which makes them
act unjustly and wish for what is unjust. Let us too, then, lay this
down as a general basis.
Of course, this is correct as far as it
goes. One may object here that it does not go very far at all, since
it seems to define "justice" in terms of
"just", but those who make this
objection may replace "just" by "right".
And anyway, what this means is the subject of this chapter.
The more important point to note here is
that Aristotle here takes "justice" as a
"state of character", rather than as a
quality of acts or of societies or governments.
This is bound to lead to confusions,
though it should be remarked this kind of confusion is inherent in
moral terms, for these both refer to human acts and human values.
For the same is
not true of the sciences and the faculties as of states of character.
Aristotle explains his meaning in the
text, but it may be remarked here that by "the
sciences" he means one's knowledge, by "the
faculties" one's capacities, and by "states
of character" the organization of the usage of one's faculties
in the light of one's knowledge, as one has brought this about by
instruction, example and training.
Now often one
contrary state is recognized from its contrary, and often states are
recognized from the subjects that exhibit them; for (A) if good
condition is known, bad condition also becomes known, and (B) good
condition is known from the things that are in good condition, and
they from it.
This point is also explained in the
text, and the reason to extract it is mainly to stress that one
generally has several points of entry in discussin something in moral
Now 'justice' and
'injustice' seem to be ambiguous, but because their different meanings
approach near to one another the ambiguity escapes notice and is not
obvious as it is, comparatively, when the meanings are far apart (..)
The ways in which "'justice'
and 'injustice'" are ambiguous are discussed below, and start
in the next point. Back.
Let us take as a
starting-point, then, the various meanings of 'an unjust man'. Both
the lawless man and the grasping and unfair man are thought to be
unjust, so that evidently both the law-abiding and the fair man will
be just. The just, then, is the lawful and the fair, the unjust the
unlawful and the unfair.
So here in fact we have two basic senses
of being "just": (1) to act in
accordance with the law and (2) to act in a fair way. One
main difficulty here is, of course, that what is in accordance with
the law may not belong to what one holds is fair.
This will be discussed in the rest of
the chapter, but it is well to hold on to the notion that, for a good
man, the law is required to be good, and it is good if it is fair, and
it is fair if it gives everyone his due according to his merits.
Here I am summarizing part of the point
of the chapter, but this may be helpful already here to get its drift.
Since the unjust man is grasping, he must be concerned with
goods - not all goods, but those with which prosperity and adversity
have to do, which taken absolutely are always good, but for a
particular person are not always good. Now men pray for and pursue
these things; but they should not, but should pray that the things
that are good absolutely may also be good for them, and should choose
the things that are good for them.
Note that what Aristotle means is that
being "unjust" and "grasping"
amounts to being greedy and egoistic, and craving or giving oneself
more of what is generally considered good and desirable than one
is entitled to.
Since the lawless
man was seen to be unjust and the law-abiding man just, evidently all
lawful acts are in a sense just acts; for the acts laid down by the
legislative art are lawful, and each of these, we say, is just.
Yes, but as is explained under
 there also is a relevant distinction here,
between what is legal and what is fair - though it is true that
Aristotle, who lived in a city-state, seemed to have more faith in the
moral justness of laws adopted by the state, than others may have,
Now the laws
in their enactments on all subjects aim at the common advantage either
of all or of the best or of those who hold power, or something of the
sort; so that in one sense we call those acts just that tend to
produce and preserve happiness and its components for the political
Note what Aristotle says the laws in a
society are for:
To help preserve the interests of all,
of the best, or of those in power, which are three rather different
sort of ends.
And Aristotle was one of those - of whom
I am also one - who believed that the laws should be for the common
good of all, but that all are not equal, and should not be treated as
equals if they are not, and that a society can be really good only if
it is ruled by some of the best, and not by some of the mediocre or
and ceteris paribus
that society is best where the best rule
in the real interests of all, and all have equal chances to become
And I should make an exception of the
following kind, if I want to state my own position well: As a rule,
and with the exception of special times, it seems to me also that the
very best should not rule, but rather do what they are the very best
at, whether this is art or science, for good governance requires good
self-control and a good mind, but normally not the highest scientific
or artistic abilities.
If one has a Newton or a Gauss, they are
more worthily employed doing mathematics or physics than with
Note also that the above stipulation is
ethical, and takes a stance on the issue of what is the best
kind of human society, and that it makes sense to consider briefly two
alternatives two it, one mostly utopian and one mostly factual.
First, there is the aristocratic best:
that society is best where the best rule
in the real interests of the best
This was much beloved by those who
considered themselves aristocrats in some sense, including Plato and
Second, there is the usual case:
- a society where the rich and
powerful rule in the real interests of the rich and powerful, more
or less moderated by laws, parliaments, elections and free speech -
while nearly any society will be propagandized by its ruling élite
as "best" in various senses, also "for all" (or at least all of
those who are of the right race, religion, parentage and
Note that this does not necessarily come
with bad government or low civilization, for good examples of the
usual case are Florence under the Medici and England under Elizabeth
I. Bad examples of the usual case are very plentiful, and of many
kinds. Athens in its great days was also mostly ruled by aristocrats,
if often in the name of democracy.
And any human society, with very few
exceptions, and whatever its ideology or religion, is pyramidical,
with few at the top (of power or income or status), many at the
bottom, and some inbetween.
This seems to be related to zoölogical
and genetical facts related to being a kind of talking social ape that
lives in families, groups and hordes, with insiders and outsiders, and
with potential cooperators and competitors everywhere, and also to a
more or less mathematical fact about coordinating groups of
individually deliberating agents, that normally does not work
optimally or at all when all have equal power and influence,
regardless of their merits or qualifications.
This form of
justice, then, is complete virtue, but not absolutely, but in relation
to our neighbour. And therefore justice is often thought to be the
greatest of virtues, and 'neither evening nor morning star' is so
wonderful; and proverbially 'in justice is every virtue comprehended'.
Hence, justice concerns how we treat
others, and for this reason is the basis of ethics in so far as this
is concerned with how human beings should treat others and what human
society is for.
One may ask whether Aristotle's "'neither
evening nor morning star' is so wonderful" inspired Kant's "Two
things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration, the
oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens
above and the moral law within." I merely note the parallel.
However, it is important to note
Aristotle's "proverbially 'in justice is every
virtue comprehended'": It is the central virtue, in his
opinion, and he gives his reason for this conviction in the next
And it is complete virtue in its fullest
sense, because it is the actual exercise of complete virtue. It is
complete because he who possesses it can exercise his virtue not
only in himself but towards his neighbour also; for many men can
exercise virtue in their own affairs, but not in their relations to
To be verbally correct, one must here
take "being just" as "doing what is right to others and oneself".
This is why the saying of Bias is thought to be true,
that 'rule will show the man'; for a ruler is necessarily in
relation to other men and a member of a society.
It seems not unlikely that Bias also
meant that especially "'rule will show the man'",
in that only a ruler need not be afraid to be punished for doing as he
pleases, as long as he is in power. And what this may come to is shown
by e.g. Suetonius' "The lifes of the Ceasars", and Zhisui Li's "The
private life of Chairman Mao".
For this same
reason justice, alone of the virtues, is thought to be 'another's
good', because it is related to our neighbour; for it does what is
advantageous to another, either a ruler or a copartner. Now the worst
man is he who exercises his wickedness both towards himself and
towards his friends, and the best man is not he who exercises his
virtue towards himself but he who exercises it towards another; for
this is a difficult task. Justice in this sense, then, is not part of
virtue but virtue entire, nor is the contrary injustice a part of vice
but vice entire.
This cannot be quite correct, although I
like the last statement. I have two reasons.
good'" was also thought of with other virtues, like liberality,
magnificence and friendliness, all treated before.
Secondly, it would seem that "the
worst man" may well be, sometimes at least, who maltreats many
while being good to himself and his friends and family.
For example, it would seem that Hitler
was not noticeably bad against his friends and comrades. Likewise, and
to use a less extreme example, it would seem many entrepreneurs who
savagely exploited their laborers where quite kind to their own families.
On other kinds of
justice: Righteousness, fairness, equity
There is, then,
another kind of injustice which is a part of injustice in the wide
sense, and a use of the word 'unjust' which answers to a part of what
is unjust in the wide sense of 'contrary to the law'.
Precisely, and it is important to keep
in mind that the law may itself be unjust, and may also be exercised
unjustly or incompetently if is just.
Also, it should be kept in mind that (i)
all systems of law, however enlightened, impartial, free, democratic
or what not, is based on some general metaphysical assumptions and
(ii) many systems of law include much that is due to some religion or
political ideology, that would not be law if some other religiom or
political ideology were in power.
It has been quite lawful, just, moral,
decent and desirable in quite a few places to burn heretics, stone
deviants, mutilate newly born, crucify opponents, enslave or gas
racially inferior, or lock up any opposition and work them to death.
therefore, there is apart from injustice in the wide sense another,
'particular', injustice which shares the name and nature of the first,
because its definition falls within the same genus; for the
significance of both consists in a relation to one's neighbour, but
the one is concerned with honour or money or safety - or that which includes all these, if we had a single name for
it - and its motive is the pleasure that arises from gain; while the
other is concerned with all the objects with which the good man is
See first under .
Aristotle in this point seems to answer
an objection I raised under , but if so his answer here is not
very satisfactory, since there are more virtues than justice that are
concerned with "a relation to one's neighbour":
Honesty, friendliness, helpfulness, tact, wit, liberality,
magnificence and other virtues that
make one good or likable company for others to have.
The unjust has
been divided into the unlawful and the unfair, and the just into the
lawful and the fair. To the unlawful answers the afore-mentioned sense
of injustice. But since unfair and the unlawful are not the same, but
are different as a part is from its whole (for all that is unfair is
unlawful, but not all that is unlawful is unfair), the unjust and
injustice in the sense of the unfair are not the same (..)
One way of drawing the distinction
Aristotle discusses is to use another term for what is just but may
not be part of the law or contrary to it: The righteous or
simply the right.
justice and that which is just in the corresponding sense, (A) one
kind is that which is manifested in distributions of honour or money
or the other things that fall to be divided among those who have a
share in the constitution (for in these it is possible for one man to
have a share either unequal or equal to that of another), and (B) one
is that which plays a rectifying part in transactions between man and
The former may be called "fairness"
and the latter "equity", and brief definitions would be
that fairness consists in giving others what is due to them, and
equity consists in recompensing what results from unfairness or ill
luck. (Incidentally, the Aristotelian compensatory sense in which
"equity" is part of English law does not belong to other systems of European laws,
to my knowledge.)
One example of both terms in their
intended senses is this: All got an equal share in the spoils, so that
these were fairly distributed, but care was taken to give the wounded
something extra, to make up for their pains and so restore equity.
On distributive justice.
therefore, involves at least four terms; for the persons for whom it
is in fact just are two, and the things in which it is manifested, the
objects distributed, are two.
At this point it makes sense to insert a
brief and somewhat formal explanation of social cooperation and
agreement, where I presume the logic of propositional
attitudes, and some logical facility in the reader, though I will
explain the formula I use:
Conscious social cooperation
involves the following, with
"aCFa" = "person a tries to cause the
fact that a has property F"
"aDFa" = "person a desires the fact that a has property F"
"aKFa" = "person a knows the fact that a has property F"
First, there is a simple definition of
(1) CP(a,b,Fa,Gb) =def aCFa iff bCGb
Cooperation: a and b cooperate concerning Fa and
which is to say that a tries to bring about Fa
if and only if b tries to bring about Gb. Next, cooperation requires
(2) A(a,b,Fa,Gb) =def aDCP(a,b,p,q) &
Agreement: Both desire the cooperation mentioned in
which is to say a and b cooperate only if both
a and b desire to cooperate, and for this again they need to both know the
(3) KAC(a,b,Fa,Gb) =def aKA(a,b,Fa,Gb) & bKA(a,b,Fa,Gb) -
Knowledge of Agreement to
which is to say that a and b both know that
both desire to cooperate.
And now one can state when the successful
social cooperation of a and b has taken place:
(4) KAC(a,b,Fa,Gb) & aCFa & bCGb & Fa & Gb -
Successful social cooperation of a and b about
Fa and Gb
Successful social cooperation of a and b about
Fa and Gb amounts for a and b to have knowledge of their agreement to cooperate
and for both to have done their agreed parts successfully, which will bring to a
whatever good was produced by Gb and will bring to b whatever good was produced
Next, it is relevant to note the following
supposed truth about agreements, as a sort of minimal condition for their
fairness, and as explanation for the mutual willingness to cooperate:
(5) A(a,b,Fa,Gb) --> v(a,aCFa) <= v(a,bCGb)
v(b,bCGb) <= v(b,aCFa)
which is to say that in a minimal fair
agreement to cooperate, the persons involved like to exchange because each
likes what the other can offer more than what he can offer to the other in
Note that (5) can be derived from a presumption
like this about both a and b, here only formulated for a, and using "v(a,q)" =
"the value of q for a":
(6) aDC(a,b,Fa,Gb) --> v(a,aCFa) <= v(a,bCGb)
which is to say that a desires to cooperate
only if a believes a will get at least as good as he gives.
It is noteworthy that none of the above
requires money or a market in any sense, for all that need be
involved are the value-assessments of the parties involved, that should make for
the agreement stated by (5).
And it is also noteworthy that there are,
between humans, very many ordinary social transactions that conform to
the above, and that amount the exchanges of kindnesses, mutual help, barter,
friendliness, politeness etcetera, for most of the voluntary cooperation
between humans conforms to the above, and needs nothing else, since if the
conditions are met, both parties involved by their own values profit from the
transaction (or at least don't loose by it).
However, it is true that the above may lead to
situations that, at least after the fact of exchange, may be considered quite
unfair - for example, as the Indians may have soon found after bartering away
Manhattan for a handful of trinkets to the Dutch that they were deceived, and
could have received much more than they got out of this nation of sly and
One can take care of this difficulty in various
ways, and I will here do it as follows:
(7) v($,Fa) sim v($,Gb) =d
which is to say that I suppose acts and
commodities in a society $ have a social value that is similar if and
only if everybody in the society knows that they probably can find someone in
the society to make a fair exchange of the goods or acts involved.
And now one can define
(8) FA(a,b,Fa,Gb) = d A(a,b,Fa,Gb) &
aK(v($,Fa) sim v($,Gb)) &
bK(v($,Fa) sim v($,Gb))
which is to say that a fair agreement
amounts to getting a fair deal for a fair price, where the deal is fair
because both parties agree they are willing to exchange, and the price is fair
because both parties know they could get a similar deal elsewhere in the
society, if they had tried.
Note though that it is still not necessary to
use money, and that again there are many transactions between humans in a
society that are fair agreements as defined, whether or not they involve money.
but this is the
origin of quarrels and complaints - when either equals have and are awarded
unequal shares, or unequals equal shares. Further, this is plain
from the fact that awards should be 'according to merit'; for all
men agree that what is just in distribution must be according to merit
in some sense, though they do not all specify the same sort of
merit, but democrats identify it with the status of freeman,
supporters of oligarchy with wealth (or with noble birth), and
supporters of aristocracy with excellence.
Hence what Aristotle is saying amounts
to a kind of proportionality with regards to merit. Suppose a's merit
in society or group $ is written as m($,a) and a's share in society or
group $ of some good g is written as s($,a,g), and likewise for person
b, then there is - something like - justice or equitability
or fairness in the
distribution of good things g if
m($,a) : m($,b) = s($,a,g) : s($,b,g)
It seems sensible to assume that this
will tend to seem to be fair to a and b to the extent that they both
agree on their relative merits.
And it should also be mentioned here
that equal merits are usually easier to agree to in cases where (i) a
and b have both actively contributed to the production of the benefits
that are shared out (ii) their merits depend mostly on their
personal contributions to the production of these benefits and (iii) what a's and
b's personal contributions have been is uncontested.
It becomes less obviously fair when
these conditions are not met, and especially where a gets
(disproportionally) more than b, because of some difference in
caste, nobility, gender, ethnicity, religion etc. and b does not
accept that these differences exist or that they are relevant for the
distribution. (In rare cases, a may object as well, but as people are,
on average, it is not common for people to protest that they get too
much of what they desire.)
In any case, the clearly contentious
cases of unequal distribution will be especially those where the one
gets more than the other not because one made a greater contribution
or as some clear personal merit or entitlement, but because the one
belongs to a supposedly better kind of persons than the other, where
the better kind does not involve personal acts or characteristics but
some general characteristic that holds for many regardless of their
actions, like race or gender or family.
However, it should be mentioned that
during the greatest part of human history clearly unequal schemes of
distribution of goods have been accepted because those who got less
agreed or put up with the idea that those who got more were entitled
to get more by reason of their birth in some group, or by reason of
their group's defeating or enslaving those who got less.
Also, it should be noted that most men
do think it fair if some that are special - such as: the ill, the
weak, the old, the young - get special and favourable treatment, and
are entitled to more than would be their fair share on account of
their special condition. And this does not only hold for those with
undeserved shortcomings, but often also for those with favorable
characteristics, such as the beautiful, the brave, the witty.
And a final relevant consideration with
respect to the stated proportionality is that it does seem to hold
within many human groups; that it often gets the simpler form of "equal
merits give equal rights or shares"; and that this is often argued
negatively as in: nobody got special treatment or advantage, except
perhaps those who are clearly special or disadvantaged.
The just, then,
is a species of the proportionate (proportion being not a property
only of the kind of number which consists of abstract units, but of
number in general). For proportion is equality of ratios (..)
This is a very important point to get
Aristotle's sense right: He insisted that the just is "a
species of the proportionate" and held, contrary to modern
democratic notions, that not all people are equal.
It should be remarked at this point that
modern democratic notions often involve a confusion between (i) the
equality of all and (ii) the equality of all for the law, and that the
former is a delusion and the latter is desirable, and also that the
former is in fact rejected by all or nearly all if they personally
benefit from an unequal distribution of something they desire, whereas
the latter, even where it exists on paper, is difficult to enforce,
since e.g. the poor, the ill or the stupid will often find it
impossible to enforce their paper rights in practice.
This, then, is what the just is - the
proportional; the unjust is what violates the proportion. Hence one
term becomes too great, the other too small, as indeed happens in
practice; for the man who acts unjustly has too much, and the man who
is unjustly treated too little, of what is good. In the case of evil
the reverse is true; for the lesser evil is reckoned a good in
comparison with the greater evil, since the lesser evil is rather to
be chosen than the greater, and what is worthy of choice is good, and
what is worthier of choice a greater good.
See first under .
Next, the main problem for a
proportionally fair distribution will be whether the people who fall
under such a distribution agree on the prior distinctions of merit
that enter into the proportional sharing - for if you don't agree your
neighbour is ten times as good, or contributed ten times as much as
you did, you will not think it fair that he receives ten times as much
as you do.
However, it should also be noted that in
any more or less stable society the majority of its members mostly
accept the distinctions of merits between groups, normally it seems
because they have been born and educated in that society with those
distinctions, which therefore appeared normal.
On corrective justice.
one is the rectificatory, which arises in connexion with transactions
both voluntary and involuntary.
Perhaps "compensatory" or
"corrective" is better than "rectificatory".
For it makes no
difference whether a good man has defrauded a bad man or a bad man a
good one, nor whether it is a good or a bad man that has committed
adultery; the law looks only to the distinctive character of the
injury, and treats the parties as equal, if one is in the wrong and
the other is being wronged, and if one inflicted injury and the other
has received it.
So here we see in what sense Aristotle
means his "rectificatory" justice:
Especially in those cases where the law, that is bound to treat equal
cases equally, and is supposed not to consider individual merits, in
so far at least as these are not involved in the case, and are judged
apart from these merits.
This is why,
when people dispute, they take refuge in the judge; and to go to the
judge is to go to justice; for the nature of the judge is to be a sort
of animate justice; and they seek the judge as an intermediate, and in
some states they call judges mediators, on the assumption that if they
get what is intermediate they will get what is just.
Indeed, but it makes sense to add two
reasons why people may go to court over disagreements they cannot
easily settle otherwise: Because they assume that the judge will be
impartial, and because they know what principles he will use to settle
the case, for the former is necessary for a good judge, and the latter
follows from the fact that minimally fair laws have been made public
for all to know, and are supposed to be applied similarly to all cases
they apply to at all, by a fair and impartial judge.
Therefore the just is intermediate between a sort of gain and a sort
of loss, viz. those which are involuntary; it consists in having an
equal amount before and after the transaction.
See under  for a
fairly precise, full and general theory, that explains fairly well why
people cooperate, and what is involved in this.
On corrective justice
Some think that reciprocity is without qualification just, as the
Pythagoreans said; for they defined justice without qualification as
reciprocity. Now 'reciprocity' fits neither distributive nor
rectificatory justice (..)
And it does not because "an eye for an
eye" and similar rules do not make reference to the merits of the
parties involved, and hence also not to the fact that such supposed
equalities may be quite unequal if the parties involved are not equal.
See under  for
in associations for exchange this sort of justice does hold men
together - reciprocity in accordance with a proportion and not on the
basis of precisely equal return. For it is by proportionate requital
that the city holds together. Men seek to return either evil for evil -
and if they cannot do so, think their position mere slavery - or good
for good - and if they cannot do so there is no exchange, but it is by
exchange that they hold together.
Yes, this seems to me to be correct -
but it should be noted, also with reference to 
and , that this does require a considerable
agreement on the relative merits of the people in the society who
receive shares in proportion to their supposed merits.
proportionate return is secured by cross-conjunction. Let A be a
builder, B a shoemaker, C a house, D a shoe. The builder, then, must
get from the shoemaker the latter's work, and must himself give him in
return his own. If, then, first there is proportionate equality of
goods, and then reciprocal action takes place, the result we mention
will be effected. If not, the bargain is not equal, and does not hold;
for there is nothing to prevent the work of the one being better than
that of the other; they must therefore be equated.
I think I have explained this tolerably
well under , and I insist once more that this
explanation goes beyond money and transferable commodities, and
applies to many more things. Also, there is a sharpening of it under
It may be also interesting to remark
that the present consideration of Aristotle, and similar ones in his
Politics, seem to have inspired both Ricardo and Marx in their
theories about the economical value of commodities.
And since I am here writing about the
economical value of commodities, let me also remark that there seem to
be two basic approaches to that: One that insists that the value of a
commodity is somehow proportional to the amount, kind and quality of
labor expended on it to make it, and another that insists that the
value of a commodity is somehow proportional to the demand for it.
Aristotle addresses a related problem in
the next point.
For it is not
two doctors that associate for exchange, but a doctor and a farmer, or
in general people who are different and unequal; but these must be
equated. This is why all things that are exchanged must be somehow
comparable. It is for this end that money has been introduced, and it
becomes in a sense an intermediate; for it measures all things, and
therefore the excess and the defect - how many shoes are equal to a
house or to a given amount of food. The number of shoes exchanged for
a house (or for a given amount of food) must therefore correspond to
the ratio of builder to shoemaker. For if this be not so, there will
be no exchange and no intercourse.
As I have explained under
 and , it seems to me
that people exchange many things under wider conditions than may occur
in a market, or than may required be for profit, or than can be measured
(reasonably) in terms of money.
But my main reason to remark this is
very probably one Aristotle would have agreed to, namely that there
are more goods than economical goods, and more things of value than
can be measured by money.
proportion will not be effected unless the goods are somehow equal.
All goods must therefore be measured by some one thing, as we said
before. Now this unit is in truth demand, which holds all things
together (for if men did not need one another's goods at all, or did
not need them equally, there would be either no exchange or not the
same exchange); but money has become by convention a sort of
representative of demand; and this is why it has the name 'money' (nomisma)
- because it exists not by nature but by law (nomos) and it is
in our power to change it and make it useless.
It is quite interesting, also
economically and politically, that Aristotle says that it is "demand,
which holds all things together", for in this he agrees with
most modern economists, but not with Marx and his followers, who held,
rather, that the proper "unit" to measure
commodities by is not money, or demand, but labour: The time that it
takes average skilled labour to produce it.
then, be reciprocity when the terms have been equated so that as
farmer is to shoemaker, the amount of the shoemaker's work is to that
of the farmer's work for which it exchanges. But we must not bring
them into a figure of proportion when they have already exchanged
(otherwise one extreme will have both excesses), but when they still
have their own goods.
First note that here, unlike in the
previous note, Aristotle does formulate something like a labour theory
of value, when he writes "the amount of the
shoemaker's work is to that of the farmer's work for which it
Secondly, this involves something like
the following, with "f" for "farmer", "w(f)" for "work of farmer" and
"v(w(f),t)" for "value of work of farmer done in time t", and likewise
for the shoemaker:
(1) v(f,t) : v(s,t) = k IFF v(w(f),t) :
v(w(s),t) = k
which is considerably more demanding
than the theory I stated under  or
 since it
assumes far more is settled than I assumed there.
Third, Aristotle does make a very
justified remark when he says that what matters for an exchange to be
made is what the participants think of it before it is made, and not
after it, and this holds for my theory under 
as much as for his proportional exchanging, using something like (1).
And for those with some interest in
economics, it should be mentioned that we have here something like the
original basis of labour theories of value, such as were also
used and developed by Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa.
Thus they are
equals and associates just because this equality can be effected in
their case. Let A be a farmer, C food, B a shoemaker, D his product
equated to C. If it had not been possible for reciprocity to be thus
effected, there would have been no association of the parties. That
demand holds things together as a single unit is shown by the fact
that when men do not need one another, i.e. when neither needs the
other or one does not need the other, they do not exchange, as we do
when some one wants what one has oneself, e.g. when people permit the
exportation of corn in exchange for wine.
Here Aristotle seems to go to me too far
in the direction of restricting all manner of exchange to economical
exchange. See the next point.
Now the same
thing happens to money itself as to goods - it is not always worth the
same; yet it tends to be steadier. This is why all goods must have a
price set on them; for then there will always be exchange, and if so,
association of man with man. Money, then, acting as a measure, makes
goods commensurate and equates them; for neither would there have been
association if there were not exchange, nor exchange if there were not
equality, nor equality if there were not commensurability.
And this seems to me to give too much
preference to what has a monetary value.
My reason to object here and in the
previous note is that I think that the theory of exchange I outlined
under  is more comprehensive and more
accurate, and that men exchange things whenever they think it is in
their interests, and that this also holds for many things that have no
Now in truth it is impossible that things
differing so much should become commensurate, but with reference to
demand they may become so sufficiently. There must, then, be a unit,
and that fixed by agreement (for which reason it is called money); for
it is this that makes all things commensurate, since all things are
measured by money.
As I pointed out in several of my notes,
it seems better in this context not to speak "with
reference to demand", since that may depend a lot on special
conditions and needs, but with reference to a market, and to
explain this again by reference to what I said under
 about fair agreements.
We have now defined the unjust and the just.
These having been marked off from each other, it is plain that just
action is intermediate between acting unjustly and being unjustly
treated; for the one is to have too much and the other to have too
Note that in order to have justice a
mean, in conformity with his general doctrine, Aristotle here
implicitly widens the sense of "justice" to include oneself, for he
effectively defines the just man as he who gives and takes what
is right, for a man in his position.
Justice is a
kind of mean, but not in the same way as the other virtues, but
because it relates to an intermediate amount, while injustice relates
to the extremes. And justice is that in virtue of which the just man
is said to be a doer, by choice, of that which is just, and one who
will distribute either between himself and another or between two
others not so as to give more of what is desirable to himself and less
to his neighbour (and conversely with what is harmful), but so as to
give what is equal in accordance with proportion; and similarly in
distributing between two other persons.
So in any case, justice still centers
around proportional exchange.
On other kinds of
justice: Political, between unequals, between man and wife.
we must not
forget that what we are looking for is not only what is just without
qualification but also political justice. This is found among men who
share their life with a view to selfsufficiency, men who are free and
either proportionately or arithmetically equal, so that between those
who do not fulfil this condition there is no political justice but
justice in a special sense and by analogy.
Put otherwise, "political
justice" involves men who from their own free choice live in
some society, where they agree to the main ends of the society and
most of its laws, and have a standing as citizen among other citizens.
Note that this involves quite a number
And between men
between whom there is injustice there is also unjust action (though
there is not injustice between all between whom there is unjust
action), and this is assigning too much to oneself of things good in
themselves and too little of things evil in themselves. This is why we
do not allow a man to rule, but rational principle, because a man
behaves thus in his own interests and becomes a tyrant.
Notice that we have here a very simple
quite general characterization of acting unjustly: "assigning
too much to oneself of things good in themselves and too little of
things evil in themselves".
The justice of a
master and that of a father are not the same as the justice of
citizens, though they are like it; for there can be no injustice in
the unqualified sense towards thing that are one's own, but a man's
chattel, and his child until it reaches a certain age and sets up for
itself, are as it were part of himself, and no one chooses to hurt
himself (for which reason there can be no injustice towards oneself).
Here Aristotle speaks of what was the
law in his time and place, where chattel, and children, and wifes,
were mostly as property to the man who was said to own them.
And it is also noteworthy that here
Aristotle says "there can be no injustice
towards oneself", which is not consistent with what he
suggested in  and , namely that one can also give oneself too
little of what is good, though this is unlikely for ordinary men.
can more truly be manifested towards a wife than towards children and
chattels, for the former is household justice; but even this is
different from political justice.
Because, in Aristotle's opinion and
according to Athenian law of his time, "a wife"
is the property of her husband, and women are inferior to men in
On political justice.
justice part is natural, part legal; natural, that which everywhere
has the same force and does not exist by people's thinking this or
that; legal, that which is originally indifferent, but when it has
been laid down is not indifferent, e.g. that a prisoner's ransom shall
be a mina (..)
Note that what is "natural"
in "political justice" must be based on
needs and characteristics all humans (in so far as they are concerned)
share, and note also that it is not necessary that everything that is
legal is conventional and not natural.
In any case, it is interesting to note
that Aristotle seems to presume that there is some natural justice
between men, that must be based on what all men know about human needs
and characteristics, and that seems best described by a rough negative
rule of thumb about fair sharing: Where goods are distributed, all get
an equal share unless they are somehow special.
Now some think
that all justice is of this sort, because that which is by nature is
unchangeable and has everywhere the same force (as fire burns both
here and in Persia), while they see change in the things recognized as
just. This, however, is not true in this unqualified way, but is true
in a sense; or rather, with the gods it is perhaps not true at all,
while with us there is something that is just even by nature, yet all
of it is changeable; but still some is by nature, some not by nature.
It should be noted - and see  in ... -
that although it is true different men, and different kinds of men,
and men in different societies, usually have different desires, the
vast majority of human beings has very similar needs, interests and
preferences, and most differences between man and man, and between
society and society, apart from those due to scientific development,
are due to different prioritities between shared interests.
And in all other
things the same distinction will apply; by nature the right hand is
stronger, yet it is possible that all men should come to be
ambidextrous. The things which are just by virtue of convention and
expediency are like measures; for wine and corn measures are not
everywhere equal, but larger in wholesale and smaller in retail
markets. Similarly, the things which are just not by nature but by
human enactment are not everywhere the same, since constitutions also
are not the same, though there is but one which is everywhere by
nature the best.
It should be noted that Aristotle's
statement about "constitutions" that "but
one which is everywhere by nature the best" is to be understood
in the sense: namely, that one that best fits human nature while doing
Acts just and
unjust being as we have described them, a man acts unjustly or justly
whenever he does such acts voluntarily; when involuntarily, he acts
neither unjustly nor justly except in an incidental way; for he does
things which happen to be just or unjust. Whether an act is or is not
one of injustice (or of justice) is determined by its voluntariness or
Indeed, and all of this seems fair and
clear enough, but there is one problem: What if one acts under orders
- as when a soldier, a civil servant, or an employee acts as he is
told by his superior, while he knows or believes that what he does is
not morally right?
Here there is room for considerable
problems and unclarities.
By the voluntary
I mean, as has been said before, any of the things in a man's own
power which he does with knowledge, i.e. not in ignorance either of
the person acted on or of the instrument used or of the end that will
be attained (e.g. whom he is striking, with what, and to what end),
each such act being done not incidentally nor under compulsion (..)
See the beginning of
Book III for voluntary action.
which is done in ignorance, or though not done in ignorance is not in
the agent's power, or is done under compulsion, is involuntary (for
many natural processes, even, we knowingly both perform and
experience, none of which is either voluntary or involuntary; e.g.
growing old or dying).
I do not think that "growing
old or dying" is neither voluntary nor involuntary, though I
agree there are such actions (namely when one acts from habit or from
one's character and spontaneously without deliberation), but I would
say "growing old or dying" are both
involuntary, though perhaps this is different for the very young or
But in the case
of unjust and just acts alike the injustice or justice may be only
incidental; for a man might return a deposit unwillingly and from
fear, and then he must not be said either to do what is just or to act
justly, except in an incidental way.
Put otherwise: There is just behaviour -
where one does the right thing - without there being just intention,
namely if one behaves well not because one desires to do well, but
because one fears the consequences of being seen not to do well.
Even so, the more cynical or realistic
moralists may well be right with Sir Henry Taylor when they hold that
"Conscience is, in most men, an anticipation of the opinion of
whence it appears that often or
ordinarily people behave well and do what is just not because they
desire to, but because they fear the consequences of not behaving well
when this is noticed by others.
 Of voluntary
acts we do some by choice, others not by choice; by choice those which
we do after deliberation, not by choice those which we do without
previous deliberation. Thus there are three kinds of injury in
transactions between man and man (..)
Now when (1) the
injury takes place contrary to reasonable expectation, it is a
misadventure. When (2) it is not contrary to reasonable expectation,
but does not imply vice, it is a mistake (for a man makes a mistake
when the fault originates in him, but is the victim of accident when
the origin lies outside him). When (3) he acts with knowledge but not
after deliberation, it is an act of injustice (..) But when (4) a man
acts from choice, he is an unjust man and a vicious man.
These are useful distinctions relating
to someone's injury or harm, and it is interesting that under (3)
Aristotle disqualifies the act, but under (4) the person acting.
proceeding from anger are rightly judged not to be done of malice
aforethought; for it is not the man who acts in anger but he who
enraged him that starts the mischief. Again, the matter in dispute is
not whether the thing happened or not, but its justice; for it is
apparent injustice that occasions rage.
This makes sense in two observations.
One is that "it is
not the man who acts in anger but he who enraged him that starts the
mischief". This may be doubted when one asks something like
"But was it wise to get enraged about that?", but in many cases it is
a fair point, that is backed up by the other.
Another is that "it
is apparent injustice that occasions rage", for this is true:
Human beings are capable of putting up with a lot of hardship, and can
bear this quite well if this hits all, but find this very difficult to
do when some are treated better than they for no acceptable reason.
 But if a man harms another by choice,
he acts unjustly; and these are the acts of injustice which imply that
the doer is an unjust man, provided that the act violates proportion
or equality. Similarly, a man is just when he acts justly by choice;
but he acts justly if he merely acts voluntarily.
Of involuntary acts some are excusable, others not. For the mistakes
which men make not only in ignorance but also from ignorance are
excusable, while those which men do not from ignorance but (though
they do them in ignorance) owing to a passion which is neither natural
nor such as man is liable to, are not excusable.
And besides, and regardless from what
Aristotle may have had in mind here, there are culpable actions (or
failures to act) that are culpable because the agent should have known
better or should have acted better. (Thus, the pilot of a plane or
ship should not sleep on the job and should also not be drunk on the
On various questions
related to justice.
In action and in
passivity alike it is possible to partake of justice incidentally, and
similarly (it is plain) of injustice; for to do what is unjust is not
the same as to act unjustly, nor to suffer what is unjust as to be
treated unjustly, and similarly in the case of acting justly and being
justly treated; for it is impossible to be unjustly treated if the
other does not act unjustly, or justly treated unless he acts justly.
Here it seems Aristotle is mainly
thinking of deliberateness, and takes real justice to be deliberate,
which when presupposed makes it is right that "it
is impossible to be unjustly treated if the other does not act
unjustly, or justly treated unless he acts justly" - that may
be compared with the similar term "kindly" substituted for "justly".
Now if to act
unjustly is simply to harm some one voluntarily, and 'voluntarily'
means 'knowing the person acted on, the instrument, and the manner of
one's acting', and the incontinent man voluntarily harms himself, not
only will he voluntarily be unjustly treated but it will be possible
to treat oneself unjustly. (This also is one of the questions in
doubt, whether a man can treat himself unjustly.)
I take it here I disagree with
Aristotle, in that I hold that indeed "the
incontinent man voluntarily harms himself", simply because he
knowingly does what is pleasurable rather than good, by his own
Hence I also disagree in holding that
indeed "a man can treat himself unjustly"
- and, it seems to me, not only for reasons of incontinence, but also
for other reasons, notably fairness or altruism, e.g. to make up for
an earlier unfair act, or to help someone in need, or out of love.
Again, a man may
voluntarily, owing to incontinence, be harmed by another who acts
voluntarily, so that it would be possible to be voluntarily treated
unjustly. Or is our definition incorrect; must we to 'harming another,
with knowledge both of the person acted on, of the instrument, and of
the manner' add 'contrary to the wish of the person acted on'? Then a
man may be voluntarily harmed and voluntarily suffer what is unjust,
but no one is voluntarily treated unjustly; for no one wishes to be
unjustly treated, not even the incontinent man.
See under : It is my guess that good
parents, for example, may often incline towards being "treated
unjustly" by their children out of kindness, love, or patient
forbearance. And this does not imply that it is false that "no
one wishes to be unjustly treated" but only that this will be
allowed in some cases, and indeed may be considered commendable.
He acts contrary
to his wish; for no one wishes for what he does not think to be good,
but the incontinent man does do things that he does not think he ought
This involves a difficulty of definition
or words: One may hold that "no one wishes for
what he does not think to be good" - but then, as Aristotle
makes clear by reference to "the incontinent man",
what one wishes may well be pleasant without being good.
Hence, I would much prefer to say that
men wish for what they like rather than for what they think is good,
since they may well know that what they like is not what they hold to
be good also.
The reason I much prefer to say this is
that morals is mostly concerned with doing the good that is not liked,
and not doing the bad that is liked.
It is plain,
then, that being unjustly treated is not voluntary.
See under : I
would say, rather, that if one lets oneself being treated voluntarily
in an unjust manner, it must because of a special regard for the
person or persons one allows this to - and that the classes of person
to which this applies will tend to comprise those one loves, including
Men think that
acting unjustly is in their power, and therefore that being just is
easy. But it is not; to lie with one's neighbour's wife, to wound
another, to deliver a bribe, is easy and in our power, but to do these
things as a result of a certain state of character is neither easy nor
in our power.
For to do what is right generally
requires knowledge of ends, means, facts and circumstances, and
involves deliberation, conscious choice, and a self-control that
enables one not to be corrupted by mere desire for pleasure or fear of
know what is just and what is unjust requires, men think, no great
wisdom, because it is not hard to understand the matters dealt with by
the laws (though these are not the things that are just, except
Here it should be remarked that, if the
majority of men is capable of rational judgment at all about moral
issues, which is normally supposed to be so, at least when all adults
get the vote, then in many cases it must not be very difficult to
judge accurately whether something is in accordance to the laws or an
instance of fair dealing.
Just acts occur
between people who participate in things good in themselves and can
have too much or too little of them (..) therefore justice is
essentially something human.
Indeed, for only humans, of all the
animals, have the general concepts to have an understanding of
justice, that make them capable of deliberate action, social
cooperation, and a distribution of goods that is based on other
considerations than strength or mood.
Our next subject is equity and the equitable (to epiekes),
and their respective relations to justice and the just.
It probably makes sense to remark that
the Shorter OED defines equity in terms of fair or even-handed
dealing. And Aristotle needs such a concept because the law may not be
fair, either because it is unjust, or because, while being just, its
application leads to unfairness.
The same thing,
then, is just and equitable, and while both are good the equitable is
superior. What creates the problem is that the equitable is just, but
not the legally just but a correction of legal justice. The reason is
that all law is universal but about some things it is not possible to
make a universal statement which shall be correct.
Here the difficulty Aristotle treats is
related to the fact that the law punishes - or is supposed to punish -
the good, the bad and the indifferent equally for equal
Note that in German and Dutch there are
convenient terms to mark the difference: "rechtmässig" and
"rechtmatig" versus "rechtfertig" and "rechtvaardig". In English, one
may speak of the legal and the fair.
equitable is just, and better than one kind of justice - not better
than absolute justice but better than the error that arises from the
absoluteness of the statement. And this is the nature of the
equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its
See under .
In fact this is
the reason why all things are not determined by law, that about some
things it is impossible to lay down a law, so that a decree is needed.
For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite (..)
It seems to me that there is an
important other reason or two "why all things
are not determined by law", namely that it is undesirable to
regulate all things human by public laws, because the end of human law
is not to regulate all things, but to keep a peaceful civil society;
to settle conflicts of interests fairly and peaceably; to protect
citizens against citizens; and to fairly punish those who misbehave.
It is plain, then, what the equitable
is, and that it is just and is better than one kind of justice. It is
evident also from this who the equitable man is; the man who chooses
and does such acts, and is no stickler for his rights in a bad sense
but tends to take less than his share though he has the law oft his
side, is equitable, and this state of character is equity, which is a
sort of justice and not a different state of character.
So it would seem to me that, rather than
say "this state of character is equity",
it makes more sense, when speaking of a man's character or dispositon,
that he is fair-minded.
For he suffers
voluntarily, but no one is voluntarily treated unjustly. This is also
the reason why the state punishes; a certain loss of civil rights
attaches to the man who destroys himself, on the ground that he is
treating the state unju stly.
This concerns suicide, that under
Athenian law merited a stigma - a public censure of the deceased. (One
may well argue here that a state that brings about conditions under
which a healthy man would want to destroy himself can't be just, but I
merely remark this and leave it.)
In general, the question 'can a man
treat himself unjustly?' is solved also by the distinction we applied
to the question 'can a man be voluntarily treated unjustly?'
See under .
and in virtue of a certain resemblance there is a justice, not indeed
between a man and himself, but between certain parts of him; yet not
every kind of justice but that of master and servant or that of
husband and wife.
That is, for Aristotle, a kind of
justice between natural unequals. Those who do not like the examples
given may consider adults and children.
But here too the ideas of this chapter
of proportional distribution will be applicable for the most part.
Let this be taken as our account of justice and the other, i.e.
the other moral, virtues.
Justice, we have seen, is the essence of
morality, and it should be noted why: it is concerned with a fair "relation
to one's neighbour",
that gives him his due, and with the other virtues, like honesty, friendliness, helpfulness, tact, wit,
liberality, magnificence that likewise concern what makes one good or
likable or useful company for others to have, and to cooperate with,
for mutual interest.
And that is the end of human society:
the private and personal goods it brings to its individual members,
that motivates them to desire to maintain it and engage in it.