Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Aristotle - Ethics - Book V


Nicomachean Ethics

Notes to Book V:
Maarten Maartensz

Note on these notes

These notes date from the beginning of 2007, and based on notes in my paper copy of the "Nicomachean Ethics" that date from 1968-1972.

The format is that I quote the text of Aristotle that I comment in blue, and write my own notes in black, with a "Back" at the end of every note that moves the reader back - provided he or she is on line, or has downloaded the relevant files in similar directories, or uses a CD of my site - to the beginning of the quotation in the original text that the note is concerned with. (See also the TOC.)

The result is that my quotations + my notes take more space than Aristotle's original text, but one advantage of the procedure I use is that the reader can read my quotations + my notes independently from the text, yet be moved thence - provisos as above - with a single click.

Chapter 1

On justice: What it is.

[1] 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 discussions.

This will take up all of this chapter, and one reason for this is that, as Aristotle says in [13], 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.


[2] 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.


[3] 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.


[4] 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 terms.


[5] 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.

[6] 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.


[7] 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.


[8] 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 [6] 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, like me.


[9]  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 society.

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 the worst.

Briefly and ceteris paribus

  • that society is best where the best rule in the real interests of all, and all have equal chances to become best.

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 governing others.

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 Nietzsche.

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 behavior).

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.


[10] 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 point.


[11] 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 their neighbour.

To be verbally correct, one must here take "being just" as "doing what is right to others and oneself".


[12] 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".



[13] 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.

Firstly, "'another's 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.


Chapter 2

On other kinds of justice: Righteousness, fairness, equity

[14] 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.


[15] Evidently, 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 concerned.

See first under [13].

Aristotle in this point seems to answer an objection I raised under [13], 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.


[16] 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.


[17] Of particular 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 man.

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.


Chapter 3

On distributive justice.

[18] The just, 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 cooperation:

(1) CP(a,b,Fa,Gb) =def aCFa iff bCGb 
     Cooperation: a and b cooperate concerning Fa and Gb

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) & bDCP(a,b,Fa,Gb)
    Agreement: Both desire the cooperation mentioned in (1)

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 agreement

(3) KAC(a,b,Fa,Gb) =def aKA(a,b,Fa,Gb) & bKA(a,b,Fa,Gb) -
     Knowledge of Agreement to Cooperate

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 by Fa.

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 exchange.

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 dishonest traders.

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 (xe$)xK(pr((Eye$)A(x,y,Fx,Gy))>1/2)

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.


[19] (..) 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.


[20] 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.


[21] 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 [19].

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.


Chapter 4

On corrective justice.

[22] The remaining one is the rectificatory, which arises in connexion with transactions both voluntary and involuntary.

Perhaps "compensatory" or "corrective" is better than "rectificatory".


[23] 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.


[24] 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.


[25] 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 [18] for a fairly precise, full and general theory, that explains fairly well why people cooperate, and what is involved in this.


Chapter 5

On corrective justice and reciprocity.

[26] 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 [19] for proportional justice.


[27] But 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 [19] and [21], 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.


[28] Now 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 [18], 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 [19].

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.


[29] 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 [18] and [19], 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.


[30] And this 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.



[31] There will, 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 exchanges".

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 [18] or [19] 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 [18] 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.


[32] 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.


[33] 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 [18] 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 monetary value. 


[34] 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 [18] about fair agreements.


[35] 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 little.

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.


[36] 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.


Chapter 6

On other kinds of justice: Political, between unequals, between man and wife.

[37] (..) 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 of conditions.


[38] 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".


[39] 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 [11] and [38], namely that one can also give oneself too little of what is good, though this is unlikely for ordinary men.


[40] Hence justice 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 rational ability.


Chapter 7

On political justice.

[41] Of political 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.


[42] 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.


[43] 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 good.


Chapter 8

On involuntariness (again)

[44] 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 involuntariness (..)

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.


[45] 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.


[46] Therefore that 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 very ill.


[47] 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 others."

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.


[48] 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 (..)


[49] 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.


[50] Hence acts 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.


[51] 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.


[52] 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 job.)


Chapter 9

On various questions related to justice.

[53] 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".


[54] 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 criterions.

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.


[55] 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 [54]: 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.


[56] 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 to do.

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.


[57] It is plain, then, that being unjustly treated is not voluntary.

See under [55]: 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 oneself.


[58] 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 pain.


[59] Similarly to 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 incidentally) (..)

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.


[60] 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.


Chapter 10

On equity.

[61] 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.


[62] 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 transgressions.

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.


[63] Hence the 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 universality.

See under [62].


[64] 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.


[65] 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.


[66] 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.)


[67] 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 [57].


[68] Metaphorically 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.


[69] 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.