Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: Preliminary Two senses of justice distinguished justice (l) = obedience to law = complete virtue. - The Nicomachean Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
1.: Preliminary Two senses of justice distinguished justice (l) = obedience to law = complete virtue. - Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 
The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 5th edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1893).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Preliminary Two senses of justice distinguished justice (l) = obedience to law = complete virtue.
We now have to inquire about justice and injustice, and to ask what sort of acts they are concerned with, and in what sense justice observes the mean, and what are the extremes whose mean is that which is just. And in this inquiry we will follow the same method as before.
We see that all men intend by justice to signify the sort of habit or character that makes men apt to do what is just, and which further makes them act justly* and wish what is just; while by injustice they intend in like manner to signify the sort of character that makes men act unjustly and wish what is unjust. Let us lay this down, then, as an outline to work upon.
We thus oppose justice and injustice, because a habit or trained faculty differs in this respect both from a science and a faculty or power. I mean that whereas both of a pair of opposites come under the same science or power, a habit which produces a certain result does not also produce the opposite result; e.g. health produces healthy manifestations only, and not unhealthy; for we say a man has a healthy gait when he walks like a man in health.
[Not that the two opposites are unconnected.] In the first place, a habit is often known by the opposite habit, and often by its causes and results: if we know what good condition is, we can learn from that what bad condition is; and, again, from that which conduces to good condition we can infer what good condition itself is, and conversely from the latter can infer the former. For instance, if good condition be firmness of flesh, it follows that bad condition is flabbiness of flesh, and that what tends to produce firmness of flesh conduces to good condition.
And, in the second place, if one of a pair of opposite terms have more senses than one, the other term will also, as a general rule, have more than one; so that here, if the term “just” have several senses, the term “unjust” also will have several.
And in fact it seems that both “justice” and “injustice” have several senses, but, as the different things covered by the common name are very closely related, the fact that they are different escapes notice and does not strike us, as it does when there is a great disparity—a great difference, say, in outward appearance—as it strikes every one, for instance, that the κλείς (clavis, collar-bone) which lies under the neck of an animal is different from the κλείς (clavis, key) with which we fasten the door.
Let us then ascertain in how many different senses we call a man unjust.
Firstly, he who breaks the laws is considered unjust, and, secondly, he who takes more than his share, or the unfair man.
Plainly, then, a just man will mean (1) a law-abiding and (2) a fair man.
A just thing then will be (1) that which is in accordance with the law, (2) that which is fair; and the unjust thing will be (1) that which is contrary to law, (2) that which is unfair.
But since the unjust man, in one of the two senses of the word, takes more than his share, the sphere of his action will be good things—not all good things, but those with which good and ill fortune are concerned, which are always good in themselves, but not always good for us—the things that we men pray for and pursue, whereas we ought rather to pray that what is good in itself may be good for us, while we choose that which is good for us.
But the unjust man does not always take more than his share; he sometimes take less, viz. of those things which are bad in the abstract; but as the lesser evil is considered to be in some sort good, and taking more means taking more good, he is said to take more than his share. But in any case he is unfair; for this is a wider term which includes the other.
We found that the law-breaker is unjust, and the law-abiding man is just. Hence it follows that whatever is according to law is just in one sense of the word. [And this, we see, is in fact the case;] for what the legislator prescribes is according to law, and is always said to be just.
Now, the laws prescribe about all manner of things, aiming at the common interest of all, or of the best men, or of those who are supreme in the state (position in the state being determined by reference to personal excellence, or to some other such standard); and so in one sense we apply the term just to whatever tends to produce and preserve the happiness of the community, and the several elements of that happiness. The law bids us display courage (as not to leave our ranks, or run, or throw away our arms), and temperance (as not to commit adultery or outrage), and gentleness (as not to strike or revile our neighbours), and so on with all the other virtues and vices, enjoining acts and forbidding them, rightly when it is a good law, not so rightly when it is a hastily improvised one.
Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is complete virtue, with the addition that it is displayed towards others. On this account it is often spoken of as the chief of the virtues, and such that “neither evening nor morning star is so lovely;” and the saying has become proverbial, “Justice sums up all virtues in itself.”
It is complete virtue, first of all, because it is the exhibition of complete virtue: it is also complete because he that has it is able to exhibit virtue in dealing with his neighbours, and not merely in his private affairs; for there are many who can be virtuous enough at home, but fail in dealing with their neighbours.
This is the reason why people commend the saying of Bias, “Office will show the man;” for he that is in office ipso facto stands in relation to others,* and has dealings with them.
This, too, is the reason why justice alone of all the virtues is thought to be another’s good, as implying this relation to others; for it is another’s interest that justice aims at—the interest, namely, of the ruler or of our fellow-citizens.
While then the worst man is he who displays vice both in his own affairs and in his dealings with his friends, the best man is not he who displays virtue in his own affairs merely, but he who displays virtue towards others; for this is the hard thing to do.
Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is not a part of virtue, but the whole of it; and the injustice which is opposed to it is not a part of vice, but the whole of it.
How virtue differs from justice in this sense is plain from what we have said; it is one and the same character differently viewed:† viewed in relation to others, this character is justice; viewed simply as a certain character,‡ it is virtue.
[* ]A man may “do that which is just” without “acting justly:” cf. supra, II. 4, 3, and infra, cap. 8.
[* ]While his children are regarded as parts of him, and even his wife is not regarded as an independent person: cf. infra, 6, 8.
[† ]Or “differently manifested:” the phrase is used in both senses.
[‡ ]Putting comma after ἁπλω̂ς instead of after ἕξις (Trendelenburg).