Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: Of justice (2) = fairness, how related to justice (1). What is just in distribution distinguished from what is just in correction. - The Nicomachean Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
2.: Of justice (2) = fairness, how related to justice (1). What is just in distribution distinguished from what is just in correction. - 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:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of justice (2) = fairness, how related to justice (1). What is just in distribution distinguished from what is just in correction.
We have now to examine justice in that sense in which it is a part of virtue—for we maintain that there is such a justice—and also the corresponding kind of injustice.
That the word is so used is easily shown. In the case of the other kinds of badness, the man who displays them, though he acts unjustly [in one sense of the word], yet does not take more than his share: for instance, when a man throws away his shield through cowardice, or reviles another through ill temper, or through illiberality refuses to help another with money. But when he takes more than his share, he displays perhaps no one of these vices, nor does he display them all, yet he displays a kind of badness (for we blame him), namely, injustice [in the second sense of the word].
We see, then, that there is another sense of the word injustice, in which it stands for a part of that injustice which is coextensive with badness, and another sense of the word unjust, in which it is applied to a part only of those things to which it is applied in the former sense of “contrary to law.”
Again, if one man commits adultery with a view to gain, and makes money by it, and another man does it from lust, with expenditure and loss of money, the latter would not be called grasping, but profligate, while the former would not be called profligate, but unjust [in the narrower sense]. Evidently, then, he would be called unjust because of his gain.
* Once more, acts of injustice, in the former sense, are always referred to some particular vice, as if a man commits adultery, to profligacy; if he deserts his comrade in arms, to cowardice; if he strikes another, to anger: but in a case of unjust gain, the act is referred to no other vice than injustice.
It is plain then that, besides the injustice which is coextensive with vice, there is a second kind of injustice, which is a particular kind of vice, bearing the same name* as the first, because the same generic conception forms the basis of its definition; i.e. both display themselves in dealings with others, but the sphere of the second is limited to such things as honour, wealth, security (perhaps some one name might be found to include all this class† ), and its motive is the pleasure of gain, while the sphere of the first is coextensive with the sphere of the good man’s action.
We have ascertained, then, that there are more kinds of justice than one, and that there is another kind besides that which is identical with complete virtue; we now have to find what it is, and what are its characteristics.
We have already distinguished two senses in which we speak of things as unjust, viz. (1) contrary to law, (2) unfair; and two senses in which we speak of things as just, viz. (1) according to law, (2) fair.
The injustice which we have already considered corresponds to unlawful.
But since unfair is not the same as unlawful, but differs from it as the part from the whole (for unfair is always unlawful, but unlawful is not always unfair), unjust and injustice in the sense corresponding to unfair will not be the same as unjust and injustice in the sense corresponding to unlawful, but different as the part from the whole; for this injustice is a part of complete injustice, and the corresponding justice is a part of complete justice. We must therefore speak of justice and injustice, and of that which is just and that which is unjust, in this limited sense.
We may dismiss, then, the justice which coincides with complete virtue and the corresponding injustice, the former being the exercise of complete virtue towards others, the latter of complete vice.
It is easy also to see how we are to define that which is just and that which is unjust in their corresponding senses [according to law and contrary to law]. For the great bulk, we may say, of the acts which are according to law are the acts which the law commands with a view to complete virtue; for the law orders us to display all the virtues and none of the vices in our lives.
But the acts which tend to produce complete virtue are those of the acts according to law which are prescribed with reference to the education of a man as a citizen. As for the education of the individual as such, which tends to make him simply a good man, we may reserve the question whether it belongs to the science of the state or not; for it is possible that to be a good man is not the same as to be a good citizen of any state whatever.*
But of justice as a part of virtue, and of that which is just in the corresponding sense, one kind is that which has to do with the distribution of honour, wealth, and the other things that are divided among the members of the body politic (for in these circumstances it is possible for one man’s share to be unfair or fair as compared with another’s); and another kind is that which has to give redress in private transactions.
The latter kind is again subdivided; for private transactions are (1) voluntary, (2) involuntary.
“Voluntary transactions or contracts” are such as selling, buying, lending at interest, pledging, lending without interest, depositing, hiring: these are called “voluntary contracts,” because the parties enter into them of their own will.
“Involuntary transactions,” again, are of two kinds: one involving secrecy, such as theft, adultery, poisoning, procuring, corruption of slaves, assassination, false witness; the other involving open violence, such as assault, seizure of the person, murder, rape, maiming, slander, contumely.
[* ]This is not merely a repetition of what has been said in § 2: acts of injustice (2) are there distinguished from acts of injustice (1) by the motive (gain), here by the fact that they are referred to no other vice than injustice.
[* ]Before (1, 7) the two kinds of injustice were called ὁμώνυμα, i.e. strictly, “things that have nothing in common but the name;” here they are called συνώνυμα, “different things bearing a common name because they belong to the same genus,” as a man and an ox are both called animals: cf. Categ. I. 1.
[† ]τὰ ἐκτὸς ἀγαθά is the name which Aristotle most frequently uses, sometimes τὰ ἁπλω̂ς ἀγαθά, as supra, 1, 9.
[* ]The two characters coincide perfectly only in the perfect state: cf. Pol. III. 4, 1276 b16 f.