Law and Morality- Course Kit Reading #2
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book V, “Justice”
1. First point:
-Concerning justice and injustice, we must examine what sort of actions they happen to be concerned
with, as well as what sort of mean justice is and of what things the just is a middle term.
- Everyone wishes to say that justice is the sort of characteristic on the basis of which people are
disposed to do just things and on the basis of which they act justle and wish for just things. It is the
same way also concerning injustice—that it is that on the basis of which people are unjust and wish for
-What holds in the case of the sciences and capacities does not hold in that of the characteristics: the
same capacity or science seems to pertain to opposites, but a characteristic does not seem to pertain to
-Aristotle defines the ‘just’ as lawful and equal, and the ‘unjust’ is what is unlawful and unequal.
-The unjust man is considered to be both someone who breaks laws and also someone who is grasping
and unfair; the just man will therefore be a law-abiding and fair man.
-The unjust man is grasping in the sense that he seeks goods which are not goods in themselves, and
often sacrifices higher goods for the sake of lesser goods.
-All lawful things are in some sense just. Laws deal with matters that are commonly expedient with
respect to virtue or honor; in this sense that which preserves happiness in a political community is called
just.' The law orders us to perform the actions of a virtuous man through certain commands and
-Thus justice according to the law is complete virtue but not in the unqualified sense. For this reason
justice is often thought to be the best of the virtues, since the end of justice is that of complete virtue. -The just man acts for what is expedient for someone else. The worst man is one whose evil habits affect
both himself and his friends, while the best man is one whose virtue is directed to others rather than
himself. This kind of justice is the whole of virtue, and its contrary is the whole of vice.
-The difference between this kind of justice and virtue is that justice is defined in relation to something,
but virtue in itself is without qualification.
-Let us now look at justice as a part of virtue. To be unjust in the specific sense is to act avariciously or to
make undeserved gain (not out of intemperence or anger or any other vice but out of some sort of
-Both justice in the specific sense and justice as the whole of virtue are defined in relation to other
people, but justice in the specific sense is concerned with honor, property, safety and similar things,
while justice in the larger sense is concerned with virtue as a whole.
-The just can be distinguished into the lawful and the fair. Now, most lawful things are done by the
whole of virtue, since the law orders us to live in accordance with each virtue and prohibits us from
living according to vice.
-Lawful things which produce the whole of virtue are concerned with education for the common good. It
is by virtue of education that a man becomes good without qualification. But we have to determine later
whether education belongs to politics or to another inquiry, since a good man may not always be the
same as a good citizen.
-One kind of justice in the narrow sense concerns itself with the distribution of honor and property,
another kind regards paying debts and giving just restitution for harms inflicted.
-Justice (in the narrow sense) is a mean between two extremes of unfairness. What is just in distribution
should be in some way according to merit, but not all agree what that merit should be. Advocates of
mob rule say that this merit is freedom, oligarchs say that it is wealth, others say that it is good ancestry
and aristocrats say that is virtue. What is just is to distribute things in proportion to merit.
-That which is unjust (in the narrow sense) defies the proper proportion, since the person who acts
unjustly gets a greater proportion of the good, while the person who is treated unjustly gets a smaller
-The last of kind of justice to be discussed is corrective justice. In exchanges, the just is what is fair. It is a
simply arithmetical proportion, since the both parties are treated as equals before the law in exchanges
of goods, regardless of their merit.
-The judge restores equality to unequals. The just is a mean between a gain and a loss in exchanges
which violate what is voluntary, and it is the possession of equal amounts before and after the
exchange. -Some say that what is just without qualification is reciprocity. However, this definition is not correct
with regard to either distributive or corrective justice.
-With regard to corrective justice, it is necessary to take into account whether it was voluntary or
involuntary, and also who is doing harm to whom.
-Further, in associations that which is just is not based on arithmetical equality but on proportion.
-Things that are exchanged need to be somehow comparable. This is why coins were invented. All good
which are exchanged should be measured by some sort of standard coin, which represents a measure of
- The name coin ("nomisma) comes from the word for law, regulation or convention ("nomos"), since
the value of a coin is by regulation. Mutual need is the basis for exchanges of goods. The value of money
is also subject to a fluctuation in need.
-Justice is a disposition to do what is just and to distribute good equitably, in accordance with an
-A man may act unjustly without being unjust; for example a man who commits adultery because of
passion acts unjustly but is not unjust, but rather intemperate.
-Justice politically exists among men who are free and equal and share their life for the sake of self-
sufficiency. Since a ruler tends to take more than his due or to become a tyrant, we prefer to have rule
according to a written document.
- The ruler by law is a guardian of what is just and a preserver of what is fair. Rulers who act in this way
are just and should be given some honor or privilege; those who are unsatisfied with such rewards
-What is unjust for a master or father is different, since there is no unqualified injustice towards that
which belongs to oneself. A child is like a part of oneself, and no one intends to harm himself. Thus
justice in a household is distinct from political justice.
-Political justice may be natural or legal. If it has the same power everywhere and is not subject to
opinion, is natural. But if it is something like a prisoner's ransom which could take many forms, it is legal.
-Some think that the only justice which exists is legal justice, because they observe that the things which
are just seem to be subject to change. Among the gods at least, the just is not subject to change at all.
But even among us there is something which is just by nature, even if all of what is just is subject to
-To say that something exists by nature means that it is the same all or most of the time. It is natural for
a human being to have five fingers, because except for rare excep