Justice has always been an interesting topic for philosophers and also for ordinary people. Justice can be defined briefly as “the fairness in the way that people are treated” (Collins Cobuild, p. 910). Plato and Aristotle, two leading figures of ancient Greek civilization, were earliest philosophers who thought about justice and developed theories about the sublime aspects of being just. This assignment is an attempt to prove that pursuing a life of justice would make living more worthwhile than being unjust or a combination of just and unjust life. In order to reach this point, I am going to explain the concept of justice and its superior aspects from the perspective of both Plato and Aristotle by taking help from their famous works “The Republic” and “The Nicomachean Ethics”. I will also give place to counter arguments and their rebuttals. I will make my own comments at the final part of the assignment.
Plato (427 BC-347 BC) was one of the earlier and most important philosophers of the world and is also known as the founder of “The Academy”. Plato’s most famous work is “The Republic” in which he tries to draw the qualities of a just individual and a just state by explaining the sublime nature of justice. In the first two books of The Republic, dialogues between different characters focus on different meanings of justice. During the conversation two conventional definitions of justice (“giving a man’s due” and “doing good to your friends, harm to your enemies”) are refuted brilliantly by Socrates and finally take the form of “doing good to your friends if they are good and doing harm to your enemies if they are bad” (Plato, p. 13). In the following parts of Book one, Thrasymachus appears with all his anger towards Socrates. Thrasymachus defines justice or what is right as “what is the interest of the stronger party” (Plato, p. 19) and rejects previous definitions. Socrates approaches to this definition analytically. He first makes it clear that according to Thrasymachus it is right to show obedience to the ruling power whatever the condition is. Socrates later by asking questions learns Thrasymachus’ view that rulers are not infallible and they are liable to make mistakes. So, he concludes that according to this equation, the justice can also be the interest of the weaker party since rulers are fallible and can make decisions that will harm and decrease their power and people have to obey orders whatever the condition is. Having his words turned around by Socrates, Thrasymachus gets angry and asserts that in any kinds of relationship the unjust person always gets the better then the just person. In order words, he suggests that the pursuit of self-interest or injustice pays better than that of justice. He makes the remark that justice can be morally better but injustice is always stronger. He concludes his words by saying that injustice always prevails over justice. Socrates rejects this view and begins refuting this view by explaining the supremacy of just way of living.
Socrates first claims that there are many different professions in the society which help other people such as being a doctor or a shepherd. He proves that the doctor’s function is not directly to increase his benefit and harming others. A doctor takes wage and makes profit only by curing the patient. Moreover, the doctor has a great responsibility about this patient’s health condition. Same can be seen for the shepherd who has to fatten his fleet of sheep. Shortly, Socrates argues that “any kind of authority, public or private, pursued only the welfare of the subjects under its care” (Plato, p. 28). That is why first of all, Thrasymachus’ claim is wrong because he accepts that rulers always think of their self-profit. However, from a Socratic perspective, a ruler’s power comes from his people and he is responsible for the well-being of these people. The second basis of Socrates’ rejection of Thrasymachus’ theory is that unlike Thrasymachus, Socrates claims that the injustice would create disunity and weakness rather than strength. He says that injustices cause quarrels and weaken the group whether it is a state or a family. “… whether it occurs in a state or family or army or in anything else: it renders it incapable of any common action because of factions and quarrels, and sets it at variance with itself and with its opponents and with whatever is just” (Plato, p. 38). Moreover, injustices produce hatred between people even in the ruling elite. So, people even in the ruling elite would try to supplant each other and the state will be weak and illegitimate because of the corruption and political struggles. Third basis of Socrates’ objection is about justice, which -Socrates thinks- is absolutely needed for men to perform their functions and to be happy. Since Thrasymachus also admits that justice is morally better and refers to the things which are done best by people’s souls and states, states and people would reach excellence only by being just and thus following a just way of life would be much more worthwhile than being unjust. Socrates’ views on justice are developed after Glaucon told the story of Gyges, a good shepherd who loses control after finding a ring that allows him to become invisible when he wants (Plato, pp. 46-47). Glaucon thinks that people don't practice justice for itself, but only for fear of what would befall them if they don't. However, Socrates makes it clear that a real just person does not seek the reputation of being just whereas unjust man tries to present himself like a just person to cover his corrupt affaires.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) is accepted as one of the founders of modern Western thought with his antecedents Socrates and Plato. Aristotle, who was tutored by Socrates’ student Plato, later became very influential in the development of the idea of scientism and scholastic ideology. Aristotle believed in the importance of observation and used “teleology”; the study of ends which claims that everything in this world goes purposely to an end. Aristotle in his famous work “The Nicomachean Ethics” explains the virtuous and superior nature of justice. First of all, Aristotle claims that justice can mean either lawfulness or fairness, since injustice is lawlessness and unfairness. In his view, laws encourage people to behave virtuously so, the just person, who by definition is lawful, will necessarily be virtuous. He says that virtue differs from justice because it deals with one’s moral state, while justice deals with one’s relations with others. According to Aristotle, justice must be distributed proportionately. For instance, a shoemaker and a farmer cannot exchange one shoe for one harvest, since shoes and harvests are not of equal value (Aristotle, book 5, part 5). Aristotle’s equation of justice with lawfulness can create a problem since laws can be unjust too. However, Aristotle refutes this idea again by separating political justice from domestic justice.
According to Aristotle, although political justice and domestic justice are related, they are also distinct. Political justice is about laws since “justice exists only between men whose mutual relations are governed by law” (Aristotle, book 5, part 6). So, political justice is governed by the rule of law, while domestic justice relies more on respect. Thus, Aristotle says “the justice of a master and that of a father are not the same as the justice of citizens” (Aristotle, book 5, part 6). An action which is lawfully just can be domestically unjust since domestic justice is derived from natural laws. Aristotle also states that an agent is responsible only for acts of injustice performed voluntarily and injustice done out of ignorance is called either “mistake” or “misadventure” (Aristotle, book 5, part 8). Some of the injuries caused by mistake or misadventure are excusable whereas some of them are not. When a man deliberately makes injustice this would be an injustice not misadventure or mistake and this man would be a vicious man. Since Aristotle cares too much about virtuous life, he clearly favors just people and just lives and thinks that a just life is much more worthwhile than an unjust life.
Having explained Plato’s and Aristotle’s views on justice and their responses to some counter arguments, I want to manifest my own views related to the topic. First of all, we see that both Plato and Aristotle think that a just person would have a much more virtuous and successful life. It is a fact that being just is a virtuous quality but from my point of view although it may bring spiritual confidentiality and happiness to a person, it does not guarantee the success in life. There are many successful people who achieved their success through unjust ways. Moreover, Aristotle is very rightful in separating misadventure and mistake from injustice since people can mistakes and accidents can occur without bad intentions. It is also a fact that the state and the judicial system would be much more valid and strong in the eyes of citizens if laws and punitions are very well balanced and made in a just manner. However, the story of Gyges shows us that being just is above acting in accordance with laws. People should not act justly just because of their fear of being punished. If this is the case, people would act unjustly when they have the opportunity. Rather we should create a society which is consisted of individuals who act justly because they believe that acting justly would be better for them and other people. Plato and Aristotle constructed two utopian state models in which in order to provide justice the ruling power is given to a philosopher king (in Aristotle’s model) or a class of philosopher Guardians who are able to produce better knowledge (in Plato’s model). But rather than giving the ruling power to an elite, in order to provide justice we could raise just children who will be just citizens in the future.
Finally, in my opinion a just life is much more worthwhile than an unjust or a mixed life. Being just provides internal happiness and calmness to a person as well as the respect and trust from others. Being just is also important from a religious point of view since in all major religions injustice is a bad thing.
· Plato, 1987, “The Republic”, London: Penguin Books
· Aristotle, 1998, “The Nicomachean Ethics”, Oxford University Press
· “Collins Cobuild English Dictionary”, 1995, London: HarperCollins Publishers