Aristotle on Justice

Topics: Virtue, Plato, Nicomachean Ethics Pages: 6 (2000 words) Published: December 2, 2006
In this paper, I shall address two central contemporary criticisms of Aristotle's conception of justice. These criticisms of Aristotle's account of specific justice have focused on two central problems. First, Aristotle's insistence that all specifically unjust actions are motivated by pleonexia Pleonexia can be understood as the desire to have more of some socially availablegood, and is usually translated as greed or acquisitiveness.

Close . Second, Aristotle does not identify a deficient vice with respect to justice. This violates his "golden mean" doctrine with respect to virtue. Without the identification of the deficient vice with respect to justice, then justice must not be a virtue of character. Due to considerations of time and length of this paper, I shall confine myself to addressing the initial criticism. I address both criticisms at length in Chapter 2 of my dissertation, entitled Just Friends: anInvestigation into the Social Theories of Aristotle and Epicurus on Friendship and Justice. Also,an extended version of this paper has been submitted to Journal of Value Theory.

The criticism I am concerned with here challenges the notion that specific justice is a moral virtue. I shall argue that the solution to this challenge is to carefully distinguish between the results arising from mis-distributions of these social goods, the concern of specific distributable justice, and the resulting harm to others. I shall argue that there is an objectively specific unjust feature to these mis-distributions that requires rectificatory justice. In response to the first criticism, I shall argue that this criticism, in effect, fails to do justice to Aristotle's distinction between general and specific justice. In cases where an agent commits an act of general injustice, rectificatory justice is needed to address the resulting imbalance in the distribution pattern of social goods I define "social goods" as that subsection of the natural goods that are available fordistribution in a society, namely: wealth, honor, and safety.

Close . Hence, if this criticism is intended to undermine Aristotle's account of specific justice, by requiring another species of specific justice to rectify these imbalances, it fails accordingly. In order to address these criticisms, it will be necessary to clearly and briefly work out Aristotle's notions of general and specific justice and their relationship to one another. In this next section, I shall address Aristotle's discussion of general justice. Since general justice promotes virtuous behavior by means of the law's pedagogical role, it will be necessary to understand this claim. It is my position that general justice holds members of a community accountable to standards of mutual obligation. These standards of mutual obligation, the virtues of character, establish recognized and accepted forms of behavior that form the basis of law. Failing to act in light of these standards results in harm to others and justifies the use of punishment. This aspect of general justice is important because it directly bears on the first criticism. Next, I shall examine specific justice and its relation to the social goods. Thereafter, I shall address the main criticism of Aristotle's theory of specific justice and draw out the implications of this reading. Section 1: Forms of Justice: General and Specific

In general, justice is defined as the state that makes us doers of just actions, that makes us do justice and wish what is just (NE 1129a8). There is one immediate difference between justice and the other virtues of character. Justice is spoken of in two ways: the lawful and the fair. Because there are two different ways in which someone can be just, there are two different virtues being analyzed. Aristotle distinguishes between these two virtues by first specifying general justice as the lawful, and by referring to it as complete...
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