The Virtue of Justice

'Aristotle with a Bust of Homer' by Rembrandt

Ah…March enters like a dewy lamb. Nice change from last year, when I had to wear my sailboat cufflinks for 38 consecutive days just to keep hope alive for sunshine.

…An admirable man once told me that he reads Aristotle’s Ethics every spring.

Book V of Nichomachean Ethics concerns justice. In one sense of the term, to be ‘just’ means to be virtuous, law-abiding, fair. It means “doing the right thing.”

There always is a ‘right thing.’ This is one of the metaphysical principles of morals. Doing right harmonizes us with the symphony of goodness which is infinitely greater than ourselves. But discordant notes also sound in this world: there are evil powers greater than us, and we, too, are not purely good. From this metaphysical state–i.e., that the right thing can be done, or not done–morals arise.

In this sense of the word justice, the ‘just’ person is prudent about doing right by others; he is temperate so as not to wrong others; he is brave for other’s good.

(Justice also has a more precise meaning. We will come back to that.)

Aristotle quotes one of the “Seven Sages” of Greece, who asserted: “Office reveals the man.”

To hold an office puts a person in a relationship with other people. An official bears the burden of responsibility for the welfare of others; therefore, he must be just. I think we can say that the primordial ‘office’ is parenthood. We show our true colors by how we treat those for whom we bear some responsibility.

This helps us perceive, I think, another foundation of morals. Our moral choices are framed by the particular responsibilities we have. In order to be a moral person, a just person, a virtuous person–in order to attain maturity as a moral individual–a person must be ready and willing to hear and follow a summons to particular responsibilities. To be a virtous youth is to be ready to take on an office. To be a virtuous adult is to be faithful to one’s office and its duties.

Perhaps I have bored you. Next week we will have the Big East tournament to keep us diverted.

One thought on “The Virtue of Justice

  1. Not bored. My brain just can’t keep up. πŸ™‚

    Moral choices; our particular examination of conscience, which depends on our particular vocation, or state in life…. sometimes it makes my head spin.

    As soon as the super-abundance of God’s grace grants me a little progess in one area of weakness, my examination of conscience always seems to develop new details. Ah, well! Lord, help me hear and follow your summons!

    I was thinking about your sailboat cufflinks yesterday! πŸ™‚

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