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Ruminations on Justice in Plato and Aristotle

The following is not a sustained argument, so much as an exploration of impressions derived from the last few years of reading. There are arguments to be gleaned from it, but I must confess, they’re not entirely conscious efforts. The blind squirrel of my mind is finding a few nuts as he tries to feel his way out of the forest.

Plato and Aristotle had very different ideas about Justice. But I am less and less convinced that they disagreed about it, fundamentally. This is true for most of the systematic philosophy (as much as it can be so called, for Plato), from their metaphysics to their ethics and politics. It’s not really difficult to see why. Aristotle was a trained Platonist, after all. And both Plato and Aristotle were responding to the challenge laid down by Parmenides. Namely, that plurality could only be an illusion if unity could be proved, and as far as Parmenides was concerned, it was proved. Likewise, a world of becoming must also be an illusion if being could be conclusively demonstrated — and as far as Parmenides was concerned, that was also proved.

It has been suggested by some authors, that Plato represents the culmination of a Hegelian dialectic, in which Heraclitus represents the thesis (the assertion that the only thing that is real is change), Parmenides the antithesis (the assertion that the only thing that is real is the unchanging), and Plato the synthesis (turns out they’re both right, except the unchanging is more real than the changing). I don’t think this is quite right. There is no synthetic terminus. Ideas and thinkers feed off each other, in a continuous dance. There is no point at which inquiry ceases with a final perfect synthesis. What’s more, Plato and Aristotle were attempting to resolve a paradox, not simply stating theses in reaction to their predecessor’s theses. They were participating in the conveyance of ideas into the future, and that necessarily comes with both accretions and reductions.

But what does this have to do with Justice? Well, if you think that there is not merely an order to the universe to be discerned by man, but a correct order, that must be understood to be obeyed (in the sense of conformity to what is best, not in the sense of submission to a rule), then justice becomes a highly relevant topic. Indeed, it is elevated to the level of a cornerstone concept in the organization of any good society. Plato and Aristotle were systematic thinkers. This means, they tried to build a complete philosophy in which every part coherently fits into every other part. Thus, justice must make metaphysical sense, as much as it does moral and political sense. For both Plato and Aristotle, that means reconciling both their metaphysical, and their moral and political notions, with the challenge of Parmenides.

Ideas and Methodologies

For Aristotle, justice is many things, not one. As is his habit, he insists that these kinds of justice cannot be reduced, but are exemplars of separate categories of being. Those categories can, however, be understood as consisting in three relations: between fellow men, between man and his nature, and between man and his polis. Justice in each category is a proportionate desert, measured according to The Good, determined by man’s nature, derived from his substantive being, and known by reasoning from observation of that nature.

For Plato, justice is the rightly ordered soul, which is patterned after the rightly ordered state, which is ordered according to the Form of Justice, which is derived from the Form of the Absolute Good in which reason is supreme because of its affinity with The One,which unifies all things according to itself, and can be known by man by way of dialectic recollection via reason.

How are these two understandings of Justice arrived at? How can they be such different ideas of Justice, and yet still agree? I think the inquiry into these questions begins with examining the methodologies of the two men. More specifically, how does each philosopher

Plato’s idea of knowledge of Ideas — not its acquisition, but what it is itself — is analogous to our knowledge of numbers. They do not enter our minds on instruction, but are already present at birth. They are merely buried by the fog of material existence, and must be uncovered. This uncovering process is the acquisition of knowledge. It begins with a postulate or formula describing the idea, which is then scrutinized by way of a form of dialectic known as ‘elenchus’. This process chisels away at falsehoods clinging to the concept or hidden within it. Whatever remains is the truth, and your recollection of The Form is successful.

Plato’s Ideas (or Forms), then, are like mathematical postulates in that they are “a priori” or “analytical”, which is to say they begin and end in the mind. External exemplars of them are only accidental to their essential meaning. For example, I need not have apples on hand if I want to sum or subtract individuals, or roll a ball down an incline plane if I want to calculate acceleration, but these instances can be helpful for illustrating the truth. What’s more, these ideas are like mathematical equations, in that they must be complete in themselves, in the same way that the left and right side of an equation must be absolutely equal (if not identical). Plato’s knowledge, then, relies on Parmenides’ notion of the static perfection of The One, and the self-sufficient completeness into which all individuals are subsumed. Definition is the expression of this completeness. The more complete the definition, the better your understanding.

Aristotle’s idea of knowledge, on the other hand, begins with an inquiry into particulars. A particular object or experience or phenomenon is identified, the nature of that instance is isolated by way of analysis, and then conclusions can be deduced from the general nature to the particular object. These conclusions are self-sufficient and logically necessary, being derived from deductions from generalities derived from observation. The generalities are “first principles”: truths about a thing that are essential to it, in a way that explains its nature, and are common to all individuals like it. Grasping these principles, is therefore, grasping a kind of universal truth. This universal truth is the closest that Aristotle gets to the notion of a Form in the Platonic sense. In his theory of hylomorphism, he actually does call the part of substance that gives an individual it’s “whatness”, the “form”. These forms do indeed define the nature of particular beings, but Aristotle offers no explanation as to what the source of form is, or how it can be discernible absent a unifying element, except to attribute it all to the divine mind.

So, unlike Plato, Aristotle wants to start with what he thinks is the more familiar knowledge — the knowledge of particular experiences — and build a logically sound understanding from that. It’s clear he expects this logical scaffolding is eventually going to lead to a sort of “master principle” that unifies everything. He reaches just such a conclusion in a few specific places — for example, with Prime Matter, and the Prime Mover — but falls short of joining these parts into a unified whole (how are prime matter and the prime mover related? By what mechanism is the prime mover’s will and intellect expressed in the various forms that we see in substantial beings: rocks, people, trees, etc.?). This is the problem with categorical taxonomies. They tend to be irreducible.

Plato presupposes the realm of Ideal Forms, within which the Form of The Good resides, and in which every particular worldly phenomena “participates”. The form of Justice resides there also, and in a hierarchical relationship with The Good. Thus, circumstances on earth which participate in the Form of Justice must also be participants in the Form of The Good. This is why we say that just things are good things. And, unlike Aristotle, Plato makes very few distinctions in the varieties of justice because for him, all instances of justice must unify under the Form of Justice. Thus unified, it is understood. Today, we might think of this as a kind of reductionism. But Plato is not interested in an “explanation” of justice, in either the scientific sense we understand today, or in the taxonomic sense that Aristotle employed. Rather, he sought a holistic apprehension of the Form, similar to what we might today call a ‘beatific vision’. To see the whole, in all its perfected magnificence, as a complete totality, regardless of how baroque its contours, is the pinnacle of wisdom for Plato.

Aristotle, on the other hand, insists that an account of all those baroque intricacies are necessary for genuine understanding. In fact, in The Politics, he is convinced that the parts of justice which he does find on examination, are not something that can be unified into a totality in the way that Plato wants it. There are, he insists, at least three ‘kinds’ of particular justice, and at least two kinds of general justice — only one of which resembles Plato’s perfect totality. But this is not a serious problem for Aristotle’s ethics, since justice conforms to virtue, and virtue to happiness (eudaimonia). Justice, on Aristotle’s account, is the virtue concerned primarily with the other, while courage, temperance, and prudence are primarily concerned with the self. Being other-regarding means cultivating social habits that maximize the actualization of potentials inherent to the individual, which are then expressed in the aquisition of one’s proper station, relative to others. In aggregate, then, Aristotelian justice effects the same sort of natural order by the freely exercised deliberate desire of individuals, as Plato seeks to impose by authoritarian mandate through rigorous indoctrination and conditioning of citizens.

Justice and Society

And so, we move from the metaphysical to the moral and political. As is implied above, neither Plato nor Aristotle were democrats in the sense that we think of that term today. Neither was an egalitarian, and Aristotle was a democrat only to the extent that it could be maintained in its least evil form, which he believed would still not last very long. Both philosophers saw hierarchy as an inevitable part of the human experience, and both sought to reconcile that stratification with The One, and to make sense of it in their theories of state.

For Plato, that meant moving all women and children into a common living arrangement, denying them knowledge of parentage, and segregating them into classes of “gold”, “silver”, and “bronze”, according to the quality of their breeding. These various classes of children would be trained for their respective roles as artisans, soldier defenders, and philosopher kings. Each class would be burdened with its own set of social, economic, and political duties and responsibilities, and the degree to which they succeeded in performing these duties would constitute the degree to which they conformed to the universal Form of Justice. The furhter they diverged, the more unjust they would become.

There are a few key features to note, about Plato’s just society. First, it is almost exclusively vertical in character. Only the artisan class is allowed property (and then, only to effect production and trade with other cities). This, Socrates tells us in The Republic, is to insure that the focus is always on the Form of the Good. Owning property encourages private interests and pleasures, which necessarily detract from the common goal of the society, which is to conform to justice. Second, this society is pathologically static. Once this society is assembled and operational (if such a thing were even possible), it could tolerate no modification — not even movement within the classes — without risk of injustice. It is as complete (in the sense of accomplished) an image of the perfect good as is possible on earth, and any innovation or internal motion would constitute a deterioration or corruption. Thus, the Republic would be profoundly brittle, because instead of coping with the reality of change, Plato tries to will change out of existence. So much for Parmenides challenge.

Contrast this with Aristotle, who, though he agrees with Plato that societies that are just are those that are modeled after and oriented toward The Good, deeply disagrees with Plato about how that modeling and orientation is achieved — let alone, what the city will look like in practice, once achieved. Aristotle embraces change in his ethics, arguing explicitly that virtue is an activity of the soul, not a final state of being. He argues in the Politics that the telos (“purpose”) of the polis is the establishment of conditions conducive to the good of its members (citizens and non-citizens alike). For Aristotle, this means finding ways to encourage the right proportion of desert, in the particular activities of a society’s members.

Justice, in Aristotle’s “perfected” society, is the totality of virtue actualized by each of its members when serving in their proper roles, for the right reasons, and giving each man what is due to him. Aristotle recognizes more than just the three classes of members that Plato did. He observed a variety of roles in the cities he describes in The Politics, spanning numerous classes, from educators, to laborers, to landowning householders, to slaves, to soldiers and sailors, and so on. This is not that surprising, really. It’s what was already present in existing Greek poleis, and Aristotle begins all of his inquiries by beginning with observation of phenomena. As with his other works, Aristotle in The Politics was trying to build up from what he found, applying the principles he extracted from The Ethics. Plato, by contrast, begins with the definition of the soul, commits the fallacy of composition, and then seeks to radically transform the polis according to that absolute Idea. If material reality resists the effort, then so much the worse for reality.

Proportion, Equality, and Social Justice

One last word must be said about Aristotle. His idea of incremental improvement, or more precisely, the gradual actualization of virtue in all individuals, as the telos of the state, raises a problem. Given the vast plurality of people, roles, and circumstances in any given polis, it is difficult to fathom what Aristotle could have meant when he said that justice is a “kind of equality”. Clearly, the Aristotelian polis is anything but a utopian equality.

One way to understand what he means, is by recalling that Aristotle does not imply any sort of egalitarianism when he uses the word equality. For him, equality is what is appropriate to the station of the man, and the value imputed in any exchange between men. So, for example, all the men in the same station equally deserve the regard that is due that station – soldiers, for example, deserve the regard and deference of a soldier, regardless of which soldier it is. However, if a solider engages in an exchange with an artisan, the value of the items exchanged need to be identical. In Aristotle’s famous example: three pairs of sandals for a bed. In this way, we could say that market exchanges are not “equalizing” the relationship between soldier and artisan, but rather, the value of good exchanged in the market is set regardless of the station of the individuals engaged in the transaction. A good pair of shoes is a good pair of shoes, regardless of how much merit you deserve, personally. This is a point that wasn’t picked up again, until Adam Smith. But, The point here, is that absolute inequalities are admissible when, in the calculation of the ratio of that inequality, we can resolve to the number 1.

It is this resolution of ratios in the affairs of men, that Aristotle thinks gets us to unity. In modern times, we often depict this as the weight scale with its two trays dangling from chains. But this image is misleading. Because the needle of the weight scale is only resolved, when the trays are level with each other. Aristotle is saying that this image only applies to exchanges of goods between men. Everywhere else, the needle is centered when the trays are not aligned.

Despite the fact that Aristotle’s prescription is for a much more voluntary society than Plato, this realization still makes many people uncomfortable. It means that leaving your station is an injustice, in the same way that a workman in Plato’s Republic who took on the pretense of a philosopher-king would be commiting an injustice. But the difference here, is that Aristotle does not presuppose potentialities on account of birth. While he does hold the prejudice of “good birth”, he grounds it in the idea that cultured families will give their sons the grounding they need to actualize virtue, that may or may not remain unrealized in the “lower classes” (to use a modern turn of phrase).

Aristotle never bothers to test whether this “unrealized potential” is there, or not. Like I said, he simply assumes it would not be. But he did test the opposite proposition. Late in life, Aristotle took on the famous Alexander of Macedon, son of Philip II, as a pupil. The relationship between the two is echoed ominously, later, in the relationship between Seneca and Nero. Suffice to say, Alexander was a disappointment to Aristotle (despite being a masterful strategist and general).

It is this realization — that the potential for virtue is not determined by class — that has largely driven 19th and 20th century impulses to democratize education and career opportunities. But we go too far in thinking that this effort will necessarily disolve the presence of class in society. On this point, Aristotle is correct, though Aristotle would not put it in the terms I am about to. The various needs of a society are necessarily going to result the stratification of its members. As we specialize into different kinds of activities, and those activities are assigned different values to the society as a whole, the individuals occupying those endeavors are going to become associated with the values assigned to their products — unless we separate economic value from merit.

Friedrich Hayek tried to point this out in his book, “Law, Legislation, and Liberty”. Thomas Jefferson also hints at this in his appeal to Locke, in the Declaration of Independence, famously declaring that “all men are created equal”. In doing so, however, he inverted eons of social order. Because now, instead of there being tiered classes whose moral worth was fixed by station rather than economic value, there is now only one universal class in which all men a judged to have the same merit, regardless of their economic value. But the inevitable outcome of such a principle, is to deny any man the right to rule. For, without the merit that warrants command over others of lower merit, what justification can there be? All claims to rule begin to look like special pleading fallacies, on this view. Justice would demand that each and every man stand as philosopher-king, guardian, and craftsman of his own kingdom of the self. Clearly, that can’t be right, since the end result would not be unity but the utter atomization of unity.


I’ve drifted very far from the center of the Parmenidean universe from which this essay began. Or have I? There is a very odd thing about the paradox of The One and The Many. When you stare at it for long enough, its impossible to tell the two apart. I think that’s what’s happened here. In one sense, there is no difference between The One and The Many. Each is just an expression or aspect of the other. In another sense, they are as distinct as right and wrong, or round and square. I am beginning to believe, therefore, that not only is a reconciliation not possible, but that seeking to reconcile the two is a mistake. We can only ever navigate between them, and Plato and Aristotle are personified attempts to do just that; Plato leaning toward The One, Aristotle leaning toward the many, but the both of them never really dispute the need to navigate. Perhaps justice is precisely to be found not in the collapse of the one into the many, or the collapse of the many into the one, but precisely in the gray gap between the two. And perhaps Plato and Aristotle are our guides, leading us this way and that, through the fog, to The Good.

Published inancientethicsmetaphysicspolitics


  1. Jamie Ellul Jamie Ellul

    I love your approach. I am not clever but I find your approach to explaining things very good and steady. It gives me time to grasp what you are discussing, and they are things that I thought I was wasting time concerning myself with when they were floating about in my head as almost “childish” questions. You have inspired me and good luck with your endevours. Quality. Best of fortune to you.

    • Thank you for the kind comments, Jamie. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  2. I came across this on Google “Exiting the Cave” and I thought “I wonder if he’s seen THX 1138…”
    Then I clicked and I see the logo in the top-left, and now I am thinking “I wonder if he has ever run over a Wookie on the expressway…”

  3. Kevin Kevin

    Ruminations on Justice in Plato and Aristotle
    Published by Greg Gauthier on January 30, 2021

    On pain of repetition, I enjoyed this post as well. But …

    GREG: 1. Plato and Aristotle had very different ideas about Justice. 2. But I am less and less convinced that they disagreed about it, fundamentally.

    As far as the first sentence, which has been labelled “1.” by me, is concerned, you cannot possibly know that what you assert is “the case”. So that sentence may be true or false. It is probably false and Plato tells you why in 2 of his 13 letters. In sum, you do not know what his final “ideas” on Justice were, with respect to the first sentence. With respect to the 2nd sentence, you should be more and more convinced that “2.” is true because both men were intimately knowledgeable of the CONTRARIES of Justice vs. Injustice in all of 1. many ancient Greek city states, 2. Egyptian dynasties and 3. Persian despotism/s.

    As to 1., Plato tells you that philosophy shouldn’t be written and/or can’t be conveyed by means of writing in 2 of his letters. So if he didn’t write his ideas down, you can’t know that Plato’s ideas “differed” from Aristotle’s.

    Many “critics” suggest or argue that Plato’s letters are spurious. 1. I don’t think so, simply because he established the Academy in order to do “face to face” philosophy, which entirely conforms to both of the letters I cite below. 2. There is a strong motive to suggest his letters are forgeries or fakes. E.g. What happens to Descartes’s MEDITATIONS or Kant’s so-called CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, as “philosophy”, if Plato’s Letters are actually what the “master” actually said/wrote/thought? Plato certainly doesn’t have the “idea” that either written treatise is “philosophy”.

    A 3rd and final point: Aristotle does not attribute the ideas of THE REPUBLIC, for example, to Plato. He clearly tells us about the ideas of SOCRATES, rather than Plato, when he criticizes ideal polities in his Politics, quote:

    ARISTOTLE: “The discourses of SOCRATES are never commonplace; they always exhibit grace and originality and thought; but perfection in everything can hardly be expected.” [Politics; Bk. II, Ch. 6., 1265a lines 10 – 12] That statement by Aristotle corroborates Plato’s epistolary thesis concerning his writings being examples of the way Socrates did philosophy, to wit: “Socrates cleansed and beautified” (one of several distinct translations).

    So, to be sure, below are excerpts from the 2 letters where Plato tells you that philosophy isn’t susceptible to being conveyed/taught by writing. The “bit” about Socrates “become fair and young”, has all kinds of interesting variations, by various translators. L.A. post (1925) translates the phrase as “a Socrates embellished and modernized.” Perhaps Post was a “modernist”! Another remembered translation is: “Socrates beautified and rejuvenated.” by whom I fail to recollect. The translations which I have cited are apparently those of Benjamin Jowett, according to the site from where I copied them which belongs to EDITOR Darren L. Slider at LOGOS VIRTUAL LIBRARY and his collection of Public Domain documents at

    Thank you Darren.

    2nd Letter excerpt:
    PLATO to Dionysius:
    Beware, however, lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people. For there are hardly any doctrines, I believe, which sound more absurd than these to the vulgar, or, on the other hand, more admirable and inspired to men of fine disposition. For it is through being repeated and LISTENED to frequently for many years that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold, with prolonged labor. But listen now to the most remarkable result of all. Quite a number of men there are who have listened to these doctrines—men capable of learning and capable also of holding them in mind and judging them by all sorts of tests—and who have been hearers of mine for no less than thirty years and are now quite old; and these men now declare that the doctrines that they once held to be most incredible appear to them now the most credible, and what they then held most credible now appears the opposite.

    So, bearing this in mind, have a care lest one day you should repent of what has now been divulged improperly. The greatest safeguard is to AVOID WRITING and to learn by heart; for it is not possible that what is written down should not get divulged. For this reason I myself have NEVER yet WRITTEN anything on these subjects, and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist, but those which now bear his name BELONG TO A SOCRATES become FAIR and YOUNG. Fare thee well, and give me credence; and now, to begin with, read this letter over repeatedly and then burn it up. [excerpt ended]

    7th LETTER excerpt:
    PLATO to the followers of DION at Sicily:

    Thus much at least, I can say about all WRITERS, past or future, who say they know the things to which I devote myself, whether by hearing the teaching of me or of others, or by their own discoveries—that according to my view it is not possible for them to have any real skill in the matter. There neither is nor ever will be a TREATISE of mine on the subject. For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself.

    Yet this much I know—that if the things were WRITTEN or put into words, it would be done best by me, and that, if they were written badly, I should be the person most pained. Again, if they had appeared to me to admit adequately of WRITING and exposition, what task in life could I have performed nobler than this, TO WRITE what is of great service to mankind and to bring the nature of things into the light for all to see? But I do not think it a good thing for men that there should be a disquisition, as it is called, on this topic—except for some few, who are able with a little teaching to find it out for themselves. As for the rest, it would fill some of them quite illogically with a mistaken feeling of contempt, and others with lofty and vain-glorious expectations, as though they had learnt something high and mighty. [At 342a]

    [snip] … Further, on account of the weakness of language, these (i.e., the four) attempt to show what each thing is like, not less than what each thing is. For this reason no man of intelligence will venture to express his philosophical views in language, especially not in language that is unchangeable, which is true of that which is set down in WRITTEN characters. [At 343a]

    You nicely point out in this post how Socrates examined the large State to look for Justice, there, and then referred his finding of Justice in a large State to Justice in the soul of individuals, calling that technique “the fallacy of composition”. Wait a minute. It wasn’t you, but Socrates, according to Plato, who first looked, along with Plato’s half-brothers, at the larger state/polis in the Republic, then in/to the soul. But, according to my re-search you suggest the soul first, and the polis after, although you are a long way into your post before you suggest the opposite order. Quote:

    GREG: Plato, by contrast, begins with the definition of the soul, commits the fallacy of composition, and then seeks to radically transform the polis according to that absolute Idea. If material reality resists the effort, then so much the worse for reality.

    OK! NOT IMPORTANT: Something else to think about. Tell me of the fallacy of composition some time. But my point here is that Aristotle did something similar to the Socrates of The Republic, in the converse. Socrates looks at Justice in the larger State, then in the Soul. Aristotle, conversely, takes the 3 powers of the soul, per The Nicomachean Ethics, and applies those 3 powers [making-thinking or production; doing-thinking or praxis; and speculative-thinking or judgment] to the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches of a Constitutional Government at Politics Book IV (VI), Chapters 14 through 16.

    Ch.. 14 Legislators (in deliberative assemblies) MAKE (and hopefully obey) just laws, Ch. 15. Executives in “magistracies” DO/enforce (and hopefully obey) just laws, and finally Ch. 16. Judges (hopefully obey) just judgment standards [i.e.. Laws KB] in order to make SPECULATIVE/contemplative judgments between adversaries, in controversy, at Court. Of course, it is the speculative or contemplative deliberations of law makers which results in hopefully MAKING laws that are JUST at the beginning of “rule of law” polities. [Politics 1297b line 35 through 1301a line 16]. As to those same powers in the soul, quote

    “… of the intellect which is CONTEMPLATIVE (a.k.a. speculative or theoretical KB), NOT PRACTICAL nor PRODUCTIVE, the GOOD and the BAD state are truth and falsity respectively (for this is the work of everything intellectual); while of the part which is PRACTICAL-and-INTELLECTUAL [what I have called the “doing” power of intellectual animals KB] the GOOD state is truth in agreement with right desire.” [N.E. Bk VI, Ch. 2. 1139a lines 27 – 31].

    Thus 3 powers [contemplation, practice and production KB] of the soul [i.e. intellectual power directed to 3 distinct “ends” or goals] are subsequently applied to the framing of political CONSTITUTIONS in larger state Polities, according to the treatise which follows the Nicomachean Ethics [i.e. The Politics].

    The American Constitution precisely follows those 3 Chapters of The Politics, in its drafting, probably/arguably on the advice of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. He was the best and most thoroughly educated member of the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Carroll was Jesuit-educated when the Jesuits actually taught Aristotle as “the philosopher” and Aquinas as “the” theologian.

    I know Carroll didn’t frame the U.S. Constitution. But, as Plato long ago advised, you have to do philosophy “face to face” and both the declarers of independence and the Constitutionalists did a lot of “face to face” and even “face to the Public”, by means of Hamilton’s, Madison’s and Jay’s “federalist papers”, published in U.S. Newspapers of the day and time. Early Americans not only read those papers, but actually and easily understood them, being literate, unlike most modern functional illiterates of our day and time.

    You conclude your rumination with the suggestion that:

    GREG: … Plato and Aristotle are our guides, leading us this way and that, through the fog, to The Good.

    So, as you suspect, Plato and Aristotle probably did not “fundamentally disagree” about the nature/species/definition of Justice, whether in States or individuals. But in your ruminations, above, you haven’t got to the first major point of Socrates in Plato’s Republic which was:

    So that for me the present outcome of the discussion is that I know nothing. For if I don’t know WHAT the JUST is, I shall hardly know whether it is a virtue or not, and whether its possessor is or is not happy. [Republic Book I, 354b]

    In short, you haven’t said “WHAT the JUST is”. You haven’t defined Justice. And Aristotle tells people that humans only argue about 4 things using propositions or problems to state such “things” to wit: 1. Genera [general classes] 2. DEFINITIONS (a.k.a. species), 3. Properties [convertibly predicable attributes which are not definitions] and 4. (strict) Accidents [from the 9 predicables attributed to substances per The Categories], quote:

    ARISTOTLE: “What we have said, then, makes it clear that according to our present division, the elements turn out to be four, all told, namely either property or DEFINITION or genus or accident. Do not let anyone suppose us to mean that each of these enunciated by itself constitutes a proposition or problem, but only that it is from these that both problems and propositions are formed.” etc. [TOPICS Bk I, Ch. 4. 101b lines 23 – 28]

    Of course, Plato gets around to defining Justice in The Republic as, according to Socrates:- Justice is to do/mind one’s own business [Republic; Book IV. 433 b] To be certain:

    SOCRATES: This, then, I said, my friend, if taken in a certain sense appears to be JUSTICE, this PRINCIPLE of DOING ONE’S OWN BUSINESS. Do you know whence I infer this? [433b] …(snip)… A thing, then, that in its contribution to the excellence of the state vies with and rivals its wisdom (prudence KB) its soberness (temperance KB), its bravery (courage KB) is this PRINCIPLE of EVERYONE DOING his own TASK.

    GLAUCON: It is indeed, he said.

    SOCRATES: And is not JUSTICE the name you would have to give to the PRINCIPLE that rivals these [prudence, temperance and courage KB] as conducting (conducing? KB) to the virtue of a State? GLAUCON: By all means. [Republic Book IV, 433 e]

    Of course, defining Justice as “doing/minding one’s own business”, leaves a huge open question, which is, of course: What is my business? And: What is anyone else’s business or task? Aristotle answers the question, in effect with: Justice is to treat equals, equally, and unequals, unequally, so as to effect the common good, which is an “idea” I got from Mortimer Jerome Adler in his book SIX GREAT IDEAS. He calls that thesis “one principle of Justice”, [but KB] “by no means the most important”, when criticizing Rawls’ Theory of Justice. But that thesis does answer your question about trying to “fathom” what Aristotle meant by Justice as Equality. Quote

    GREG: … it is difficult to fathom what Aristotle could have meant when he said that justice is a “kind of equality”. Clearly, the Aristotelian polis is anything but a utopian equality.

    And equally “clearly”, Aristotle only talks about good government of the one (Constitutional Monarchy), few (Constitutional Aristocracy; never effected; or Constitutional Oligarchies) or many (Constitutional Polities/democracies) and their “perversions” of tyranny, fiat-oligarchy and extreme democracy (featuring mobs and demagogues), in his treatise on Politics. He talks about the “ideal” (rather than Utopian) polities of other theorists. But he, himself, doesn’t talk about “Utopian” States.

    On to Rawls vs. that other guy in the next post and how to balance liberty vs. equality by employing Justice to sort out the extremes of the 2 “limited goods” (i.e. liberty and equality).


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