Monday, November 19, 2012

Aristotle: Justice and Law

I've been taking an extended look at Aristotle's The Politics , starting here. It helps to see political issues and dilemmas in very long view.

We have been looking recently at how impartiality and fairness are not the whole of our moral sense. It a running theme on this blog. Empty neutrality is not necessarily the end point of humanity.



There is a frequent tendency to identify justice with fairness or equality. But, says Aristotle, justice is not the same as equality.

So it thought that justice is equality, and so it is; but not for all persons, only those who are equal. Inequality also is thought to be just, and so it is, but not for all, only for the unequal. We make bad mistakes of we forget this "for whom" when we are deciding what is just. P195

Nor does he believe the state can just be a neutral referee between different views of the good life, as contemporary liberal theory mostly believes.

..a state's purpose is not merely to provide a living but to make a life that is good. .. all those who are anxious to ensure government under good laws make it their business to have an eye to the virtue and vice of the citizens. It is thus evident that that which is genuinely and not just nominally called a state must concern itself with virtue. p197

The purpose of the state is not to be a referee, but to enable its members to live well.

it is clear therefore that the state is not an association of people dwelling in the same place, established to prevent its members from committing injustice against each other, and to promote transactions. Certainly all these features must be present if there is to be a state; but even the presence of every one of them does not make a state ipso facto. The state is an association intended to enable its members, in their households and the kinships, to live well. ; its purpose is a perfect and self-sufficient life. p198

This, again, thoroughly goes against the grain of contemporary liberal thinking in its Rawlsian mainstream, which is interested in minimal coexistence rather than living well.

Virtue does not imply absolute equality,says Aristotle.

Those who contribute most to this kind of association are for that very reason entitled to a larger share in the state than those who, though they may be equal or even superior in free birth and in family, are inferior in the virtue that belongs to the citizen. p198

The strong may need to be restrained, however.

It is always the weaker who go in search of justice and equalty; the strong reck nothing of them., p367

Law and appetite

The advantage of law is it takes emotion and self-interest out of the equation.

Therefore he who asks law to rule is asking God and intelligence and no others to rule; while he who asks for the rule of a human being is importing a wild beast too; for desire is like a wild beast, and anger perverts rulers and the very best of men. Hence law is intelligence without appetition. p226

"Intelligence without appetition" is marvelous, and similar to ideas about "public reasoning." But, law is also a search for the mean, not simply impartial enforcement of universal rules;

Again, doctors when ill call in other doctors to treat them, and trainers other trainers when they themselves go into training - on the principle that it is impossible to give true judgment when their own interests and thir own feelings are involved. So it is clear that the search for what is just is a search for the mean; for the law is the mean. p227

And one must be wary of interests that cloak themselves under the cover of law.


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