Ethics By Aristotle Summary and Analysis Book V: Chapter IX - Additional Discussion of Relation between Voluntariness and Just Action

Summary

Who is the guilty party when an injustice is done, the person who receives an unfair proportion of what is distributed or the person who acts as distributor? The answer to this is complicated by several factors. Certainly, whether distributor or recipient, it is possible for a man to participate in an unjust act by accident and without the intention of being unjust, and it must be remembered in this connection that doing an unjust act is not the same thing as being unjust. By the same token, suffering something unjust is not the same as receiving unjust treatment, for it is impossible to receive unjust treatment unless someone has acted unjustly.

Here are a few examples of particular cases: When a judge makes a decision in ignorance of some detail about which he has been misinformed, but his decision is in accordance with the evidence available and in terms that the law defines as legal, we say that the decision is just in the sense that it accords with the law, but unjust in the real sense because it violates a principle of universal justice which supersedes the conventional justice the judge has adhered to. The judge is not guilty of injustice though he has distributed unjustly, and the recipient who got an unfair share has not really been treated unjustly.

When a judge knows all the facts in a case and makes his decision for personal reasons — favoritism or revenge, for example — he is acting unjustly in terms of the law and in terms of universal justice. The recipient in this case may receive an unfair share, but cannot be held responsible for this.

When a judge takes a bribe to render a certain decision regardless of the facts or makes an unjust decision because he has been promised promotion to a higher office, he acts unjustly. Since his motive is not injustice itself, however, but something else like greed, etc., the case is a mixture of voluntary and involuntary.

It is not easy to be just or unjust in the true sense, since this requires that an agent be so consistently and on principle, at all times and in all circumstances. As shown in the above examples, people frequently act justly or unjustly for indirect reasons and seldom have full knowledge or pure motives. This is a difficult concept for many people to accept; they find it hard to believe that a truly just man can never act unjustly because they do not understand that he has acquired a basic habit of mind that prevents him from choosing to do an unjust act.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

According to Aristotle, three conditions must be fulfilled for friendship to exist between two people. One of those conditions is




Quiz