Nicomachean Ethics (Chase)/Book Five

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Now the points for our inquiry in respect of Justice and Injustice1129a are, what kind of actions are their object-matter, and what kind of a mean state Justice is, and between what points the abstract principle of it, i.e. the Just, is a mean. And our inquiry shall be, if you please, conducted in the same method as we have observed in the foregoing parts of this treatise.

We see then that all men mean by the term Justice a moral state such that in consequence of it men have the capacity of doing what is just, and actually do it, and wish it:[1] similarly also with respect to Injustice, a moral state such that in consequence of it men do unjustly and wish what is unjust: let us also be content then with these as a ground-work sketched out.

I mention the two, because the same does not hold with regard to States whether of mind or body as with regard to Sciences or Faculties: I mean that whereas it is thought that the same Faculty or Science embraces contraries, a State will not: from health, for instance, not the contrary acts are done but the healthy ones only; we say a man walks healthily when he walks as the healthy man would.

However, of the two contrary states the one may be frequently known from the other, and oftentimes the states from their subject-matter: if it be seen clearly what a good state of body is, then is it also seen what a bad state is, and from the things which belong to a good state of body the good state itself is seen, and vice versâ. If, for instance, the good state is firmness of flesh it follows that the bad state is flabbiness of flesh; and whatever causes firmness of flesh is connected with the good state.

It follows moreover in general, that if of two contrary terms the one is used in many senses so also will the other be;[2] as, for instance, if “the Just,” then also “the Unjust.” Now Justice and Injustice do seem to be used respectively in many senses, but, because the line of demarcation between these is very fine and minute, it commonly escapes notice that they are thus used,[3] and it is not plain and manifest as where the various significations of terms are widely different for in these last the visible difference is great, for instance, the word κλεὶς is used equivocally to denote the bone which is under the neck of animals and the instrument with which people close doors.

Let it be ascertained then in how many senses the term “Unjust man” is used. Well, he who violates the law, and he who is a grasping man, and the unequal man, are all thought to be Unjust and so manifestly the Just man will be, the man who acts according to law, and the equal man “The Just” then will be the lawful and the equal, and “the 1129bUnjust” the unlawful and the unequal.

Well, since the Unjust man is also a grasping man, he will be so, of course, with respect to good things, but not of every kind, only those which are the subject-matter of good and bad fortune and which are in themselves always good but not always to the individual. Yet men pray for and pursue these things:[4] this they should not do but pray that things which are in the abstract good may be so also to them, and choose what is good for themselves.

But the Unjust man does not always choose actually the greater part, but even sometimes the less; as in the case of things which are simply evil: still, since the less evil is thought to be in a manner a good and the grasping is after good, therefore even in this case he is thought to be a grasping man, i.e. one who strives for more good than fairly falls to his share: of course he is also an unequal man, this being an inclusive and common term.

We said that the violator of Law is Unjust, and the keeper of the Law Just: further, it is plain that all Lawful things are in a manner Just, because by Lawful we understand what have been defined by the legislative power and each of these we say is Just. The Laws too give directions on all points, aiming either at the common good of all, or that of the best, or that of those in power (taking for the standard real goodness or adopting some other estimate); in one way we mean by Just, those things which are apt to produce and preserve happiness and its ingredients for the social community.

Further, the Law commands the doing the deeds not only of the brave man (as not leaving the ranks, nor flying, nor throwing away one's arms), but those also of the perfectly self-mastering man, as abstinence from adultery and wantonness; and those of the meek man, as refraining from striking others or using abusive language: and in like manner in respect of the other virtues and vices commanding some things and forbidding others, rightly if it is a good law, in a way somewhat inferior if it is one extemporised.

Now this Justice is in fact perfect Virtue, yet not simply so but as exercised towards one's neighbour: and for this reason Justice is thought oftentimes to be the best of the Virtues, and

“neither Hesper nor the Morning-star
So worthy of our admiration:”

and in a proverbial saying we express the same;

“All virtue is in Justice comprehended.”

And it is in a special sense perfect Virtue because it is the practice of perfect Virtue. And perfect it is because he that has it is able to practise his virtue towards his neighbour and not merely on himself; I mean, there are many who can practise virtue in the regulation of their own personal conduct who are wholly unable to do it in transactions with their neighbour. 1130aAnd for this reason that saying of Bias is thought to be a good one,

“Rule will show what a man is;”

for he who bears Rule is necessarily in contact with others, i.e. in a community. And for this same reason Justice alone of all the Virtues is thought to be a good to others, because it has immediate relation to some other person, inasmuch as the Just man does what is advantageous to another, either to his ruler or fellow-subject. Now he is the basest of men who practises vice not only in his own person but towards his friends also; but he the best who practises virtue not merely in his own person but towards his neighbour, for this is a matter of some difficulty.[5]

However, Justice in this sense is not a part of Virtue but is co-extensive with Virtue; nor is the Injustice which answers to it a part of Vice but co-extensive with Vice. Now wherein Justice in this sense differs from Virtue appears from what has been said: it is the same really, but the point of view is not the same: in so far as it has respect to one's neighbour it is Justice, in so far as it is such and such a moral state it is simply Virtue.


But the object of our inquiry is Justice, in the sense in which it is a part of Virtue (for there is such a thing, as we commonly say), and likewise with respect to particular Injustice. And of the existence of this last the following consideration is a proof: there are many vices by practising which a man acts unjustly, of course, but does not grasp at more than his share of good; if, for instance, by reason of cowardice he throws away his shield, or by reason of ill-temper he uses abusive language, or by reason of stinginess does not give a friend pecuniary assistance; but whenever he does a grasping action, it is often in the way of none of these vices, certainly not in all of them, still in the way of some vice or other (for we blame him), and in the way of Injustice. There is then some kind of Injustice distinct from that co-extensive with Vice and related to it as a part to a whole, and some “Unjust” related to that which is co-extensive with violation of the law as a part to a whole.

Again, suppose one man seduces a man's wife with a view to gain and actually gets some advantage by it,[6] and another does the same from impulse of lust, at an expense of money and damage; this latter will be thought to be rather destitute of self-mastery than a grasping man, and the former Unjust but not destitute of self-mastery: now why? plainly because of his gaining.

Again, all other acts of Injustice we refer to some particular depravity, as, if a man commits adultery, to abandonment to his passions; if he deserts his comrade, to cowardice; if he strikes another, to anger: but if he gains by the act to no other vice than to Injustice.

Thus it is clear that there is a kind of Injustice different from and besides that which includes all Vice, having the same name because the definition is in the same genus; for 1131bboth have their force in dealings with others, but the one acts upon honour, or wealth, or safety, or by whatever one name we can include all these things, and is actuated by pleasure attendant on gain, while the other acts upon all things which constitute the sphere of the good man's action.

Now that there is more than one kind of Justice, and that there is one which is distinct from and besides that which is co-extensive with, Virtue, is plain: we must next ascertain what it is, and what are its characteristics.

Well, the Unjust has been divided into the unlawful and the unequal, and the Just accordingly into the lawful and the equal: the aforementioned Injustice is in the way of the unlawful. And as the unequal and the more are not the same, but differing as part to whole (because all more is unequal, but not all unequal more),[7] so the Unjust and the Injustice we are now in search of are not the same with, but other than, those before mentioned, the one being the parts, the other the wholes; for this particular Injustice is a part of the Injustice co-extensive with Vice, and likewise this Justice of the Justice co-extensive with Virtue. So that what we have now to speak of is the particular Justice and Injustice, and likewise the particular Just and Unjust.

Here then let us dismiss any further consideration of the Justice ranking as co-extensive with Virtue (being the practice of Virtue in all its bearings towards others), and of the co-relative Injustice (being similarly the practice of Vice). It is clear too, that we must separate off the Just and the Unjust involved in these: because one may pretty well say that most lawful things are those which naturally result in action from Virtue in its fullest sense, because the law enjoins the living in accordance with each Virtue and forbids living in accordance with each Vice. And the producing causes of Virtue in all its bearings are those enactments which have been made respecting education for society.

By the way, as to individual education, in respect of which a man is simply good without reference to others, whether it is the province of πολιτικὴ or some other science we must determine at a future time: for it may be it is not the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen in every case.[8]

Now of the Particular Justice, and the Just involved in it, one species is that which is concerned in the distributions of honour, or wealth, or such other things as are to be shared among the members of the social community (because in these one man as compared with another may have either an equal or an unequal share), and the other is that which is Corrective in the various transactions between man and man.

1131aAnd of this latter there are two parts: because of transactions some are voluntary and some involuntary; voluntary, such as follow; selling, buying, use, bail, borrowing, deposit, hiring: and this class is called voluntary because the origination of these transactions is voluntary.

The involuntary again are either such as effect secrecy; as theft, adultery, poisoning, pimping, kidnapping of slaves, assassination, false witness; or accompanied with open violence; as insult, bonds, death, plundering, maiming, foul language, slanderous abuse.


Well, the unjust man we have said is unequal, and the abstract “Unjust” unequal: further, it is plain that there is some mean of the unequal, that is to say, the equal or exact half (because in whatever action there is the greater and the less there is also the equal, i.e. the exact half). If then the Unjust is unequal the Just is equal, which all must allow without further proof: and as the equal is a mean the Just must be also a mean. Now the equal implies two terms at least: it follows then that the Just is both a mean and equal, and these to certain persons; and, in so far as it is a mean, between certain things (that is, the greater and the less), and, so far as it is equal, between two, and in so far as it is just it is so to certain persons. The Just then must imply four terms at least,[9] for those to which it is just are two, and the terms representing the things are two.

And there will be the same equality between the terms representing the persons, as between those representing the things: because as the latter are to one another so are the former: for if the persons are not equal they must not have equal shares; in fact this is the very source of all the quarrelling and wrangling in the world, when either they who are equal have and get awarded to them things not equal, or being not equal those things which are equal. Again, the necessity of this equality of ratios is shown by the common phrase “according to rate,” for all agree that the Just in distributions ought to be according to some rate: but what that rate is to be, all do not agree; the democrats are for freedom, oligarchs for wealth, others for nobleness of birth, and the aristocratic party for virtue.

The Just, then, is a certain proportionable thing. For proportion does not apply merely to number in the abstract, but to number generally,[10] since it is equality of ratios, and implies four terms at least (that this is the case in what may be called discrete proportion is plain and obvious, but it is true also in continual proportion, for this uses the one 1131bterm as two, and mentions it twice; thus A:B:C may be expressed A:B::B:C. In the first, B is named twice; and so, if, as in the second, B is actually written twice, the proportionals will be four): and the Just likewise implies four terms at the least, and the ratio between the two pair of terms is the same, because the persons and the things are divided similarly. It will stand then thus, A:B::C:D, and then permutando A:C::B:D, and then (supposing C and D to represent the things) A+C:B+D::A:B. The distribution in fact consisting in putting together these terms thus: and if they are put together so as to preserve this same ratio, the distribution puts them together justly.[11] So then the joining together of the first and third and second and fourth proportionals is the Just in the distribution, and this Just is the mean relatively to that which violates the proportionate, for the proportionate is a mean and the Just is proportionate. Now mathematicians call this kind of proportion geometrical: for in geometrical proportion the whole is to the whole as each part to each part. Furthermore this proportion is not continual, because the person and thing do not make up one term.

The Just then is this proportionate, and the Unjust that which violates the proportionate; and so there comes to be the greater and the less: which in fact is the case in actual transactions, because he who acts unjustly has the greater share and he who is treated unjustly has the less of what is good: but in the case of what is bad this is reversed: for the less evil compared with the greater comes to be reckoned for good, because the less evil is more choiceworthy than the greater, and what is choiceworthy is good, and the more so the greater good.

This then is the one species of the Just.


And the remaining one is the Corrective, which arises in voluntary as well as involuntary transactions. Now this Just has a different form from the aforementioned; for that which is concerned in distribution of common property is always according to the aforementioned proportion: I mean that, if the division is made out of common property, the shares will bear the same proportion to one another as the original contributions did: and the Unjust which is opposite to this Just is that which violates the proportionate.

But the Just which arises in transactions between men is an equal in a certain sense, and the Unjust an unequal, only 1132anot in the way of that proportion but of arithmetical. Because it makes no difference whether a robbery, for instance, is committed by a good man on a bad or by a bad man on a good, nor whether a good or a bad man has committed adultery: the law looks only to the difference created by the injury and treats the men as previously equal, where the one does and the other suffers injury, or the one has done and the other suffered harm.[12] And so this Unjust, being unequal, the judge endeavours to reduce to equality again, because really when the one party has been wounded and the other has struck him, or the one kills and the other dies, the suffering and the doing are divided into unequal shares; well, the judge tries to restore equality by penalty, thereby taking from the gain.

For these terms gain and loss are applied to these cases, though perhaps the term in some particular instance may not be strictly proper, as gain, for instance, to the man who has given a blow, and loss to him who has received it: still, when the suffering has been estimated, the one is called loss and the other gain.

And so the equal is a mean between the more and the less, which represent gain and loss in contrary ways (I mean, that the more of good and the less of evil is gain, the less of good and the more of evil is loss): between which the equal was stated to be a mean, which equal we say is Just: and so the Corrective Just must be the mean between loss and gain. And this is the reason why, upon a dispute arising, men have recourse to the judge: going to the judge is in fact going to the Just, for the judge is meant to be the personification of the Just.[13] And men seek a judge as one in the mean, which is expressed in a name given by some to judges (μεσίδιοι, or middle-men) under the notion that if they can hit on the mean they shall hit on the Just. The Just is then surely a mean since the judge is also.

So it is the office of a judge to make things equal, and the line, as it were, having been unequally divided, he takes from the greater part that by which it exceeds the half, and adds this on to the less. And when the whole is divided into two exactly equal portions then men say they have their own, when they have gotten the equal; and the equal is a mean between the greater and the less according to arithmetical equality.

This, by the way, accounts for the etymology of the term by which we in Greek express the ideas of Just and Judge; (δικάιον quasi διχάιον, that is in two parts, and δικάστης quasi διχάστης, he who divides into two parts). For when from one of two equal magnitudes somewhat has been taken and added to the other, this latter exceeds the former by twice that portion: if it had been merely taken from the former and not added to the latter, then the latter would 1132bhave exceeded the former only by that one portion; but in the other case, the greater exceeds the mean by one, and the mean exceeds also by one that magnitude from which the portion was taken. By this illustration, then, we obtain a rule to determine what one ought to take from him who has the greater, and what to add to him who has the less. The excess of the mean over the less must be added to the less, and the excess of the greater over the mean be taken from the greater.

Thus let there be three straight lines equal to one another. From one of them cut off a portion, and add as much to another of them. The whole line thus made will exceed the remainder of the first-named line, by twice the portion added, and will exceed the untouched line by that portion.[14] And these terms loss and gain are derived from voluntary exchange: that is to say, the having more than what was one's own is called gaining, and the having less than one's original stock is called losing; for instance, in buying or selling, or any other transactions which are guaranteed by law: but when the result is neither more nor less, but exactly the same as there was originally, people say they have their own, and neither lose nor gain.[15] So then the Just we have been speaking of is a mean between loss and gain arising in involuntary transactions; that is, it is the having the same after the transaction as one had before it took place.


There are people who have a notion that Reciprocation is simply just, as the Pythagoreans said: for they defined the Just simply and without qualification as “That which reciprocates with another.” But this simple Reciprocation will not fit on either to the Distributive Just, or the Corrective (and yet this is the interpretation they put on the Rhadamanthian rule of Just,

“If a man should suffer what he hath done, then there would be straightforward justice”);

for in many cases differences arise: as, for instance, suppose one in authority has struck a man, he is not to be struck in turn; or if a man has struck one in authority, he must not only be struck but punished also. And again, the voluntariness or involuntariness of actions makes a great difference.[16]

But in dealings of exchange such a principle of Justice as this Reciprocation forms the bond of union; but then it must be Reciprocation according to proportion and not exact equality, because by proportionate reciprocity of action the social community is held together, For either Reciprocation of evil is meant, and if this be not allowed it is thought to be 1133aa servile condition of things: or else Reciprocation of good, and if this be not effected then there is no admission to participation which is the very bond of their union.

And this is the moral of placing the Temple of the Graces (χάριτες) in the public streets; to impress the notion that there may be requital, this being peculiar to χάρις because a man ought to requite with a good turn the man who has done him a favour and then to become himself the originator of another χάρις, by doing him a favour.[17]

Now the acts of mutual giving in due proportion may be represented by the diameters of a parallelogram, at the four angles of which the parties and their wares are so placed that the side connecting the parties be opposite to that connecting the wares, and each party be connected by one side with his own ware, as in the accompanying diagram.

The builder is to receive from the shoemaker of his ware, and to give him of his own: if then there be first proportionate equality, and then the Reciprocation takes place, there will be the just result which we are speaking of: if not, there is not the equal, nor will the connection stand: for there is no reason why the ware of the one may not be better than that of the other, and therefore before the exchange is made they must have been equalised. And this is so also in the other arts: for they would have been destroyed entirely if there were not a correspondence in point of quantity and quality between the producer and the consumer. For, we must remember, no dealing arises between two of the same kind, two physicians, for instance; but say between a physician and agriculturist, or, to state it generally, between those who are different and not equal, but these of course must have been equalised before the exchange can take place.

It is therefore indispensable that all things which can be exchanged should be capable of comparison, and for this purpose money has come in, and comes to be a kind of medium, for it measures all things and so likewise the excess and defect; for instance, how many shoes are equal to a house or a given quantity of food. As then the builder to the shoemaker, so many shoes must be to the house (or food, if instead of a builder an agriculturist be the exchanging party); for unless there is this proportion there cannot be exchange or dealing, and this proportion cannot be unless the terms are in some way equal; hence the need, as was stated above, of some one measure of all things. Now this is really and truly the Demand for them, which is the common bond of all such dealings. For if the parties were not in want at all or not similarly of one another's wares, there would either not be any exchange, or at least not the same.

And money has come to be, by general agreement, a representative of Demand: and the account of its Greek name νομισμα is this, that it is what it is not naturally but by custom or law (νόμος), and it rests with us to change its value, or make it wholly useless.

Very well then, there will be Reciprocation when the terms have been equalised so as to stand in this proportion; Agriculturist : Shoemaker : : wares of Shoemaker : wares of 1113bAgriculturist; but you must bring them to this form of proportion when they exchange, otherwise the one extreme will combine both exceedings of the mean: but when they have exactly their own then they are equal and have dealings, because the same equality can come to be in their case.[18] Let A represent an agriculturist, C food, B a shoemaker, D his wares equalised with A's. Then the proportion will be correct, A:B::C:D; now Reciprocation will be practicable, if it were not, there would have been no dealing.

Now that what connects men in such transactions is Demand, as being some one thing, is shown by the fact that, when either one does not want the other or neither want one another, they do not exchange at all: whereas they do when one wants what the other man has, wine for instance, giving in return corn for exportation.

And further, money is a kind of security to us in respect of exchange at some future time (supposing that one wants nothing now that we shall have it when we do): the theory of money being that whenever one brings it one can receive commodities in exchange: of course this too is liable to depreciation, for its purchasing power is not always the same, but still it is of a more permanent nature than the commodities it represents. And this is the reason why all things should have a price set upon them, because thus there may be exchange at any time, and if exchange then dealing. So money, like a measure, making all things commensurable equalises them: for if there was not exchange there would not have been dealing, nor exchange if there were not equality, nor equality if there were not the capacity of being commensurate: it is impossible that things so greatly different should be really commensurate, but we can approximate sufficiently for all practical purposes in reference to Demand. The common measure must be some one thing, and also from agreement (for which reason it is called νόμισμα), for this makes all things commensurable: in fact, all things are measured by money. Let B represent ten minæ, A a house worth five minæ, or in other words half B, C a bed worth 1/10 of B: it is clear then how many beds are equal to one house, namely, five.

It is obvious also that exchange was thus conducted before the existence of money: for it makes no difference whether you give for a house five beds or the price of five beds.

We have now said then what the abstract Just and Unjust are, and these having been defined it is plain that just acting is a mean between acting unjustly and being acted unjustly towards: the former being equivalent to having more, and the latter to having less.

But Justice, it must be observed, is a mean state not after the same manner as the forementioned virtues, but because it aims at producing the mean, while Injustice occupies both the extremes.

1134aAnd Justice is the moral state in virtue of which the just man is said to have the aptitude for practising the Just in the way of moral choice, and for making division between himself and another, or between two other men, not so as to give to himself the greater and to his neighbour the less share of what is choiceworthy and contrariwise of what is hurtful, but what is proportionably equal, and in like manner when adjudging the rights of two other men.

Injustice is all this with respect to the Unjust: and since the Unjust is excess or defect of what is good or hurtful respectively, in violation of the proportionate, therefore Injustice is both excess and defect because it aims at producing excess and defect; excess, that is, in a man's own case of what is simply advantageous, and defect of what is hurtful: and in the case of other men in like manner generally speaking, only that the proportionate is violated not always in one direction as before but whichever way it happens in the given case. And of the Unjust act the less is being acted unjustly towards, and the greater the acting unjustly towards others.

Let this way of describing the nature of Justice and Injustice, and likewise the Just and the Unjust generally, be accepted as sufficient.[19]


Again, since a man may do unjust acts and not yet have formed a character of injustice, the question arises whether a man is unjust in each particular form of injustice, say a thief, or adulterer, or robber, by doing acts of a given character.

We may say, I think, that this will not of itself make any difference; a man may, for instance, have had connection with another's wife, knowing well with whom he was sinning, but he may have done it not of deliberate choice but from the impulse of passion: of course he acts unjustly, but he has not necessarily formed an unjust character: that is, he may have stolen yet not be a thief; or committed an act of adultery but still not be an adulterer, and so on in other cases which might be enumerated.

Of the relation which Reciprocation bears to the Just we have already spoken: and here it should be noticed that the Just which we are investigating is both the Just in the abstract and also as exhibited in Social Relations, which latter arises in the case of those who live in communion with a view to independence and who are free and equal either proportionately or numerically.[20]

It follows then that those who are not in this position have not among themselves the Social Just, but still Just of some kind and resembling that other. For Just implies mutually acknowledged law, and law the possibility of injustice, for adjudication is the act of distinguishing between the Just and the Unjust.

And among whomsoever there is the possibility of injustice among these there is that of acting unjustly; but it does not hold conversely that injustice attaches to all among whom there is the possibility of acting unjustly, since by the former we mean giving one's self the larger share of what is abstractedly good and the less of what is abstractedly evil.

This, by the way, is the reason why we do not allow a man to govern, but Principle, because a man governs for himself and comes to be a despot: but the office of a ruler 1134bis to be guardian of the Just and therefore of the Equal. Well then, since he seems to have no peculiar personal advantage, supposing him a Just man, for in this case he does not allot to himself the larger share of what is abstractedly good unless it falls to his share proportionately (for which reason he really governs for others, and so Justice, men say, is a good not to one's self so much as to others, as was mentioned before), therefore some compensation must be given him, as there actually is in the shape of honour and privilege; and wherever these are not adequate there rulers turn into despots.

But the Just which arises in the relations of Master and Father, is not identical with, but similar to, these; because there is no possibility of injustice towards those things which are absolutely one's own; and a slave or child (so long as this last is of a certain age and not separated into an independent being), is, as it were, part of a man's self, and no man chooses to hurt himself, for which reason there cannot be injustice towards one's own self: therefore neither is there the social Unjust or Just, which was stated to be in accordance with law and to exist between those among whom law naturally exists, and these were said to be they to whom belongs equality of ruling and being ruled.

Hence also there is Just rather between a man and his wife than between a man and his children or slaves; this is in fact the Just arising in domestic relations: and this too is different from the Social Just.


Further, this last-mentioned Just is of two kinds, natural and conventional; the former being that which has everywhere the same force and does not depend upon being received or not; the latter being that which originally may be this way or that indifferently but not after enactment: for instance, the price of ransom being fixed at a mina, or the sacrificing a goat instead of two sheep; and again, all cases of special enactment, as the sacrificing to Brasidas as a hero; in short, all matters of special decree.

But there are some men who think that all the Justs are of this latter kind, and on this ground: whatever exists by nature, they say, is unchangeable and has everywhere the same force; fire, for instance, burns not here only but in Persia as well, but the Justs they see changed in various places.

Now this is not really so, and yet it is in a way (though among the gods perhaps by no means): still even amongst ourselves there is somewhat existing by nature: allowing that everything is subject to change, still there is that which does exist by nature, and that which does not.[21]

Nay, we may go further, and say that it is practically plain what among things which can be otherwise does exist by nature, and what does not but is dependent upon enactment and conventional, even granting that both are alike subject to be changed: and the same distinctive illustration will apply to this and other cases; the right hand is naturally the stronger, still some men may become equally strong in both.

A parallel may be drawn between the Justs which depend 1135aupon convention and expedience, and measures; for wine and corn measures are not equal in all places, but where men buy they are large, and where these same sell again they are smaller: well, in like manner the Justs which are not natural, but of human invention, are not everywhere the same, for not even the forms of government are, and yet there is one only which by nature would be best in all places.

Now of Justs and Lawfuls each bears to the acts which embody and exemplify it the relation of an universal to a particular; the acts being many, but each of the principles only singular because each is an universal. And so there is a difference between an unjust act and the abstract Unjust, and the just act and the abstract Just: I mean, a thing is unjust in itself, by nature or by ordinance; well, when this has been embodied in act, there is an unjust act, but not till then, only some unjust thing.[22] And similarly of a just act. (Perhaps δικαιοπράγημα is more correctly the common or generic term for just act, the word δικαίωμα, which I have here used, meaning generally and properly the act corrective of the unjust act.) Now as to each of them, what kinds there are, and how many, and what is their object-matter, we must examine afterwards.


For the present we proceed to say that, the Justs and the Unjusts being what have been mentioned, a man is said to act unjustly or justly when he embodies these abstracts in voluntary actions, but when in involuntary, then he neither acts unjustly or justly except accidentally; I mean that the being just or unjust is really only accidental to the agents in such cases.

So both unjust and just actions are limited by the being voluntary or the contrary: for when an embodying of the Unjust is voluntary, then it is blamed and is at the same time also an unjust action: but, if voluntariness does not attach, there will be a thing which is in itself unjust but not yet an unjust action.

By voluntary, I mean, as we stated before, whatsoever of things in his own power a man does with knowledge, and the absence of ignorance as to the person to whom, or the instrument with which, or the result with which he does; as, for instance, whom he strikes, what he strikes him with, and with what probable result; and each of these points again, not accidentally nor by compulsion; as supposing another man were to seize his hand and strike a third person with it, here, of course, the owner of the hand acts not voluntarily, because it did not rest with him to do or leave undone: or again, it is conceivable that the person struck may be his father, and he may know that it is a man, or even one of the present company, whom he is striking, but not know that it is his father. And let these same distinctions be supposed to be carried into the case of the result and in fact the whole of any given action. In fine then, that is involuntary which is done through ignorance, or which, not resulting from ignorance, is not in the agent's control or is done on compulsion.

I mention these cases, because there are many natural things which we do and suffer knowingly but still no one of 1135bwhich is either voluntary or involuntary, growing old, or dying, for instance.

Again, accidentality may attach to the unjust in like manner as to the just acts. For instance, a man may have restored what was deposited with him, but against his will and from fear of the consequences of a refusal: we must not say that he either does what is just, or does justly, except accidentally: and in like manner the man who through compulsion and against his will fails to restore a deposit, must be said to do unjustly, or to do what is unjust, accidentally only.

Again, voluntary actions we do either from deliberate choice or without it; from it, when we act from previous deliberation; without it, when without any previous deliberation. Since then hurts which may be done in transactions between man and man are threefold, those mistakes which are attended with ignorance are, when a man either does a thing not to the man to whom he meant to do it, or not the thing he meant to do, or not with the instrument, or not with the result which he intended: either he did not think he should hit him at all, or not with this, or this is not the man he thought he should hit, or he did not think this would be the result of the blow but a result has followed which he did not anticipate; as, for instance, he did it not to wound but merely to prick him; or it is not the man whom, or the way in which, he meant.

Now when the hurt has come about contrary to all reasonable expectation, it is a Misadventure; when though not contrary to expectation yet without any viciousness, it is a Mistake; for a man makes a mistake when the origination of the cause rests with himself, he has a misadventure when it is external to himself. When again he acts with knowledge, but not from previous deliberation, it is an unjust action; for instance, whatever happens to men from anger or other passions which are necessary or natural: for when doing these hurts or making these mistakes they act unjustly of course and their actions are unjust, still they are not yet confirmed unjust or wicked persons by reason of these, because the hurt did not arise from depravity in the doer of it: but when it does arise from deliberate choice, then the doer is a confirmed unjust and depraved man.

And on this principle acts done from anger are fairly judged not to be from malice prepense, because it is not the man who acts in wrath who is the originator really but he who caused his wrath. And again, the question at issue in such cases is not respecting the fact but respecting the justice of the case, the occasion of anger being a notion of injury.[23] I mean, that the parties do not dispute about the fact, as in questions of contract (where one of the two must be a rogue, unless real forgetfulness can be pleaded), but, admitting the fact, they dispute on which side the justice of the case lies (the one who plotted against the other, i.e. the real aggressor, of course, cannot be ignorant), so that the one thinks there is injustice committed while the other does not.[24]

Well then, a man acts unjustly if he has hurt another 1136aof deliberate purpose, and he who commits such acts of injustice is ipso facto an unjust character when they are in violation of the proportionate or the equal; and in like manner also a man is a just character when he acts justly of deliberate purpose, and he does act justly if he acts voluntarily.

Then as for involuntary acts of harm, they are either such as are excusable or such as are not: under the former head come all errors done not merely in ignorance but from ignorance; under the latter all that are done not from ignorance but in ignorance caused by some passion which is neither natural nor fairly attributable to human infirmity.


Now a question may be raised whether we have spoken with sufficient distinctness as to being unjustly dealt with, and dealing unjustly towards others.

First, whether the case is possible which Euripides has put, saying somewhat strangely,

"My mother he hath slain; the tale is short,
Either he willingly did slay her willing,
Or else with her will but against his own.”

I mean then, is it really possible for a person to be unjustly dealt with with his own consent, or must every case of being unjustly dealt with be against the will of the sufferer as every act of unjust dealing is voluntary?

And next, are cases of being unjustly dealt with to be ruled all one way as every act of unjust dealing is voluntary? or may we say that some cases are voluntary and some involuntary?

Similarly also as regards being justly dealt with: all just acting is voluntary, so that it is fair to suppose that the being dealt with unjustly or justly must be similarly opposed, as to being either voluntary or involuntary.

Now as for being justly dealt with, the position that every case of this is voluntary is a strange one, for some are certainly justly dealt with without their will.[25] The fact is a man may also fairly raise this question, whether in every case he who has suffered what is unjust is therefore unjustly dealt with, or rather that the case is the same with suffering as it is with acting; namely that in both it is possible to participate in what is just, but only accidentally. Clearly the case of what is unjust is similar: for doing things in themselves unjust is not identical with acting unjustly, nor is suffering them the same as being unjustly dealt with. So too of acting justly and being justly dealt with, since it is impossible to be unjustly dealt with unless some one else acts unjustly or to be justly dealt with unless some one else acts justly.

Now if acting unjustly is simply “hurting another voluntarily” (by which I mean, knowing whom you are hurting, and wherewith, and how you are hurting him), and the man who fails of self-control voluntarily hurts himself, then this will be a case of being voluntarily dealt unjustly with, and it will be possible for a man to deal unjustly with himself. (This by the way is one of the questions raised, whether it is possible for a man to deal unjustly with himself.) Or again, a man may, by reason of failing of self-control, receive hurt1136b from another man acting voluntarily, and so here will be another case of being unjustly dealt with voluntarily.

The solution, I take it, is this: the definition of being unjustly dealt with is not correct, but we must add, to the hurting with the knowledge of the person hurt and the instrument and the manner of hurting him, the fact of its being against the wish of the man who is hurt.

So then a man may be hurt and suffer what is in itself unjust voluntarily, but unjustly dealt with voluntarily no man can be: since no man wishes to be hurt, not even he who fails of self-control, who really acts contrary to his wish: for no man wishes for that which he does not think to be good, and the man who fails of self-control does not what he thinks he ought to do.

And again, he that gives away his own property (as Homer says Glaucus gave to Diomed, "armour of gold for brass, armour worth a hundred oxen for that which was worth but nine") is not unjustly dealt with, because the giving rests entirely with himself; but being unjustly dealt with does not, there must be some other person who is dealing unjustly towards him.

With respect to being unjustly dealt with then, it is clear that it is not voluntary. There remain yet two points on which we purposed to speak: first, is he chargeable with an unjust act who in distribution has given the larger share to one party contrary to the proper rate, or he that has the larger share? next, can a man deal unjustly by himself?

In the first question, if the first-named alternative is possible and it is the distributor who acts unjustly and not he who has the larger share, then supposing that a person knowingly and willingly gives more to another than to himself here is a case of a man dealing unjustly by himself; which, in fact, moderate men are thought to do, for it is a characteristic of the equitable man to take less than his due.

Is not this the answer? that the case is not quite fairly stated, because of some other good, such as credit or the abstract honourable, in the supposed case the man did get the larger share. And again, the difficulty is solved by reference to the definition of unjust dealing: for the man suffers nothing contrary to his own wish, so that, on this score at least, he is not unjustly dealt with, but, if anything, he is hurt only.

It is evident also that it is the distributor who acts unjustly and not the man who has the greater share: because the mere fact of the abstract Unjust attaching to what a man does, does not constitute unjust action, but the doing this voluntarily: and voluntariness attaches to that quarter whence is the origination of the action, which clearly is in the distributor not in the receiver. And again the term doing is used in several senses; in one sense inanimate objects kill, or the hand, or the slave by his master's bidding; so the man in question does not act unjustly but does things which are in themselves unjust.

Again, suppose that a man has made a wrongful award in ignorance; in the eye of the law he does not act unjustly nor is his awarding unjust, but yet he is in a certain sense: for the Just according to law and primary or natural Just are not coincident: but, if he knowingly decided unjustly, then he himself as well as the receiver got the larger share, 1137athat is, either of favour from the receiver or private revenge against the other party: and so the man who decided unjustly from these motives gets a larger share, in exactly the same sense as a man would who received part of the actual matter of the unjust action: because in this case the man who wrongly adjudged, say a field, did not actually get land but money by his unjust decision.

Now men suppose that acting Unjustly rests entirely with themselves, and conclude that acting Justly is therefore also easy. But this is not really so; to have connection with a neighbour's wife, or strike one's neighbour, or give the money with one's hand, is of course easy and rests with one's self: but the doing these acts with certain inward dispositions neither is easy nor rests entirely with one's self. And in like way, the knowing what is Just and what Unjust men think no great instance of wisdom because it is not hard to comprehend those things of which the laws speak. They forget that these are not Just actions, except accidentally: to be Just they must be done and distributed in a certain manner: and this is a more difficult task than knowing what things are wholesome; for in this branch of knowledge it is an easy matter to know honey, wine, hellebore, cautery, or the use of the knife, but the knowing how one should administer these with a view to health, and to whom and at what time, amounts in fact to being a physician.

From this very same mistake they suppose also, that acting Unjustly is equally in the power of the Just man, for the Just man no less, nay even more, than the Unjust, may be able to do the particular acts; he may be able to have intercourse with a woman or strike a man; or the brave man to throw away his shield and turn his back and run this way or that. True: but then it is not the mere doing these things which constitutes acts of cowardice or injustice (except accidentally), but the doing them with certain inward dispositions: just as it is not the mere using or not using the knife, administering or not administering certain drugs, which constitutes medical treatment or curing, but doing these things in a certain particular way.

Again the abstract principles of Justice have their province among those who partake of what is abstractedly good, and can have too much or too little of these.[26] Now there are beings who cannot have too much of them, as perhaps the gods; there are others, again, to whom no particle of them is of use, those who are incurably wicked to whom all things are hurtful; others to whom they are useful to a certain degree: for this reason then the province of Justice is among Men.

We have next to speak of Equity and the Equitable, that is to say, of the relations of Equity to Justice and the Equitable to the Just; for when we look into the matter the two do not appear identical nor yet different in kind; and we sometimes commend the Equitable and the man who embodies it in his actions, so that by way of praise we commonly transfer the 1137bterm also to other acts instead of the term good, thus showing that the more Equitable a thing is the better it is: at other times following a certain train of reasoning we arrive at a difficulty, in that the Equitable though distinct from the Just is yet praiseworthy; it seems to follow either that the Just is not good or the Equitable not Just, since they are by hypothesis different; or if both are good then they are identical.

This is a tolerably fair statement of the difficulty which on these grounds arises in respect of the Equitable; but, in fact, all these may be reconciled and really involve no contradiction: for the Equitable is Just, being also better than one form of Just, but is not better than the Just as though it were different from it in kind: Just and Equitable then are identical, and, both being good, the Equitable is the better of the two.

What causes the difficulty is this; the Equitable is Just, but not the Just which is in accordance with written law, being in fact a correction of that kind of Just. And the account of this is, that every law is necessarily universal while there are some things which it is not possible to speak of rightly in any universal or general statement. Where then there is a necessity for general statement, while a general statement cannot apply rightly to all cases, the law takes the generality of cases, being fully aware of the error thus involved; and rightly too notwithstanding, because the fault is not in the law, or in the framer of the law, but is inherent in the nature of the thing, because the matter of all action is necessarily such.

When then the law has spoken in general terms, and there arises a case of exception to the general rule, it is proper, in so far as the lawgiver omits the case and by reason of his universality of statement is wrong, to set right the omission by ruling it as the lawgiver himself would rule were he there present, and would have provided by law had he foreseen the case would arise. And so the Equitable is Just but better than one form of Just; I do not mean the abstract Just but the error which arises out of the universality of statement: and this is the nature of the Equitable, “a correction of Law, where Law is defective by reason of its universality.”

This is the reason why not all things are according to law, because there are things about which it is simply impossible to lay down a law, and so we want special enactments for particular cases. For to speak generally, the rule of the undefined must be itself undefined also, just as the rule to measure Lesbian building is made of lead: for this rule shifts according to the form of each stone and the special enactment according to the facts of the case in question.

It is clear then what the Equitable is; namely that it is Just but better than one form of Just: and hence it appears too who the Equitable man is: he is one who has a tendency to choose and carry out these principles, and who is not apt1138a to press the letter of the law on the worse side but content to waive his strict claims though backed by the law: and this moral state is Equity, being a species of Justice, not a different moral state from Justice.


The answer to the second of the two questions indicated above, “whether it is possible for a man to deal unjustly by himself,” is obvious from what has been already stated.

In the first place, one class of Justs is those which are enforced by law in accordance with Virtue in the most extensive sense of the term: for instance, the law does not bid a man kill himself; and whatever it does not bid it forbids: well, whenever a man does hurt contrary to the law (unless by way of requital of hurt), voluntarily, i.e. knowing to whom he does it and wherewith, he acts Unjustly. Now he that from rage kills himself, voluntarily, does this in contravention of Right Reason, which the law does not permit. He therefore acts Unjustly: but towards whom? towards the Community, not towards himself (because he suffers with his own consent, and no man can be Unjustly dealt with with his own consent), and on this principle the Community punishes him; that is a certain infamy is attached to the suicide as to one who acts Unjustly towards the Community.

Next, a man cannot deal Unjustly by himself in the sense in which a man is Unjust who only does Unjust acts without being entirely bad (for the two things are different, because the Unjust man is in a way bad, as the coward is, not as though he were chargeable with badness in the full extent of the term, and so he does not act Unjustly in this sense), because if it were so then it would be possible for the same thing to have been taken away from and added to the same person:[27] but this is really not possible, the Just and the Unjust always implying a plurality of persons.

Again, an Unjust action must be voluntary, done of deliberate purpose, and aggressive (for the man who hurts because he has first suffered and is merely requiting the same is not thought to act Unjustly), but here the man does to himself and suffers the same things at the same time.

Again, it would imply the possibility of being Unjustly dealt with with one's own consent.

And, besides all this, a man cannot act Unjustly without his act falling under some particular crime; now a man cannot seduce his own wife, commit a burglary on his own premises, or steal his own property.

After all, the general answer to the question is to allege what was settled respecting being Unjustly dealt with with one's own consent.

It is obvious, moreover, that being Unjustly dealt by and dealing Unjustly by others are both wrong; because the one is having less, the other having more, than the mean, and the case is parallel to that of the healthy in the healing art, and that of good condition in the art of training: but still the dealing Unjustly by others is the worst of the two, because this involves wickedness and is blameworthy; wickedness, I mean, either wholly, or nearly so (for not all voluntary wrong implies injustice), but the being Unjustly dealt by does not involve wickedness or injustice.

In itself then, the being Unjustly dealt by is the least bad, but accidentally it may be the greater evil of the two. 1138bHowever, scientific statement cannot take in such considerations; a pleurisy, for instance, is called a greater physical evil than a bruise: and yet this last may be the greater accidentally; it may chance that a bruise received in a fall may cause one to be captured by the enemy and slain.

Further: Just, in the way of metaphor and similitude, there may be I do not say between a man and himself exactly but between certain parts of his nature; but not Just of every kind, only such as belongs to the relation of master and slave, or to that of the head of a family.[28] For all through this treatise the rational part of the Soul has been viewed as distinct from the irrational.

Now, taking these into consideration, there is thought to be a possibility of injustice towards one's self, because herein it is possible for men to suffer somewhat in contradiction of impulses really their own; and so it is thought that there is Just of a certain kind between these parts mutually, as between ruler and ruled.

Let this then be accepted as an account of the distinctions which we recognise respecting Justice and the rest of the moral virtues.

  1. Each term is important: to make up the character of justice, men must have the capacity, do the acts, and do them from moral choice.
  2. But not always. Φιλεῖν, for instance, has two senses, “to love” and “to kiss,” μισεῖν but one. Topics, I. chap. xiii. 5.
  3. Things are ὁμώνυμα which have only their name in common, being in themselves different. The ὁμωνυμία is close therefore when the difference though real is but slight. There is no English expression for ὁμωνυμία, “equivocal” being applied to a term and not to its various significates.
  4. See Book I. chap. i. τοιαύτην δέ τινα πλάνην ἔχει καὶ τἀγαθὰ, κ.τ.λ.
  5. A man habitually drunk in private is viewed by our law as confining his vice to himself, and the law therefore does not attempt to touch him: a religious hermit may be viewed as one who confines his virtue to his own person.
  6. See the account of Sejanus and Livia. Tac. Annal. iv. 3.
  7. Cardwell’s text, which here gives παράνομον, yields a much easier and more natural sense. All Injustice violates law, but only the particular kinds violate equality; and therefore
    the unlawful : the unequal :: universal Injustice : the particular i.e. as whole to part.
    There is a reading which also alters the words within the parenthesis, but this hardly affects the gist of the passage.
  8. There are two reasons why the characters are not necessarily coincident. He is a good citizen, who does his best to carry out the πολιτεία under which he lives, but this may be faulty, so therefore pro tanto is he.
    Again, it is sufficient, so far as the Community is concerned, that he does the facts of a good man: but for the perfection of his own individual character, he must do them virtuously. A man may move rightly in his social orbit, without revolving rightly on his own axis.
    The question is debated in the Politics, iii. 2. Compare also the distinction between the brave man, and good soldier (supra, Book III. chap. xii.), and also Bishop Butler's first Sermon.
  9. Terms used for persons.
  10. By μοναδικὸς ἀριθμὸς is meant numbers themselves, 4, 20, 50, etc., by ὅλως ἀριθμὸς these numbers exemplified, 4 horses, 20 sheep, etc.
  11. The profits of a mercantile transaction (say £1000) are to be divided between A and B, in the ratio of 2 to 3 (which is the real point to be settled); then,
    A : B : : 400 : 600.
    A : 400 : : B : 600 (permutando, and assuming a value for A and B, so as to make them commensurable with the respective sums).
    A+400 : B+600 : : A : B. This represents the actual distribution: its fairness depending entirely on that of the first proportion.
  12. i.e. Corrective justice is wrought out by subtraction from the wrong doer and addition to the party injured.
  13. Her Majesty’s “Justices.”
  14. I have omitted the next three lines, as they seem to be out of place here, and to occur much more naturally afterwards: it not being likely that they were originally twice written, one is perhaps at liberty to give Aristotle the benefit of the doubt, and conclude that he put them where they made the best sense.
  15. This I believe to be the meaning of the passage, but do not pretend to be able to get it out of the words.
  16. This is apparently contrary to what was said before, but not really so. Aristotle does not mean that the man in authority struck wrongfully, but he takes the extreme case of simple Reciprocation: and in the second case, the man who strikes one in authority commits two offenses, one against the person (and so far they are equal), and another against the office.
  17. χάρις denotes, 1st, a kindly feeling issuing in a gratuitous act of kindness; 2ndly, the effect of this act of kindness on a generous mind; 3rdly, this effect issuing in a requital of the kindness.
  18. The Shoemaker would get a house while the Builder only had (say) one pair of shoes, or at all events not so many as he ought to have. Thus the man producing the least valuable ware would get the most valuable, and vice versa.
    Adopting, as I have done, the reading which omits οὖ at δει άγειν, we have simply a repetition of the caution, that before Reciprocation is attempted, there must be the same ratio between the wares as between the persons, i.e. the ratio of equality.
    If we admit οὗ, the meaning may be, that you must not bring into the proportion the difference mentioned above (ἑτέρων καὶ οὐκ ἴσων) since for the purposes of commerce all men are equal.
    Say that the Builder is to the Shoemaker as 10:1. Then there must be the same ratio between the wares: consequently the highest artist will carry on the most valuable wares, thus combining in himself both ὑπερόχαι. The following are the three cases, given 100 pr. shoes1 house.
    Builder : Shoemaker : : 1 pr. shoes        : 1 house——wrong.
    ——————    ————————.     100 pr. shoes      : 1 house——right.
    ——————    ————————.     10 (100 pr. shoes) : 1 house——wrong.
  19. Every unjust act embodies τὸ ἀδικὸν, which is a violation of τὸ ἴσον, and so implies a greater and a less share, the former being said to fall to the doer, the latter to the sufferer, of injury.
  20. In a pure democracy men are absolutely, i.e. numerically, equal, in other forms only proportionately equal. Thus the meanest British subject is proportionately equal to the Sovereign: that is to say, is as fully secured in his rights as the Sovereign in hers.
  21. Or, according to Cardwell’s reading (κινητόν οὐ μέντοι πᾶν): “but amongst ourselves there is just, which is naturally variable, but certainly all just is not such.” The sense of the passage is not affected by the reading. In Bekker's text we must take κινητὸν to mean the same as κινούμενον, i.e. “we admit there is no Just which has not been sometimes disallowed, still,” etc. With Cardwell's, κινητὸν will mean “which not only does but naturally may vary.”
  22. Murder is unjust by the law of nature, Smuggling by enactment. Therefore any act which can be referred to either of these heads is an unjust act, or, as Bishop Butler phrases it, an act materially unjust. Thus much may be decided without reference to the agent. See the note on page 32, l. 16.
  23. “As distinct from pain or loss.” Bishop Butler's Sermon on Resentment. See also, Rhet. ii. 2 Def. of ὀργὴ.
  24. This method of reading the passage is taken from Zell quoted in Cardwell's Notes, and seems to yield the best sense. The Paraphrast gives it as follows:
    “But the aggressor is not ignorant that he began, and so he feels himself to be wrong [and will not acknowledge that he is the aggressor], but the other does not.”
  25. As when a man is “justified at the Grass Market”, i.e. hung.
  26. Where the stock of good is limited, if any individual takes more than his share some one else must have less than his share: where it is infinite, or where there is no good at all, this cannot happen.
  27. The reference is to chap. vii. where it was said that the law views the parties in a case of particular injustice as originally equal, but now unequal, the wrong doer the gainer and the sufferer the loser by the wrong, but in the case above supposed there is but one party.
  28. So in the Politics, i. 2.
    Ἡ μὲν γὰρ ψυχὴ τοῦ σώματος ἄρχει δεσποτικὴν ἀρχὴν, ὁ δὲ νοῦς τῆς ὀρεξέως πολιτικὴν καὶ δεσποτικήν.
    Compare also Bishop Butler’s account of human nature as a system—of the different authority of certain principles, and specially the supremacy of Conscience.