Book V



We now have to inquire about justice and injustice, and to ask what sorts of acts they are concerned with, and in what sense justice observes the mean, and what are the extremes whose mean is that which is just. And in this inquiry we will follow the same method as before.

We see that all men intend by justice to signify the sort of habit or character that makes men apt to do what is just, and which further makes them act justly92 and wish what is just; while by injustice they intend in like manner to signify the sort of character that makes men act unjustly and wish what is unjust. Let us lay this down, then, as an outline to work upon.

We thus oppose justice and injustice, because a habit or trained faculty differs in this respect both from a science and a faculty or power. I mean that whereas both of a pair of opposites come under the same science or power, a habit which produces a certain result does not also produce the opposite result; e.g. health produces healthy manifestations only, and not unhealthy; for we say a man has a healthy gait when he walks like a man in health.

[Not that the two opposites are unconnected.] In the first place, a habit is often known by the opposite habit, and often by its causes and results: if we know what good condition is, we can learn from that what bad condition is; and, again, from that which conduces to good condition we can infer what good condition itself is, and conversely from the latter can infer the former. For instance, if good condition be firmness of flesh, it follows that bad condition is flabbiness of flesh, and that what tends to produce firmness of flesh conduces to good condition.

And, in the second place, if one of a pair of opposite terms have more senses than one, the other term will also, as a general rule, have more than one; so that here, if the term “just” have several senses, the term “unjust” also will have several.

And in fact it seems that both “justice” and “injustice” have several senses, but, as the different things covered by the common name are very closely related, the fact that they are different escapes notice and does not strike us, as it does when there is a great disparity⁠—a great difference, say, in outward appearance⁠—as it strikes everyone, for instance, that the κλείς (clavis, collarbone) which lies under the neck of an animal is different from the κλείς (clavis, key) with which we fasten the door.

Let us then ascertain in how many different senses we call a man unjust.

Firstly, he who breaks the laws is considered unjust, and, secondly, he who takes more than his share, or the unfair man.

Plainly, then, a just man will mean (1) a law-abiding and (2) a fair man.

A just thing then will be (1) that which is in accordance with the law, (2) that which is fair; and the unjust thing will be (1) that which is contrary to law, (2) that which is unfair.

But since the unjust man, in one of the two senses of the word, takes more than his share, the sphere of his action will be good things⁠—not all good things, but those with which good and ill fortune are concerned, which are always good in themselves, but not always good for us⁠—the things that we men pray for and pursue, whereas we ought rather to pray that what is good in itself may be good for us, while we choose that which is good for us.

But the unjust man does not always take more than his share; he sometimes takes less, viz. of those things which are bad in the abstract; but as the lesser evil is considered to be in some sort good, and taking more means taking more good, he is said to take more than his share. But in any case he is unfair; for this is a wider term which includes the other.

We found that the lawbreaker is unjust, and the law-abiding man is just. Hence it follows that whatever is according to law is just in one sense of the word. [And this, we see, is in fact the case;] for what the legislator prescribes is according to law, and is always said to be just.

Now, the laws prescribe about all manner of things, aiming at the common interest of all, or of the best men, or of those who are supreme in the state (position in the state being determined by reference to personal excellence, or to some other such standard); and so in one sense we apply the term just to whatever tends to produce and preserve the happiness of the community, and the several elements of that happiness. The law bids us display courage (as not to leave our ranks, or run, or throw away our arms), and temperance (as not to commit adultery or outrage), and gentleness (as not to strike or revile our neighbours), and so on with all the other virtues and vices, enjoining acts and forbidding them, rightly when it is a good law, not so rightly when it is a hastily improvised one.

Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is complete virtue, with the addition that it is displayed towards others. On this account it is often spoken of as the chief of the virtues, and such that “neither evening nor morning star is so lovely;” and the saying has become proverbial, “Justice sums up all virtues in itself.”

It is complete virtue, first of all, because it is the exhibition of complete virtue: it is also complete because he that has it is able to exhibit virtue in dealing with his neighbours, and not merely in his private affairs; for there are many who can be virtuous enough at home, but fail in dealing with their neighbours.

This is the reason why people commend the saying of Bias, “Office will show the man:” for he that is in office ipso facto stands in relation to others,93 and has dealings with them.

This, too, is the reason why justice alone of all the virtues is thought to be another’s good, as implying this relation to others; for it is another’s interest that justice aims at⁠—the interest, namely, of the ruler or of our fellow-citizens.

While then the worst man is he who displays vice both in his own affairs and in his dealings with his friends, the best man is not he who displays virtue in his own affairs merely, but he who displays virtue towards others; for this is the hard thing to do.

Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is not a part of virtue, but the whole of it; and the injustice which is opposed to it is not a part of vice, but the whole of it.

How virtue differs from justice in this sense is plain from what we have said; it is one and the same character differently viewed:94 viewed in relation to others, this character is justice; viewed simply as a certain character,95 it is virtue.


We have now to examine justice in that sense in which it is a part of virtue⁠—for we maintain that there is such a justice⁠—and also the corresponding kind of injustice.

That the word is so used is easily shown. In the case of the other kinds of badness, the man who displays them, though he acts unjustly [in one sense of the word], yet does not take more than his share: for instance, when a man throws away his shield through cowardice, or reviles another through ill temper, or through illiberality refuses to help another with money. But when he takes more than his share, he displays perhaps no one of these vices, nor does he display them all, yet he displays a kind of badness (for we blame him), namely, injustice [in the second sense of the word].

We see, then, that there is another sense of the word injustice, in which it stands for a part of that injustice which is coextensive with badness, and another sense of the word unjust, in which it is applied to a part only of those things to which it is applied in the former sense of “contrary to law.”

Again, if one man commits adultery with a view to gain, and makes money by it, and another man does it from lust, with expenditure and loss of money, the latter would not be called grasping, but profligate, while the former would not be called profligate, but unjust [in the narrower sense]. Evidently, then, he would be called unjust because of his gain.

Once more, acts of injustice, in the former sense, are always referred to some particular vice, as if a man commits adultery, to profligacy; if he deserts his comrade in arms, to cowardice; if he strikes another, to anger: but in a case of unjust gain, the act is referred to no other vice than injustice.96

It is plain then that, besides the injustice which is coextensive with vice, there is a second kind of injustice, which is a particular kind of vice, bearing the same name97 as the first, because the same generic conception forms the basis of its definition; i.e. both display themselves in dealings with others, but the sphere of the second is limited to such things as honour, wealth, security (perhaps some one name might be found to include all this class98), and its motive is the pleasure of gain, while the sphere of the first is coextensive with the sphere of the good man’s action.

We have ascertained, then, that there are more kinds of justice than one, and that there is another kind besides that which is identical with complete virtue; we now have to find what it is, and what are its characteristics.

We have already distinguished two senses in which we speak of things as unjust, viz. (1) contrary to law, (2) unfair; and two senses in which we speak of things as just, viz. (1) according to law, (2) fair.

The injustice which we have already considered corresponds to unlawful.

But since unfair is not the same as unlawful, but differs from it as the part from the whole (for unfair is always unlawful, but unlawful is not always unfair), unjust and injustice in the sense corresponding to unfair will not be the same as unjust and injustice in the sense corresponding to unlawful, but different as the part from the whole; for this injustice is a part of complete injustice, and the corresponding justice is a part of complete justice. We must therefore speak of justice and injustice, and of that which is just and that which is unjust, in this limited sense.

We may dismiss, then, the justice which coincides with complete virtue and the corresponding injustice, the former being the exercise of complete virtue towards others, the latter of complete vice.

It is easy also to see how we are to define that which is just and that which is unjust in their corresponding senses [according to law and contrary to law]. For the great bulk, we may say, of the acts which are according to law are the acts which the law commands with a view to complete virtue; for the law orders us to display all the virtues and none of the vices in our lives.

But the acts which tend to produce complete virtue are those, of the acts according to law which are prescribed with reference to the education of a man as a citizen. As for the education of the individual as such, which tends to make him simply a good man, we may reserve the question whether it belongs to the science of the state or not; for it is possible that to be a good man is not the same as to be a good citizen of any state whatever.99

But of justice as a part of virtue, and of that which is just in the corresponding sense, one kind is that which has to do with the distribution of honour, wealth, and the other things that are divided among the members of the body politic (for in these circumstances it is possible for one man’s share to be unfair or fair as compared with another’s); and another kind is that which has to give redress in private transactions.

The latter kind is again subdivided; for private transactions are (1) voluntary, (2) involuntary.

“Voluntary transactions or contracts” are such as selling, buying, lending at interest, pledging, lending without interest, depositing, hiring: these are called “voluntary contracts,” because the parties enter into them of their own will.

“Involuntary transactions,” again, are of two kinds: one involving secrecy, such as theft, adultery, poisoning, procuring, corruption of slaves, assassination, false witness; the other involving open violence, such as assault, seizure of the person, murder, rape, maiming, slander, contumely.


The unjust man [in this limited sense of the word], we say, is unfair, and that which is unjust is unfair.

Now, it is plain that there must be a mean which lies between what is unfair on this side and on that. And this is that which is fair or equal; for any act that admits of a too much and a too little admits also of that which is fair.

If then that which is unjust be unfair, that which is just will be fair, which indeed is admitted by all without further proof.

But since that which is fair or equal is a mean between two extremes, it follows that what is just will be a mean.

But equality or fairness implies two terms at least.100

It follows, then, that that which is just is both a mean quantity and also a fair amount relatively to something else and to certain persons⁠—in other words, that, on the one hand, as a mean quantity it implies certain other quantities, i.e. a more and a less; and, on the other hand, as an equal or fair amount it involves two quantities,101 and as a just amount it involves certain persons.

That which is just, then, implies four terms at least: two persons to whom justice is done, and two things.

And there must be the same “equality” [i.e. the same ratio] between the persons and the things: as the things are to one another, so must the persons be. For if the persons be not equal, their shares will not be equal; and this is the source of disputes and accusations, when persons who are equal do not receive equal shares, or when persons who are not equal receive equal shares.

This is also plainly indicated by the common phrase “according to merit.” For in distribution all men allow that what is just must be according to merit or worth of some kind, but they do not all adopt the same standard of worth; in democratic states they take free birth as the standard,102 in oligarchic states they take wealth, in others noble birth, and in the true aristocratic state virtue or personal merit.

We see, then, that that which is just is in some sort proportionate. For not abstract numbers only, but all things that can be numbered, admit of proportion; proportion meaning equality of ratios, and requiring four terms at least.

That discrete proportion103 requires four terms is evident at once. Continuous proportion also requires four terms: for in it one term is employed as two and is repeated: for instance, a ÷ b = b ÷ c. The term b then is repeated; and so, counting b twice over, we find that the terms of the proportion are four in number.

That which is just, then, requires that there be four terms at least, and that the ratio between the two pairs be the same, i.e. that the persons stand to one another in the same ratio as the things.

Let us say, then, a ÷ b = c ÷ d, or alternando, a ÷ c = b ÷ d.

The sums of these new pairs then will stand to one another in the original ratio [i.e. (a + c) ÷ (b + d) = a ÷ b or c ÷ d].

But these are the pairs which the distribution joins together;104 and if the things be assigned in this manner, the distribution is just.

This joining, then, of a to c and of b to d is that which is just in distribution; and that which is just in this sense is a mean quantity, while that which is unjust is that which is disproportionate; for that which is proportionate is a mean quantity, but that which is just is, as we said, proportionate.

This proportion is called by the mathematicians a geometrical proportion; for it is when four terms are in geometrical proportion that the sum [of the first and third] is to the sum [of the second and fourth] in the original ratio [of the first to the second or the third to the fourth].

But this proportion [as applied in justice] cannot be a continuous proportion; for one term cannot represent both a person and a thing.

That which is just, then, in this sense is that which is proportionate; but that which is unjust is that which is disproportionate. In the latter case one quantity becomes more or too much, the other less or too little. And this we see in practice; for he who wrongs another gets too much, and he who is wronged gets too little of the good in question: but of the evil conversely; for the lesser evil stands in the place of good when compared with the greater evil: for the lesser evil is more desirable than the greater, but that which is desirable is good, and that which is more desirable is a greater good.

This then is one form of that which is just.


It remains to treat of the other form, viz. that which is just in the way of redress, the sphere of which is private transactions, whether voluntary or involuntary.

This differs in kind from the former.

For that which is just in the distribution of a common stock of good things is always in accordance with the proportion above specified (even when it is a common fund that has to be divided, the sums which the several participants take must bear the same ratio to one another as the sums they have put in), and that which is unjust in the corresponding sense is that which violates this proportion.

But that which is just in private transactions105 is indeed fair or equal in some sort, and that which is unjust is unfair or unequal; but the proportion to be observed here is not a geometrical proportion as above, but an arithmetical one.

For it makes no difference whether a good man defrauds a bad one, or a bad man a good one, nor whether a man who commits an adultery be a good or a bad man; the law looks only to the difference created by the injury, treating the parties themselves as equal, and only asking whether the one has done, and the other suffered, injury or damage.

That which is unjust, then, is here something unequal [or unfair] which the judge tries to make equal [or fair]. For even when one party is struck and the other strikes, or one kills and the other is killed, that which is suffered and that which is done may be said to be unequally or unfairly divided; the judge then tries to restore equality by the penalty or loss which he inflicts upon the offender, subtracting it from his gain.

For in such cases, though the terms are not always quite appropriate, we generally talk of the doer’s “gain” (e.g. the striker’s) and the sufferer’s “loss;” but when the suffering has been assessed by the court, what the doer gets is called “loss” or penalty, and what the sufferer gets is called “gain.”

What is fair or equal, then, is a mean between more or too much and less or too little; but gain and loss are both more or too much and less or too little in opposite ways, i.e. gain is more or too much good and less or too little evil, and loss the opposite of this.

And in the mean between them, as we found, lies that which is equal or fair, which we say is just.

That which is just in the way of redress, then, is the mean between loss and gain. When disputes arise, therefore, men appeal to the judge:106 and an appeal to the judge is an appeal to that which is just; for the judge is intended to be as it were a living embodiment of that which is just; and men require of a judge that he shall be moderate [or observe the mean], and sometimes even call judges “mediators” (μεσιδίους), signifying that if they get the mean they will get that which is just.

That which is just, then, must be a sort of mean, if the judge be a “mediator.”

But the judge restores equality; it is as if he found a line divided into two unequal parts, and were to cut off from the greater that by which it exceeds the half, and to add this to the less.

But when the whole is equally divided, the parties are said to have their own, each now receiving an equal or fair amount.

But the equal or fair amount is here the arithmetic mean between the more or too much and the less or too little. And so it is called δίκαιον (just) because there is equal division (δίχα); δίκαιον being in fact equivalent to δίχαιον, and δίκαστής (judge) to δίχαστής.

If you cut off a part from one of two equal lines and add it to the other, the second is now greater than the first by two such parts (for if you had only cut off the part from the first without adding it to the second, the second would have been greater by only one such part); the second exceeds the mean by one such part, and the mean also exceeds the first by one.

Thus we can tell how much to take away from him who has more or too much, and how much to add to him who has less or too little: to the latter’s portion must be added that by which it falls short of the mean, and from the former’s portion must be taken away that by which it exceeds the mean.

To illustrate this, let AA′, BB′, CC′ be three equal lines:⁠—

The first of three lines, A A′, is divided close to point A at point E. The second line is B B′, which is undivided. The third line, C C′, is extended past point C to point D by an amount equal to A E, and is divided between points C and C′ at point Z, which is as close to point C as E is to A.

From AA′ let AE be cut off; and let D [equal to AE] be added to CC′; then the whole DCC′ exceeds EA′ by CD and CZ [equal to AE or CD], and exceeds BB′ by CD.

And this107 holds good not only in geometry, but in the arts also; they could not exist unless that which is worked upon received an impression corresponding in kind and quantity and quality to the exertions of the artist.

But these terms, “loss” and “gain,” are borrowed from voluntary exchange. For in voluntary exchange having more than your own is called gaining, and having less than you started with is called losing (in buying and selling, I mean, and in the other transactions in which the law allows free play); but when the result to each is neither more nor less but the very same amount with which he started, then they say that they have their own, and are neither losers nor gainers. That which is just, then, is a mean between a gain and a loss, which are both contrary to the intention,108 and consists in having after the transaction the equivalent of that which you had before it.


Some people, indeed, go so far as to think that simple requital is just. And so the Pythagoreans used to teach; for their definition of what is just was simply that what a man has done to another should be done to him.

But this simple requital does not correspond either with that which is just in distribution or with that which is just in the way of redress (though they try to make out that this is the meaning of the Rhadamanthine rule⁠—“To suffer that which thou hast done is just”); for in many cases it is quite different. For instance, if an officer strike a man, he ought not to be struck in return; and if a man strike an officer, he ought not merely to be struck, but to be punished.

Further, it makes a great difference whether what was done to the other was done with his consent or against it.

But it is true that, in the interchange of services, this is the rule of justice that holds society together, viz. requital⁠—but proportionate requital, and not simple repayment of equals for equals. For the very existence of a state depends upon proportionate return. If men have suffered evil, they seek to return it; if not, if they cannot requite an injury, we count their condition slavish. And again, if men have received good, they seek to repay it: for otherwise there is no exchange of services; but it is by this exchange that we are bound together in society.

This is the reason why we set up a temple of the graces [charities, χάριτες] in sight of all men, to remind them to repay that which they receive; for this is the special characteristic of charity or grace. We ought to return the good offices of those who have been gracious to us, and then again to take the lead in good offices towards them.

But proportionate interchange is brought about by “cross conjunction.”

For instance, let A stand for a builder, B for a shoemaker, C for a house, D for shoes.109

The builder then must take some of the shoemaker’s work, and give him his own work in exchange.

Now, the desired result will be brought about if requital take place after proportionate equality has first been established.110

If this be not done, there is no equality, and intercourse becomes impossible; for there is no reason why the work of the one should not be worth more than the work of the other. Their work, then, must be brought to an equality [or appraised by a common standard of value].

This is no less true of the other arts and professions [than of building and shoemaking]; for they could not exist if that which the patient [client or consumer] receives did not correspond in quantity and quality with that which the agent [artist or producer] does or produces.111

For it is not between two physicians that exchange of services takes place, but between a physician and a husbandman, and generally between persons of different professions and of unequal worth; these unequal persons, then, have to be reduced to equality [or measured by a common standard].112

All things or services, then, which are to be exchanged must be in some way reducible to a common measure.

For this purpose money was invented, and serves as a medium of exchange; for by it we can measure everything, and so can measure the superiority and inferiority of different kinds of work⁠—the number of shoes, for instance, that is equivalent to a house or to a certain quantity of food.

What is needed then is that so many shoes shall bear to a house (or a measure of corn) the same ratio that a builder [or a husbandman] bears to a shoemaker.113 For unless this adjustment be effected, no dealing or exchange of services can take place; and it cannot be effected unless the things to be exchanged can be in some way made equal.

We want, therefore, some one common measure of value, as we said before.

This measure is, in fact, the need for each other’s services which holds the members of a society together; for if men had no needs, or no common needs, there would either be no exchange, or a different sort of exchange from that which we know.

But money has been introduced by convention as a kind of substitute for need or demand; and this is why we call it νόμισμα, because its value is derived, not from nature, but from law (νόμος), and can be altered or abolished at will.

Requital then will take place after the wares have been so equated [by the adjustment of prices] that the quantity of shoemaker’s work bears to the quantity of husbandman’s work [which exchanges for it] the same ratio that husbandman bears to shoemaker,114 But this adjustment must be made,115 not at the time of exchange (for then one of the two parties would get both the advantages116), but while they are still in possession of their own wares; if this be done, they are put on an equal footing and can make an exchange, because this kind of equality can be established between them.

If A stand for a husbandman and C for a certain quantity of his work (or corn), B will stand for a shoemaker, and D for that quantity of shoemaker’s work that is valued as equal to C.

If they could not requite each other in this way, interchange of services would be impossible.

That it is our need which forms, as it were, a common bond to hold society together, is seen from the fact that people do not exchange unless they are in need of one another’s services (each party of the services of the other, or at least one party of the service of the other), as when that which one has, e.g. wine, is needed by other people who offer to export corn in return. This article, then [the corn to be exported], must be made equal [to the wine that is imported].117

But even if we happen to want nothing at the moment, money is a sort of guarantee that we shall be able to make an exchange at any future time when we happen to be in need; for the man who brings money must always be able to take goods in exchange.

Money is, indeed, subject to the same conditions as other things: its value is not always the same; but still it tends to be more constant than the value of anything else.

Everything, then, must be assessed in money; for this enables men always to exchange their services, and so makes society possible.

Money, then, as a standard, serves to reduce things to a common measure, so that equal amounts of each may be taken; for there would be no society if there were no exchange, and no exchange if there were no equality, and no equality if it were not possible to reduce things to a common measure.

In strictness, indeed, it is impossible to find any common measure for things so extremely diverse; but our needs give a standard which is sufficiently accurate for practical purposes.

There must, then, be some one common symbol for this, and that a conventional symbol; so we call it money (νόμισμα, νόμος). Money makes all things commensurable, for all things are valued in money. For instance, let A stand for a house, B for ten minae, C for a bed; and let A = B÷2, taking a house to be worth or equal to five minae, and let C (the bed) = B÷10. We see at once, then, how many beds are equal to one house, viz. five.

It is evident that, before money came into use, all exchange must have been of this kind: it makes no difference whether you give five beds for a house, or the value of five beds.

Thus we have described that which is unjust and that which is just. And now that these are determined, we can see that doing justice is a mean between doing and suffering injustice; for the one is having too much, or more, and the other too little, or less than one’s due.

We see also that the virtue justice is a kind of moderation or observance of the mean, but not quite in the same way as the virtues hitherto spoken of. It does indeed choose a mean, but both the extremes fall under the single vice injustice.118

We see also that justice is that habit in respect of which the just man is said to be apt to do deliberately that which is just; that is to say, in dealings between himself and another (or between two other parties), to apportion things, not so that he shall get more or too much, and his neighbour less or too little, of what is desirable, and conversely with what is disadvantageous, but so that each shall get his fair, that is, his proportionate share, and similarly in dealings between two other parties.

Injustice, on the contrary, is the character which chooses what is unjust, which is a disproportionate amount, that is, too much and too little of what is advantageous and disadvantageous respectively.

Thus injustice, as we say, is both an excess and a deficiency, in that it chooses both an excess and a deficiency⁠—in one’s own affairs choosing excess of what is, as a general rule, advantageous, and deficiency of what is disadvantageous; in the affairs of others making a similarly disproportionate assignment, though in which way the proportion is violated will depend upon circumstances.

But of the two sides of the act of injustice, suffering is a lesser wrong than doing the injustice.

Let this, then, be accepted as our account, in general terms, of the nature of justice and injustice respectively, and of that which is just and that which is unjust.


But since it is possible for a man to do an act of injustice without yet being unjust, what acts of injustice are there, such that the doing of them stamps a man at once as unjust in this or that particular way, e.g. as a thief, or an adulterer, or a robber?

Perhaps we ought to reply that there is no such difference in the acts.119 A man might commit adultery, knowing what he was about, and yet be acting not from a deliberate purpose at all, but from a momentary passion. In such a case, then, a man acts unjustly, but is not unjust; e.g. is not a thief though he commits a theft, and is not an adulterer though he commits adultery, and so on.120

We have already explained the relation which requital bears to that which is just. But we must not fail to notice that what we are seeking is at once that which is just simply [or without any qualifying epithet], and that which is just in a state or between citizens.121 Now, this implies men who associate together in order to supply their deficiencies, being free men, and upon a footing of equality, either absolute or proportionate.

Between those who are not upon this footing, then, we cannot speak of that which is just as between citizens (though there is something that can be called just metaphorically). For the term just cannot be properly applied, except where men have a law to appeal to,122 and the existence of law implies the existence of injustice; for the administration of the law is the discrimination of what is just from what is unjust.

But injustice implies an act of injustice (though an act of injustice does not always imply injustice) which is taking too much of the goods and too little of the evils of life. And so we do not allow an individual to rule over us, but reason or law; for an individual is apt thus to take more for himself, and to become a tyrant.

The magistrate’s function, then, is to secure that which is just, and if that which is just, then that which is equal or fair. But it seems that he gets no advantage from his office, if he is just (for he does not take a larger share of the good things of life, except when that larger share is proportionate to his worth; he works, therefore, in the interests of others, which is the reason why justice is sometimes called “another’s good,” as we remarked before).123 Some salary, therefore, must be given him, and this he receives in the shape of honours and privileges; and it is when magistrates are not content with these that they make themselves tyrants.

That which is just as between master and slave, or between father and child, is not the same as this, though like. We cannot speak (without qualification) of injustice towards what is part of one’s self⁠—and a man’s chattels and his children (until they are of a certain age and are separated from their parent) are as it were a part of him⁠—for no one deliberately chooses to injure himself; so that a man cannot be unjust towards himself.

We cannot speak in this case, then, of that which is unjust, or of that which is just as between citizens; for that, we found, is according to law, and subsists between those whose situation implies law, i.e., as we found, those who participate equally or fairly in governing and being governed.

The term just, therefore, is more appropriate to a man’s relations to his wife than to his relations to his children and his chattels, and we do speak in this sense of that which is just in a family; but even this is not the same as that which is just between citizens.124


Now, of that which is just as between citizens, part is natural, part is conventional. That is natural which has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting or rejecting it; that is conventional which at the outset may be determined in this way or in that indifferently, but which when once determined is no longer indifferent; e.g. that a man’s ransom be a mina, or that a sacrifice consist of a goat and not of two sheep; and, again, those ordinances which are made for special occasions, such as the sacrifice to Brasidas [at Amphipolis], and all ordinances that are of the nature of a decree.

Now, there are people who think that what is just is always conventional, because that which is natural is invariable, and has the same validity everywhere, as fire burns here and in Persia, while that which is just is seen to be not invariable.

But this is not altogether true, though it is true in a way. Among the gods, indeed, we may venture to say it is not true at all; but of that which is just among us part is natural, though all is subject to change. Though all is subject to change, nevertheless, I repeat, part is natural and part not.

Nor is it hard to distinguish, among things that may be other than they are, that which is natural from that which is not natural but dependent on law or convention, though both are alike variable. In other fields we can draw the same distinction; we say, for instance, that the right hand is naturally the stronger, though in any man the left may become equally strong.

And so, of that which is just, that part which is conventional and prescribed with a view to a particular end125 varies as measures vary; for the measures of wine and of corn are not everywhere the same, but larger where the dealers buy, and smaller where they sell.126 So I say that which is just not by nature but merely by human ordinance is not the same everywhere, any more than constitutions are everywhere the same, though there is but one constitution that is naturally the best everywhere.

The terms “just” and “lawful” in each of their several senses stand for universal notions which embrace a number of particulars; i.e. the acts are many, but the notion is one, for it is applied to all alike.

“That which is unjust,” we must notice, is different from “an act of injustice,” and “that which is just” from “an act of justice:” for a thing is unjust either by nature or by ordinance; but this same thing when done is called “an act of injustice,” though before it was done it could only be called unjust. And so with “an act of justice” (δικαίωμα); though in the latter case we rather employ δικαιοπράγμα as the generic term, and restrict δικαίωμα to the correction of an act of injustice. But as to the several species of acts of justice and injustice, we must postpone for the present the inquiry into their nature and number and the ground which they cover.


Now that we have ascertained what is just and what is unjust, we may say that a man acts unjustly or justly when he does these things voluntarily; but when he does them involuntarily, he does not, strictly speaking, act either unjustly or justly, but only “accidentally,” i.e. he does a thing which happens to be just or unjust.127 For whether an act is or is not to be called an act of injustice (or of justice) depends upon whether it is voluntary or involuntary; for if it be voluntary the agent is blamed, and at the same time the act becomes an act of injustice: so something unjust may be done, and yet it may not be an act of injustice, i.e. if this condition of voluntariness be absent.

By a voluntary act I mean, as I explained before, anything which, being within the doer’s control, is done knowingly (i.e. with knowledge of the person, the instrument, and the result; e.g. the person whom and the instrument with which he is striking, and the effect of the blow), without the intervention at any point of accident or constraint; e.g. if another take your hand and with it strike a third person, that is not a voluntary act of yours, for it was not within your control; again the man you strike may be your father, and you may know that it is a man, or perhaps that it is one of the company, that you are striking but not know that it is your father; and it must be understood that the same distinction is to be made with regard to the result, and, in a word, to the whole act. That then which either is done in ignorance, or, though not done in ignorance, is not under our control, or is done under compulsion, is involuntary; besides which, there are many natural processes in which we knowingly take an active or a passive part, which cannot be called either voluntary or involuntary, such as growing old and dying.

An accidentally unjust act and an accidentally just act are equally possible; e.g. a man might restore a deposit against his will for fear of consequences, and then you could not say that he did what was just or acted justly except accidentally:128 and, similarly, a man who against his will was forcibly prevented from restoring a deposit would be said only accidentally to act unjustly or to do that which is unjust.

Voluntary acts, again, are divided into (1) those that are done of set purpose, and (2) those that are done without set purpose; i.e. (1) those that are done after previous deliberation, and (2) those that are done without previous deliberation.

Now, there are three ways in which we may hurt our neighbour. Firstly, a hurt done in ignorance is generally called a mistake when there is a misconception as to the person affected, or the thing done, or the instrument, or the result; e.g. I may not think to hit, or not to hit with this instrument, or not to hit this person, or not to produce this effect, but an effect follows other than that which was present to my mind; I may mean to inflict a prick, not a wound, or not to wound the person whom I wound, or not to deal a wound of this kind.

But [if we draw the distinction more accurately] when the hurt comes about contrary to what might reasonably be expected, it may be called a mishap: but when, though it is not contrary to what might reasonably be expected, there is still no vicious intention, it is a mistake; for a man makes a mistake when he sets the train of events in motion,129 but he is unfortunate when an external agency interferes.130

Secondly, when the agent acts with knowledge but without previous deliberation, it is an act of injustice; e.g. when he is impelled by anger or any of the other passions to which man is necessarily or naturally subject. In doing such hurt and committing such errors, the doer acts unjustly and the acts are acts of injustice, though they are not such as to stamp him as unjust or wicked; for the hurt is not done out of wickedness.

But, thirdly, when it is done of set purpose, the doer is unjust and wicked.

On this account acts done in anger are rightly held not to be done of malice aforethought; for he who gave the provocation began it, not he who did the deed in a passion,

Again, in such cases as this last, what men dispute about is usually not whether the deed was done or not, but what the justice of the case is; for it is an apparent injustice that stirs the assailant’s wrath. There is a difference between cases of this kind and disputes about contracts: in the latter the question is a question of fact, and one or other of the parties must be a vicious character, unless his memory be at fault; but in these cases they agree about the facts, but differ as to which side is in the right (whereas the deliberate aggressor knows very well the rights of the case), so that the one thinks that he is wronged, while the other thinks differently.131

But if a man hurt another of set purpose, he acts unjustly, and acts of injustice (i.e. violations of what is proportionate and fair), when so done, stamp the doer as an unjust character.

In like manner a man is a just character when he of set purpose acts justly; but he is said to act justly if he merely do voluntarily that which is just.

Of involuntary injuries, on the other hand, some are pardonable, some unpardonable. Errors that are committed not merely in ignorance but by reason of ignorance are pardonable; but those that are committed not through ignorance but rather in ignorance, through some unnatural or inhuman passion, are not pardonable.132


But it may be doubted whether we have sufficiently explained what it is to sutler and to do injustice. First of all, are these terms applicable to such a case as that which is described in those strange verses of Euripides?⁠—

A.: I slew my mother: that is all my tale.

P.: But say, did both or neither will the deed?

Is it really possible, I mean, to suffer injustice [or be wronged] voluntarily? or is suffering injustice always involuntary, as doing injustice is always voluntary?

Again, is suffering injustice always one way or the other (as doing injustice is always voluntary), or is it sometimes voluntary and sometimes involuntary? Similarly with regard to having justice done to you: doing justice is always voluntary [as doing injustice is], so that one might expect that there is the same relation in both cases between the active and the passive, and that suffering injustice and having justice done to you are either both voluntary or both involuntary. But it would surely be absurd to maintain, even with regard to having justice done to you, that it is always voluntary; for some that have justice done to them certainly do not will it.

Again we may raise the question in this [more general] form: Can a man who has that which is unjust done to him always be said to suffer injustice [or be wronged]? or are there further conditions necessary for suffering as there are for doing injustice?

Both what I do and what I suffer may be (as we saw) “accidentally” just; and so also it may be “accidentally” unjust: for doing that which is unjust is not identical with doing injustice, nor is suffering that which is unjust the same as suffering injustice; and similarly with doing justice and having justice done to you. For to have injustice done to you implies someone that does injustice, and to have justice done to you implies someone that does justice.

But if to do injustice means simply to hurt a man voluntarily, and voluntarily means with knowledge of the person, the instrument, and the manner, then the incontinent man, who voluntarily hurts himself, will voluntarily suffer injustice, and it will be possible for a man to do injustice to himself⁠—the possibility of which last is also one of the questions in dispute.

Again, a man might, through incontinence, voluntarily suffer himself to be hurt by another also acting voluntarily; so that in this case also a man might voluntarily suffer injustice.

I think rather that the above definition is incorrect, and that to “hurting with knowledge of the person, the instrument, and the manner,” we must add “against his wish.”133 If we define it so, then a man may voluntarily be hurt and suffer that which is unjust, but cannot voluntarily have injustice done to him. (For no one wishes to be hurt⁠—even the incontinent man does not wish it, but acts contrary to his wish. No one wishes for anything that he does not think good; what the incontinent man does is not that which he thinks he ought to do.) But he that gives, as Glaucus gives to Diomede in Homer⁠—

Gold for his bronze, fivescore kine’s worth for nine,

does not suffer injustice; for the giving rests with him, but suffering injustice does not rest with one’s self; there must be someone to do injustice.

It is plain, then, that suffering injustice cannot be voluntary.

There are still two questions that we purposed to discuss: (1) Is it the man who assigns or the man who receives a disproportionately large share that does injustice? (2) Is it possible to do injustice to yourself?

In the former case, i.e. if he who assigns and not he who receives the undue share does injustice, then if a man knowingly and voluntarily gives too much to another and too little to himself, he does injustice to himself. And this is what moderate persons are often thought to do; for the equitable man is apt to take less than his due. But the case is hardly so simple: it may be that he took a larger share of some other good, e.g. of good fame or of that which is intrinsically noble.

Again, the difficulty may be got over by reference to our definition of doing injustice; for in this case nothing is done to the man against his wish, so that no injustice is done him, but at most only harm.

It is plain, moreover, that the man who makes the unjust award does injustice, but not always he who gets more than his share; for a man does not always do injustice when we can say of what he does that it is unjust, but only when we can say that he voluntarily does that which is unjust; and that we can only say of the prime mover in the action, which in this case is the distributor and not the receiver.

Again, there are many senses of the word “do,” and in a certain sense an inanimate instrument, or my hand, or again my slave under my orders, may be said to slay; but though these may be said to do what is unjust, they cannot be said to act unjustly or to do an act of injustice.

Again, if a man unwittingly gives unjust judgment, he does not commit injustice in the sense of contravening that which is just according to law, nor is his judgment unjust in this sense, but in a certain sense it is unjust; for there is a difference between that which is just according to law and that which is just in the primary sense of the word: but if he knowingly gives unjust judgment, he is himself grasping at more than his share, in the shape either of favour with one party or vengeance on the other. The judge, then, who gives unjust judgment on these grounds, takes more than his due, quite as much as if he received a share of the unjust award; for even in the latter case a judge who awards a piece of land would receive, not land, but money.

Men fancy that as it is in their power to act unjustly, so it is an easy matter to be just. But it is not so. To lie with your neighbour’s wife, or to strike your neighbour, or to pass certain coins from your hand to his is easy enough, and always within your power, but to do these acts as the outcome of a certain character is not an easy matter, nor one which is always within your power.134

Similarly men think that to know what is just and what is unjust needs no great wisdom, since anyone can inform himself about those things which the law prescribes (though these things are only accidentally, not essentially, just): but to know how these acts must be done and how these distributions must be made in order to be just⁠—that indeed is a harder matter than to know what conduces to health; though that is no easy matter. It is easy enough to know the meaning of honey, and wine, and hellebore, and cautery, and the knife, but to know how, and to whom, and when they must be applied in order to produce health, is so far from being easy, that to have this knowledge is to be a physician.

For the same reason, some people think that the just man is as able to act unjustly as justly, for he is not less but rather more capable than another of performing the several acts, e.g. of lying with a woman or of striking a blow, as the courageous man is rather more capable than another of throwing away his shield and turning his back and running away anywhere. But to play the coward or to act unjustly means not merely to do such an act (though the doer might be said “accidentally” to act unjustly),135 but to do it in a certain frame of mind; just as to act the part of a doctor and to heal does not mean simply to apply the knife or not to apply it, to give or to withhold a drug, but to do this in a particular fashion.

Justice, lastly, implies persons who participate in those things that, generally speaking, are good, but who can have too much or too little of them. For some⁠—for the gods perhaps⁠—no amount of them is too much; and for others⁠—for the incurably vicious⁠—no amount is beneficial, they are always hurtful; but for the rest of mankind they are useful within certain limits: justice, therefore, is essentially human.


We have next to speak of equity and of that which is equitable, and to inquire how equity is related to justice, and that which is equitable to that which is just. For, on consideration, they do not seem to be absolutely identical, nor yet generically different. At one time we praise that which is equitable and the equitable man, and even use the word metaphorically as a term of praise synonymous with good, showing that we consider that the more equitable a thing is the better it is. At another time we reflect and find it strange that what is equitable should be praiseworthy, if it be different from what is just; for, we argue, if it be something else, either what is just is not good, or what is equitable is not good;136 if both be good, they are the same.

These are the reflections which give rise to the difficulty about what is equitable. Now, in a way, they are all correct and not incompatible with one another; for that which is equitable, though it is better than that which is just (in one sense of the word), is yet itself just, and is not better than what is just in the sense of being something generically distinct from it. What is just, then, and what is equitable are generically the same, and both are good, though what is equitable is better.

But what obscures the matter is that though what is equitable is just, it is not identical with, but a correction of, that which is just according to law.

The reason of this is that every law is laid down in general terms, while there are matters about which it is impossible to speak correctly in general terms. Where, then, it is necessary to speak in general terms, but impossible to do so correctly, the legislator lays down that which holds good for the majority of cases, being quite aware that it does not hold good for all.

The law, indeed, is none the less correctly laid down because of this defect; for the defect lies not in the law, nor in the lawgiver, but in the nature of the subject-matter, being necessarily involved in the very conditions of human action.

When, therefore, the law lays down a general rule, but a particular case occurs which is an exception to this rule, it is right, where the legislator fails and is in error through speaking without qualification, to make good this deficiency, just as the lawgiver himself would do if he were present, and as he would have provided in the law itself if the case had occurred to him.

What is equitable, then, is just, and better than what is just in one sense of the word⁠—not better than what is absolutely just, but better than that which fails through its lack of qualification. And the essence of what is equitable is that it is an amendment of the law, in those points where it fails through the generality of its language.

The reason why the law does not cover all cases is that there are matters about which it is impossible to lay down a law, so that they require a special decree. For that which is variable needs a variable rule, like the leaden rule employed in the Lesbian style of masonry; as the leaden rule has no fixed shape, but adapts itself to the outline of each stone, so is the decree adapted to the occasion.

We have ascertained, then, what the equitable course is, and have found that it is just, and also better than what is just in a certain sense of the word. And after this it is easy to see what the equitable man is: he who is apt to choose such a course and to follow it, who does not insist on his rights to the damage of others, but is ready to take less than his due, even when he has the law to back him, is called an equitable man; and this type of character is called equitableness, being a sort of justice, and not a different kind of character.


The foregoing discussion enables us to answer the question whether it be possible or not for a man to act unjustly to himself.

That which is just in one sense of the word we found to be those manifestations of the several virtues which the law prescribes: e.g. the law does not order a man to kill himself; and what the law does not order it forbids: and, further, when a man, contrary to the law, voluntarily inflicts hurt without provocation, he acts unjustly (voluntarily meaning with knowledge of the person and the instrument). Now, the man who kills himself in a rage voluntarily acts thus against right reason and does what the law forbids: he acts unjustly therefore.

But unjustly to whom? To the state surely, not to himself; for he suffers voluntarily, but no one can have an injustice done him voluntarily. And upon this ground the state actually punishes him, i.e. it pronounces a particular kind of disfranchisement upon the man who destroys himself, as one who acts unjustly towards the state.

Again, if we take the word unjust in the other sense, in which it is used to designate not general badness, but a particular species of vice, we find that in this sense also it is impossible to act unjustly to one’s self. (This, we found, is different from the former sense of the word: the unjust man in this second sense is bad in the same way as the coward is bad, i.e. as having a particular form of vice, not as having a completely vicious character, nor do we mean to say that he displays a completely vicious character when we say that he acts unjustly). For if it were possible, it would be possible for the same thing at the same time to be taken from and added to the same person. But this is impossible; and, in fact, a just deed or an unjust deed always implies more persons than one.

Further, an act of injustice, besides being voluntary, if not deliberate, must be prior to hurt received (for he who, having received some hurt, repays the same that he received is not held to act unjustly); but he who hurts himself suffers that very hurt at the same time that he inflicts it.

Again, if it were possible for a man to act unjustly to himself, it would be possible to suffer injustice voluntarily.

Further, a man cannot act unjustly without doing an act of injustice of some particular kind; but no one commits adultery with his own wife, or burglariously breaks through his own walls, or steals his own property.

But the whole question about acting unjustly to one’s self is settled (without going into detail) by the answer we gave137 to the question whether a man could voluntarily suffer injustice.

(It is plain that to suffer and to do injustice are both bad, for the one is to get less and the other more than the mean amount, which corresponds to what is healthy in medicine, or to what promotes good condition in gymnastics: but, though both are bad, to do injustice is the worse; for to do injustice is blamable and implies vice (either completely formed vice, what we call vice simply, or else that which is on the way to become vice; for a voluntary act of injustice does not always imply injustice), but to have injustice done to you is no token of a vicious and unjust character.

In itself, then, to be unjustly treated is less bad, but there is nothing to prevent its being accidentally the greater evil. Science, however, does not concern itself with these accidents, but calls a pleurisy a greater malady than a stumble; and yet the latter might, on occasion, accidentally become the greater, as, for instance, if a stumble were to cause you to fall and be caught or slain by the enemy.)

Though we cannot apply the term just to a man’s behaviour towards himself, yet we can apply it metaphorically and in virtue of a certain resemblance to the relations between certain parts of a man’s self⁠—not, however, in all senses of the word just, but in that sense in which it is applied to the relations of master and slave, or husband and wife; for this is the sort of relation that exists between the rational and the irrational parts of the soul.

And it is this distinction of parts that leads people to fancy that there is such a thing as injustice to one’s self: one part of a man can have something done to it by another part contrary to its desires; and so they think that the term just can be applied to the relations of these parts to one another, just as to the relations of ruler and ruled.138

We may now consider that we have concluded our examination of justice and the other moral virtues.