Pagan Virtue: An Essay in Ethics

By John Casey | Go to book overview

5
JUSTICE

I
DISPOSITIONS FOR JUSTICE

WE can think of certain virtues as overcoming particular weaknesses, and ordering particular appetites and emotions. The temperate man does not surrender to short-term satisfactions; he is not a slave to sensual pleasure; he is not overcome with sloth; he is not inordinately wilful. The brave man overcomes his fear of pain and death; he sees what would be the honourable or intelligent thing to do in the face of danger, and does it; he is capable of large loyalties. Practical wisdom is different. The practically wise man does Bt resist particular weaknesses; but his being practically wise depends upon his having various good dispositions, including temperance. But we can think of the phronimos as a particular sort of man.

Justice seems different. Not only does the just man not seem to be a particular sort of person; there does not seem to be any particular weakness that he overcomes, or any particular emotions and desires that his justice regulates. Rather justice seems to be the outcome of some very general harmony in a man's personality, and to denote the most general sort of moral goodness. Indeed, 'just' has often been a synonym for 'good': the centurion at the foot of the cross says: 'This was indeed a just man.'1 Aristotle says that in one sense of 'justice' it may be taken as not a part of virtue, but as 'virtue entire'; and that in one sense of 'injustice' it may be taken as not a part of vice, but as 'vice entire'.2

Yet we can say something about how a just man will characteristically behave. He will not be overweeningly egoistic, instinctively subordinating the interests of others to his own. He will be capable of yielding, if there are good grounds for doing so. He will not pursue any and every gratification, regardless of the effect on

____________________
1
Luke 23: 47 (Douai trans.). The AV has 'righteous'. The Greek is dikaios, and the Latin justus.
2
Ethics, 1130a5-10.

-172-

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Pagan Virtue: An Essay in Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS *
  • Contents *
  • I - PERSONS 1
  • 2 - COURAGE 51
  • 3 - TEMPERANCE 104
  • 4 - PRACTICAL WISDOM 144
  • 5 - JUSTICE 172
  • 6 - PAGAN VIRTUES? 199
  • 7 - POSTSCRIPT: HOMER, SHAKESPEARE, AND THE CONFLICT OF VALUES 211
  • BIBLOGRAPHY 227
  • Index 233
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