Aristotle and Moral Realism

By Robert Heinaman | Go to book overview

The twofold natural foundation of justice according to Aristotle1.

PIERRE AUBENQUE

I wish to examine Aristotle's theory of justice in the strict sense, with the aim of uncovering its foundations. Book V of the Nicomachean ethics, where this theory is developed at length, possesses a certain autonomy, and my analysis will not refer to other, more general moral theories of Aristotle, such as his views on happiness and virtue. Rather, on the basis of the interpretation of the theory of particular justice I will endeavour to draw more general consequences for the interpretation of Aristotle's ethics and its special characteristics.

The general sense of justice, which I will not be examining in detail here, is the sense according to which "the just man is he who is in conformity with the law" ( 1129a33).2. On the Aristotelian view that asserts that the law (i.e. the civil law) orders what is good, justice taken in this broad sense is coextensive with "the sphere of action of the virtuous man" ( 1130b5), i.e. with the entire domain of morality. Justice in this sense is distinguished from particular virtues at most by the juridically constraining character that it confers on acts born of the particular virtues: thus, one can stay unshaken at one's post in war either from courage or -- if courage fails -- from justice, i.e. by somewhat mechanically observing the law that forbids desertion.

Justice in the guise of legality might appear to be no more than the complement of a morality too weak to be effective on its own. But it also possesses two positive characteristics that make it into a com-

____________________
1.
Translated by Robert Heinaman from the French original.
2.
Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to the Nicomachean ethics.

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