Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Aristotle on Righteousness

To righteousness it belongs to be ready to distribute according to desert, and to preserve ancestral customs and institutions and the established laws and to tell the truth when interest is at stake, and to keep agreements. First among the claims of righteousness are our duties to the gods. Then our duties to the spirits, then those to country and parents, then those to the departed; and among these claims is piety … righteousness is also accompanied by holiness and truth and loyalty and hatred of wickedness (Aristotle, On Virtues and Vices, 5.2-3).

In view of this is it fair to think of Aristotle's view of "righteousness" as essentially about distributive justice, or does it also contain a sense of right relationships, i.e. fulfilling one's civil and ceremonial duties to others, divine and human?


Nick said...

It does seem as though his sense of relation justice is important as well as distributive justice. I wonder, though, if the distributive justice is an extension of the relation justice. When talking about each his own 'desert', that seems to give the sense of a personal right, not utilitarian right. As such, the right flows from the relation between deserving subjects, not from deserving relations between subjects (ie we serve the people, not the overall relationship or utility of the people).

Damian McGrath said...

On Virtues and Vices is not considered to be by Aristotle himself. It is also not always the best summary of his thoughts. On the issue of justice, one is best to consider Book 5 of his Nicomachean Ethics. This begins with justice as a Virtue. As such, it is purely relational. Connected to this is what he refers to as "Particular Justice," of which there are two kinds: distributive and corrective.
To consider Aristotle's understanding of justice to be fundamentally distributive is to misread Aristotle.

Damian McGrath


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