The paper concludes with an outline of a future research agenda on limitarianism. Keywords: wealth, economic inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality, distributive justice.
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Now let us quickly see how Plato applies this theory of justice to a particular social issue, before briefly considering the theory critically. In a remarkably progressive passage in Book V of his Republic , Plato argues for equal opportunity for women. He holds that, even though women tend to be physically weaker than men, this should not prove an insuperable barrier to their being educated for the same socio-political functions as men, including those of the top echelons of leadership responsibility. While the body has a gender, it is the soul that is virtuous or vicious.
Despite their different roles in procreation, child-bearing, giving birth, and nursing babies, there is no reason, in principle, why a woman should not be as intelligent and virtuous—including as just—as men, if properly trained.
As much as possible, men and women should share the workload in common Republic , pp. Nevertheless, many of us today are sympathetic to this application of justice in support of a view that would not become popular for another two millennia.
The negative part of it—his critique of inadequate views of justice—is a masterful series of arguments against attempts to reduce justice to a couple of simplistic rules Cephalus , to treating people merely in accord with how we feel about them Polemarchus , and to the power-politics mentality of exploiting them for our own selfish purposes Thrasymachus. Thus, in refuting them, Plato, in effect, is refuting the Sophists.
However, after the big buildup, the positive part—what he himself maintains justice is—turns out to be a letdown. His conception of justice reduces it to order. While some objective sense of order is relevant to justice, this does not adequately capture the idea of respecting all persons, individually and collectively, as free rational agents.
But do they? What, for example, of the Christian virtue of love or the secular virtue of benevolence? Finally, the argument from analogy, showing that justice must be intrinsically, and not merely instrumentally, valuable because it is like the combination good of health proves, on critical consideration, to fail.
Nevertheless, one cannot help hoping that a more cogent theory might yet be developed. After working with Plato at his Academy for a couple of decades, Aristotle was understandably most influenced by his teacher, also adopting, for example, a virtue theory of ethics. Book V of his great Nicomachean Ethics deals in considerable depth with the moral and political virtue of justice. It begins vacuously enough with the circular claim that it is the condition that renders us just agents inclined to desire and practice justice.
But his analysis soon becomes more illuminating when he specifies it in terms of what is lawful and fair.
In general, citizens should obey such law in order to be just. The problem is that civil law can itself be unjust in the sense of being unfair to some, so that we need to consider special justice as a function of fairness. If a member of a community has been unfairly benefited or burdened with more or less than is deserved in the way of social distributions, then corrective justice can be required, as, for example, by a court of law.
Notice that Aristotle is no more an egalitarian than Plato was—while a sort of social reciprocity may be needed, it must be of a proportional sort rather than equal. Like all moral virtues, for Aristotle, justice is a rational mean between bad extremes. But, since individuals tend to be selfishly biased, the law should be a product of reason rather than of particular rulers. Aristotle is prepared to distinguish between what is naturally just and unjust, on the one hand, such as whom one may legitimately kill, and what is merely conventionally just or unjust, on the other, such as a particular system of taxation for some particular society.
But the Sophists are wrong to suggest that all political justice is the artificial result of legal convention and to discount all universal natural justice ibid. Rhetoric , pp. What is allegedly at stake here is our developing a moral virtue that is essential to the well-being of society, as well as to the flourishing of any human being. A decent person might selfishly benefit from being a stickler regarding following the law exactly but decide to take less or give more for the sake of the common good. In this way, decency can correct the limitations of the law and represents a higher form of justice Nicomachean , pp.
In his Politics , Aristotle further considers political justice and its relation to equality. Justice rather requires inequality for people who are unequal. But, then, oligarchy is also intrinsically unjust insofar as it involves treating equals as unequal because of some contingent disparity, of birth, wealth, etc. Rather, those in a just political society who contribute the most to the common good will receive a larger share, because they thus exhibit more political virtue, than those who are inferior in that respect; it would be simply wrong, from the perspective of political justice, for them to receive equal shares.
Thus political justice must be viewed as a function of the common good of a community. But inferiors have a vested interest in thinking that those who are equal in some respect should be equal in all respects, while superiors are biased, in the opposite direction, to imagine that those who are unequal in some way should be unequal in all ways. Thus, for instance, those who are equally citizens are not necessarily equal in political virtue, and those who are financially richer are not necessarily morally or mentally superior.
All he can suggest, for example in some of his comments on the desirable aristocratic government, is that it must involve moral and intellectual virtue Politics , pp. Let us now consider how Aristotle applies his own theory of justice to the social problem of alleged superiors and inferiors, before attempting a brief critique of that theory. While Plato accepted slavery as a legitimate social institution but argued for equal opportunity for women, in his Politics , Aristotle accepts sexual inequality while actively defending slavery.
Anyone who is inferior intellectually and morally is properly socio-politically inferior in a well-ordered polis. Aristotle holds that some are marked as superior and fit to rule from birth, while others are inferior and marked from birth to be ruled by others. It was the custom notice the distinction, used here, between custom and nature in antiquity to make slaves of conquered enemies who become prisoners of war.
So the fact that a human being is defeated or captured is no assurance that he is fit for slavery, as an unjust war may have been imposed on a nobler society by a more primitive one. If our moral intuitions are correct against Aristotle and some would even call his views here sexist and racist , he may be mistaken about a matter of fact or about a value judgment or both. Surely he is wrong about all women and non-Greeks, as such, being essentially inferior to Greek males in relevant ways, for cultural history has demonstrated that, when given opportunities, women and non-Greeks have shown themselves to be significantly equal.
But it appears that Aristotle may also have been wrong in leaping from the factual claim of inequality to the value judgment that it is therefore right that inferiors ought to be socially, legally, politically, and economically subordinate—like Plato and others of his culture for which he is an apologist here , Aristotle seems to have no conception of human rights as such.
Like Plato, he is arguing for an objective theory of personal and social justice as a preferable alternative to the relativistic one of the Sophists. It also leaves Aristotle with little viable means of establishing a universal perspective that will respect the equal dignity of all humans, as such. They were so focused on the ways in which people are un equal, that they could not appreciate any fundamental moral equality that might provide a platform for natural human rights. This included such important post-Aristotelians as the enormously influential Roman eclectic Cicero, such prominent Stoics as Marcus Aurelius a Roman emperor and Epictetus a Greek slave of the Romans , and neo-Platonists like Plotinus.
But the two dominant paths that medieval philosophy would follow for its roughly thousand year history had been blazed by Plato and Aristotle. More specifically, Augustine uses Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy to the extent that he can reconcile it with Christian thought; Aquinas, many centuries later, develops a great synthesis of Christian thought including that of Augustine and Aristotelian philosophy. A great difference, however, between their philosophies and those of Hellenic thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle stems from the commitment of these Christians to the authority of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
Aquinas would later agree with Augustine who is accepting the mandate of Isaiah that the quest for philosophical understanding should begin with belief in religious traditions Choice , pp. Righteousness is identified with mercy as well as with justice e. The ten commandments of the Old Testament Exodus are prescriptions regarding how the righteous are to relate to God as well as to one another.
In the Beatitudes beginning the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands on this gospel of love by advocating that his followers go beyond the duties of justice to behave with compassion in certain supererogatory ways Matthew All of this scriptural tradition essentially influenced medieval thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas in a way that distinguishes them from ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Aurelius Augustine was born and raised in the Roman province of North Africa; during his life, he experienced the injustices, the corruption, and the erosion of the Roman Empire.
This personal experience, in dialectical tension with the ideals of Christianity, provided him with a dramatic backdrop for his religious axiology. Philosophically, he was greatly influenced by such neo-Platonists as Plotinus. These are prudence substituted for wisdom , fortitude or courage, temperance, and justice.