Question 57: Right (ius)
57,1: Justice, properly speaking, directs human beings in their relations
with one another and, most properly, their relations with one another
as fellow citizens of the civitas. Right or 'the just' is the
proper object of the virtue of justice, that which is intended in just
actions--and this independently of the manner (e.g., willingly or reluctantly,
courageously or not, temperately or not) in which the just action is done.
The latter is the domain of prudence, fortitude, and temperance as well as
of justice. So, in general, I do "the just" when I render to others
what is their right or due, i.e., what is "commensurate with" them in their
dealings with or relationship to me. For instance, it is just that
in an exchange I render to the other something of equal (or mutually agreed
upon) value in exchange for what the other has given to me.
In the reply to obj. 2 St. Thomas notes that law, which is a rule of prudence,
is not identical with right, but is rather an expression of right and guides
the cognitive aspect of just action.
57,2: The distinction of natural right from positive right is a distinction
between (i) what is right or just by its very nature and (ii) what is right
or just according to either private or public agreement, so long as that
agreement is consonant with natural right and natural law. So, for instance,
when a monetary system is instituted, there is a public agreement assigning
a certain value to a unit of currency and so, even though the currency is
not by nature as valuable as a given item obtained in an exchange (after
all, it's just a piece of paper), it is accepted as commensurate with the
value of the item. The italicized qualification is necessary, as St. Thomas
makes clear in the reply to obj. 2, where he says that no human agreement
could make it just to steal or commit adultery. So the doctrine of
right is directly incompatible with the idea that all moral law is conventional.
57,3: The distinction between natural right and the right of nations is the
distinction between (i) what is commensurate or just by its very nature (e.g.,
the preservation of the lives of individuals, the relation between a man
and a woman with respect to begetting an offspring, the relation between
parents and their children with respect to the nourishment of the children)--this
is common to us and other animals--and (ii) what is just or commensurate
with respect to what naturally follows from natural right, e.g., the possession
of property as an aid to surviving as an individual or as an aid to providing
for one's family, etc. The right of nations does not require special institution,
because it is prior to the various agreements or conventions by which, say,
the right to property is regulated.
57,4: What has been said above governs relations between strict equals who
are not in any way subject to one another. But there are many social relations
that involve an asymmetry of some sort or other, e.g., father/child,
master/servant, teacher/student, employer/employee, commander/soldier, etc.
The just is sensitive to such special relations; some are relations between
equals strictly speaking and some are not. (Relations that are not strictly
between equals to that extent fall short of justice in its most proper
acceptation, though they are still potential parts of justice.) St. Thomas
distinguishes among the various relationships. Some such relationships involve,
according to St. Thomas, asymmetric relations in which one person is, as
it were, a part that belongs to the other, e.g. child/parent and servant/master.
Others involve asymmetries which hold only as long as and insofar as one
of the persons is actually exercising a special office or role (e.g., spouses,
priestly ministry, teacher, employer, etc.). Since such asymmetries are built
into the very notion of a political community, they fall under justice properly
and absolutely speaking and not in just the relative way that, say, the
father/child relation does. The difference seems to be that all parties play
their roles insofar as they belong immediately as equals to the relevant
community (family, church, state), whereas children (servants) do not have
such equality vis-a-vis the community with their parents (masters). It is
as if their membership in the relevant communities is mediated by their status
as children and servants. (It would be worth trying to research St. Thomas's
exact understanding of the master/servant relation and what is involved in
Question 58: Justice (iustitia)
58,1-2: Justice can be defined as the habit by which one renders to each
his right or due with a constant and perpetual will. Note in art. 2
that Plato's definition of justice (diakosune) in the Republic
is called metaphorical justice, but not proper justice, because proper justice
is always direct toward another rather than toward oneself. However,
it is also true that one who is just in Plato's sense will have that virtue
of the will which is general or legal justice--or so, at least, it seems,
because a general devotion to the common good or law-abidingness is on Plato's
view a defining characteristic of the just or morally upright person.
58,3: St. Thomas here explains that justice is a virtue even though just
acts are the fulfillment of commands and hence of obligations. Note how in
ad 2 St. Thomas deals with supererogation. It does seem that we can have
supererogation, relatively speaking, in that we might sometimes go beyond
the strict demands of justice in our dealings with one another. But one might
also claim that there can be no true supererogation, absolutely speaking,
in a moral theory according to which we are ultimately commanded to love
one another as Christ has loved us. Perhaps we can discuss this. In any case,
St. Thomas later notes in art. 11 that (natural) mercy and liberality are
traced back to justice as potential parts and in that sense fall under justice.
58,4: Justice is ordered toward doing something aright and not toward knowing
something aright, and so justice must have an appetitive power as its subject.
Further, since it is rational rather than sentient apprehension which has
our dealings with others and our rendering them their due as its proper object,
it follows that justice must reside in the rational appetitive power, viz.,
58,5-6: In these two articles St. Thomas deals with justice insofar as it
is a general virtue, i.e., insofar as it is a virtue which underlies
any good action that affects our relations with others. When one puts it
this broadly, it is evident that general justice provides an end, the common
good, that can motivate even acts of temperance and fortitude. That
is, when acts of temperance and fortitude are directed to the common good,
they become, as it were, acts of (general) justice as well, much as
such acts can be turned into acts of charity if they are motivated by the
(general) virtue of charity. For all such actions can at least make
one a more fit member of the community and so, if this motive is at least
in the background, then all such actions can be thought of as being just
and, indeed, as acts of justice, even though , strictly speaking, general
justice is best thought of, like charity, as causing or motivating such actions..
St. Thomas calls general justice 'legal justice' (iustitia legalis),
the virtue of a good citizen or of a good member of a community.
In art. 6 St. Thomas clarifies the nature of this legal justice, claiming
that it is general insofar as it is a cause of all the acts of the
other virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, and particular justice) insofar
as it orders them toward the common good. He uses an analogy: "Just as charity
can be called a general virtue to the extent that it orders the acts of all
the virtues to the divine good, so, too, legal justice can be called a general
virtue to the extent that it orders the acts of all the virtues to [its own
end,] the common good." It is principally in the sovereign and secondarily
in the subjects of the sovereign.
58,7-11: In these five articles St. Thomas deals with justice insofar as
it is a particular virtue, i.e., insofar as it specifies general justice
with respect to our particular relations with particular individuals
as parts of a political community and with respect to particular
Arts. 7 and 8 clarify the nature and object of particular justice.
As a particular virtue justice has a special subject matter, viz.,
our relations to others, and its own object, the just;
and in this way, like temperance and fortitude in their own way, particular
justice is directed by general justice toward the common good with respect
to the specific subject matter of particular justice--just as, in the case
of infused justice, particular justice is directed by charity toward love
of God and neighbor with respect to the specific subject matter of particular
Art. 9 clarifies the subject of particular justice. This subject is
the will, rather than the passions. And so justice does not have to do directly
with the passions, though it is painfully obvious that the roots of injustice
often (though not always) lie in passions that are not subject to reason.
See ad 2 and ad 3 for some interesting reflections on the relation of justice
to temperance and fortitude and general justice.
Art. 10 makes clear that justice has a real mean rather than, as with
fortitude and temperance, a mean that is adjusted to particular temperaments.
Justice, by contrast, is such that its demands are satisfied by the rendering
of whatever is due in a given situation, by no more and no less.
Art. 11 specifies the proper act of justice, which is to render each
his due. Of course, there will be other related virtues having to do with
our relations to others which take us beyond the demands of justice; and
these will be potential parts of it.
58,12: Justice is foremost among the moral virtues, regardless of whether
it is taken as a general virtue that orients us toward the common good or
as a particular virtue that is ordered toward the particular good of other
individuals. It is by justice (and charity) that we overcome our inborn
postlapsarian tendency to center our lives on ourselves.
Question 59: Injustice (iniustitia)
59,1: The vice directly opposed to general or legal justice is itself a
particular vice, viz., contempt for the common good, which may obviously
lead to all sorts of sins. On the other hand, though the vices directly opposed
to particular justice are varied, we can nonetheless think of injustice as
a disposition for violating the demands of justice whenever this becomes
necessary for personal gain, etc. So in this sense it is like a general
59,2: One becomes unjust by (i) choosing to do what is unjust (ii) with the
intention of doing this thing which both (a) is unjust and (b) one knows
or should know to be unjust. But one may do what is unjust without having
the habit of injustice, as when one acts unjustly out of passion or ignorance.
Of course, such actions could nonetheless lead in the end to one's having
the fixed habit of will which is ordered toward unjust acts.
59,3: Properly speaking, to be unjust an act must be done willingly, and
the injustice done must be suffered unwillingly insofar as the sufferer is
passive. However, one can suffer injustice willingly per accidens,
viz., by actively accepting the injustice done to one, as with Christ and
59,4: St. Thomas soberly declares here that injustice, taken as a harm or
injury intentionally inflicted on another, is the stuff of mortal sins, though
in ad 2 he clarifies this by saying that injustices in small matters are
not counted as utterly opposed to the will of the one who suffers
Question 60: Judgment (iudicium)
60,1-2: Judgment is an act of justice insofar as justice inclines the will
to judge aright (via prudence) in matters pertaining to our relations with
others. The notion of justice has a special tie to judgment, as is clear
from the Law, in which one who is given authority to determine what is right
and just is called a 'judge' or even 'justice'. In the articles that follow
we are taking the juridical proceedings of a courtroom as the paradigm or
primary context for judgment and "private" judgment as a secondary area for
Note 60.1.ad 2: "A spiritual man has from the habit of charity an
inclination to judge rightly in all matters according to divine rules, on
the basis of which he pronounces judgment through the gift of wisdom--just
as a just man pronounces judgment on the basis of the rules concerning right
through the vritue of prudence." Notice the parallel: the gift
of wisdom is to charity as prudence is to justice.
St. Thomas comments in art. 2 that judgment is lawful insofar as it is an
act of justice, i.e., insofar as (i) it proceeds from an inclination of justice
in the will, (ii) it comes from one who has the relevant authority, and (iii)
it reflects the right ruling of prudence. So there are three ways in which
a judgment can be unlawful: (i) by being contrary to the rectitude of justice
(perverted judgment); (ii) by coming from one who does not have the
right sort of authority in the case at hand (judgment by usurpation);
and (iii) by proceeding, without sufficient motive, as if some doubtful matter
were clear (suspicion or rash judgment). In the oft-cited Gospel
passage our Lord forbids rash judgment about other peoples' intentions, "Judge
not, lest you be judged."
60,3: Suspicion (suspicio) (perhaps 'prejudice' is better here) connotes
an opinion regarding evil, where the opinion arises from insufficient evidence.
There are three ways in which one can have a suspicion so defined. First,
because one is himself evil and so is prone in general to think evil of others;
second, because one is ill-disposed toward a given person and hence is prone
to have suspicions about that particular person; third, one has lots of negative
experience in general, and so is prone to be suspicious in this particular
case, even though one is neither evil nor particularly ill-disposed toward
this particular person. The first two causes indicate a lack of rectitude
in the affections, whereas the third diminishes the guilt involved in suspicion.
The relevant sins are, in increasing order of seriousness: (i) beginning
to have doubts about another's goodness; (ii) thinking it certain, on slight
evidence, that another is wicked (this is grave matter); (iii) condemning
someone as a judge on slight evidence. (Note that the thoughts themselves
are sins against justice in the way that lustful desires are sins against
60,4: Here St. Thomas makes clear others are always to be given the benefit
of the doubt, so that we ought never "to despise or in any injure another
without urgent cause." Also, it is worse to have a bad opinion of a good
man than to have a good opinion of a bad man. Read the replies to obj. 2
and 3 if there's time.
60,5-6: Judgment in the sense relevant here must be according to written
law, which is made by a public authority, and hence judgment cannot
be pronounced except by a public authority. The replies to the objections
are interesting in art. 6, because they deal with the relation between divine
and human authority.
Question 61: The subjective parts of justice: commutative justice and
61,1: St. Thomas divides justice into commutative justice, which deals
with the relations between individuals within a given community, and
distributive justice, which deals with the relation of the community
as a whole to individuals. (We have already dealt with general justice, which
deals with the individual's relation to the common good, i.e., to the whole
community.) St. Thomas's conception of the individual and the community
self-consciously steers between individualism, which recognizes only
commutative justice and thinks of the common good as a mere compilation of
private goods and the role of the sovereign as simply to prevent private
individuals from harming one another in pursuit of their independently conceived
private goods, and collectivism , which recognizes only distributive
justice and thinks of the individual's private good as wholly exhausted by
the public common good insofar as this public good is determined by those
61,2: Commutative and distributive justice observe different means. In
distributive justice, where goods that are common to everyone are distributed
by the ruler according to different standards (virtue, wealth, power, expertise,
need, etc.), the mean is equality of 'geometrical' proportion, which involves
a certain proportionality, rather than equality, between the common goods
to be distributed and the various individuals. So individuals need not be
treated in exactly the same way, and those with greater virtue, expertise,
need, etc., might receive unique privileges that ultimately contribute to
the well-being of the whole.
Commutative justice, on the other hand, has an arithmetic mean. That is,
one receives something of equal value to what one gives or has taken from
61,3-4: The matter of justice involves: (a) things and their disposition,
(b) persons and their dignity, and (c) works. The two forms of justice
have two different operations (distributing and commuting) with respect to
this matter. A second way to think of this is to take the principal actions
of the two types of justice as themselves the matter of justice. Then we
can distinguish various matters relevant to commutative justice. These include
the matter of the various vices opposed to commutative justice which will
be taken up in questions 64-78.
In art. 4, St. Thomas asks whether the just is counter-suffering ('retaliation':
contrapassum--balancing the suffering against the action by which
the injury is inflicted). St. Thomas answers that retribution or restitution
is the object of commutative justice, since commutative justice seeks to
keep or restore a balance between individuals.
Question 62: The act of commutative justice: restitution
62,1-2: The main act of commutative justice is restitution or
compensation. Restitution is the restoration of a kind of equity.
I restore to you what I have received (or taken) from you--or at least something
of equal value--or at least something that can be thought of as equal or,
better, proportionate in value. The fundamental idea is that in our relations
with other individuals a certain order or balance or equity must be preserved
if those relations are to reflect or exemplify what is right or just by
nature--that is, if they are to reflect a system of exchanges in which all
have or receive what is due to them. Look at the replies to objs. 2 and 4
to get clearer on this.
62,3-8: In the space of the next six articles St. Thomas defines the nature
of restitution and asks various interesting questions about it. I won't go
over all of this but just give some of the highlights to fill in a few details.
In art. 3 we learn that the type of required restitution is a function not
only of (i) the object that is received or taken from the other but
also of (ii) the agent's having unjustly intended or unjustly executed
the intention to receive or take something from another. As for this
unjust taking or intention to take, it is rectified through punishment which,
when added to the restoration of something equal in value, takes us beyond
strict equality (a demand that applies to the object taken), so that one
is bound in this sense to restore more than was taken. That is, the restitution
has both an object-centered aspect and an agent-centered aspect.
62,4: There are some cases in which taking or receiving a given object keeps
its possessor from having or gaining a second object such that having the
first object is to be on the way to having this second object. So, for instance,
if I dig up the farmer's seeds right after they have been planted, I must
not only restore something of equal value to the seeds but also something
approaching the value of the harvest (to be determined exactly by a judge).
62,5: Another interesting question is whether restitution must always be
to the person from whom one has received or taken the relevant object. St.
Thomas says yes, even though there are qualifications that apply to particular
circumstances, e.g., extreme need on the part of those whom he is bound to
aid out of filial piety; death; the probability that making restitution here
and now will harm the person to whom restitution is being made, etc. It is
interesting to see the subtlety with which St. Thomas deals with such cases
in the replies to the objections.
62,6: One who takes something unjustly is always bound to make restitution,
at least through accepting punishment for the unjust taking or for the intention
to take something unjustly. On the other hand, one who takes something justly
with no profit to himself and then loses it is not bound to make restitution
unless he has lost it through his own fault. (See above.) Still, if he takes
something justly for profit to himself, then he must make restitution even
if he loses it through no particular fault of his own. In general, the "chief
end of restitution is that one who has less than his due must be compensated."
62,7: Anyone who cooperates, directly or by omission, in an unjust taking
in such a way that his contribution to the unjust taking is clearly efficacious
must make restitution.
62,8: Again, restitution should normally be immediate, unless the circumstances
are such that immediate restitution is either impossible or detrimental to
the one to whom restitution is being made or such that one has the latter's
permission not to make immediate restitution.
Question 63: The vice opposed to distributive justice: favoritism and
prejudice (acceptio personarum)
63,1: Distributive justice recognizes various difference of roles, conditions,
etc., which justifiably affect the distribution of goods and the treatment
of individuals by those who have responsibility for promoting the common
good. However, when one goes beyond these justifiable causes and gives more
or less than what is due to someone for personal reasons or reasons that
are not justifiable, then this is a sin against distributive justice. St.
Thomas's example of the awarding of a professorship is interesting here.
Affirmative action programs also come up for discussion here. Oftentimes
disagreements arise over what are and are not justifiable reasons for the
public distribution of various goods.
63,2-3: St. Thomas applies this discussion to spiritual and ecclesial goods
(note obj. 3 and ad 3), to the honoring of those who are wealthy or occupy
positions of importance in the church and state, one's parents, the elderly,
63,4: Favoritism, as is obvious, can also infect judicial decrees and decisions.
Note ad 1. Such decrees pertain to distributive justice even when they adjudicate
matters of commutative justice between individuals.