JMC : Four-Square / by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.


Of justice Aristotle says that "neither evening star nor morning star is so admirable," Justice is a habit residing in the will, and disposes the just man, in regard of other intelligent and rational beings about him, constantly and regularly to render to each his own. All justice is in relation to another. It is not by justice that a man governs himself, but by temperance and fortitude; for to govern oneself means to govern one's passions, and temperance and fortitude concern the passions. These virtuous habits, of course, are gained by acts of the will; and, when possessed, they are put into operation by the will. But not for that are they in the will. A habit is not put where it is unnecessary, and it is unnecessary where the power is competent of itself. Of itself the will as an intelligent power is apt to rule the body on intelligent principles. The difficulty is the appetite getting in the way; appetite, a blind power, bent on other than rational gratifications. Appetite then needs to be disciplined by virtue. When this discipline is perfect, there is no longer any obstruction to the will's right management of the body. Analogically, the habit or skill of bowling at cricket is not in the will, but in the muscular mechanism. Every youth has will enough to be a good bowler, but the muscles need training, and the nervous currents directing in a particular way. It would be a sarcastic remark to make of your bowler that he showed much good will, that he meant well, that his intentions were good.

Self-government is secured when fortitude and temperance are secured; then the will governs at home with ease. But foreign relations -- that is, relations with other selves -- involve many difficulties over and above the rebellion of our own passions; to overcome these difficulties the will is strengthened by the virtue of justice. True, as we have seen, the virtues aid, and in a manner presuppose one another. Whoever is master of his own passions, is thereby immensely improved in all his dealings with his neighbours, the man who is master of his anger, for instance. A meek man will not strike in anger. A temperate woman will not steal to spend the money in drink. But though striking, stealing and other sins against justice are often committed under the promptings of passion, not all sins against justice are traceable to that source. Most great frauds were perpetrated under the prompting of avarice; now, avarice is not strictly a passion; it resides in the intelligence and imagination. Over and above the virtues that control passion, then, there is room and need for a further virtue, a virtue in the will, for the good conduct of foreign relations. Such is the virtue of justice. An anchorite, a perfect solitary, as was for long years St. Paul the first hermit, would have no need of justice, except in reference to his Creator, in which relation justice passes into religion. But the more you are mixed up with your fellowmen, the more you require to be just, and it is not easy to be just.

Justice renders to every man his own. But what is his own? One answer -- not a sufficient and complete answer, but an answer that goes a certain way -- is, "What the law allows him, and will punish you for if you do not render it to him." Justice then is obedience to law in all our relations with our fellowmen, and in this sense we call it general, or legal justice. A just man is a law-abiding man; and a court of justice is a law-enforcing court. The law commands acts of all virtues, so far as is requisite for the general good of the commonwealth. Whoever thus practises legal justice, is a good citizen. You can not yet call him a patriotic citizen, for a patriot will volunteer to do for his country's sake much more than the law exacts of him. Nor can you be sure that he is a good man, for a good man will do many acts and abstain from many, the omission or commission of which is not punishable in the courts of the realm. He may, for all you know, be another Shylock, who will have his "pound of flesh" out of every debtor bound to him by contract, regardless of "equity" (which is the intention of the legislator) and mercy (which is the attribute of God). Again, a good man is good within and without, in heart and in act; but your legally just man, so far as his justice is referred to the law of the state, is good in overt act only. De internis non judicat Praetor, the civil judge is not cognizant of purely inward dispositions.

For legal justice to be any way commensurate with all goodness, it must be referred to the law of God, natural (in the Commandments) and revealed (in Christ). In this way a drunkard is not legally just, because he breaks the Sixth, or whatever Commandment we take to include all temperance; nor a Catholic who neglects Sunday Mass, because he disregards the precept of Christ to hear the Church (Matt. xviii, 17). On the other hand, for their fulfilment of the law of God, the parents of the Baptist, Zachary and Elizabeth, are pronounced legally just; they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments of the Lord without blame (Luke i, 6). When a sinner is pardoned he is said to be justified; that is, after having broken the law and failed in legal justice, he is reinstated as though he had not broken it, in the condition of the just who have observed the law. Legal justice, thus understood, includes the exercise of all the virtues, so far as their acts are commanded by God. It is an ample virtue, or rather the virtue of virtues, meaning an habitual avoidance of whatever displeases God, at least of all that offends Him mortally. It is a permanent practical horror of mortal sin. That is the primary and essential requisite for saving your soul. He is not in a state of salvation at all, he is on the road to hell, who does not possess in some degree this general virtue of legal justice. To speak in the words of the Psalm (cviii), he is not written with the just.

This general virtue, however, can not be that justice which counts for one of the four cardinal virtues; for it is inclusive of the other three. You can not divide in this way -- Maryland, America, New York and Connecticut. We must look for justice in some particular form, in which it shall be distinct from other virtues. So to distinguish it, let us return to our definition of justice. Justice we defined to be the habit of constantly and regularly rendering to other intelligent and rational beings about us each his own. The first of "intelligent and rational beings about us" is God; and God claims as "his own" our entire obedience to His law thus our every sin is a sin against justice in our relation with our Creator; and once more, justice becomes a universal virtue. We will deal with this difficulty when we come to the virtue of religion. For the present, not considering religion, nor the angels, whose rights we can not infringe, we will define justice in relation to those with whom we are visibly associated on earth. Justice then is the habit of rendering to our fellowmen each his own. Thus defined, justice is of two sorts, distributive and corrective, to follow the Aristotelian division. Distributive justice resides in the rulers of a commonwealth, and involves the awarding of rewards and punishments to the members of the commonwealth according to their several deserts. When

The page killed the boar,
The peer had the gloire,

that was an offense against distributive justice, unless we are to suppose the page to be indistinguishable from his master. We call it "favoritism" when the worthy are passed over, and the less worthy sought out and decorated. Favoritism is a violation of distributive justice. When it comes to the awarding of punishments, distributive justice takes the name of retributive justice. And this is a very common meaning of the term "justice." For this the multitudes clamoured, rightly or wrongly, when they filled the precincts of the Palace of Whitehall in the days of Charles I, crying "Justice! Justice!" for the head of Strafford. In this signification an English or Irish gentleman signs himself J. P. (Justice of the Peace).

Still we have not yet reached the innermost core of the virtue of justice. If a deserving British officer is not knighted or made a peer, he can not strictly be said to have been kept out of his own, for peerage or knighthood never have been his. He had a claim that the honour should be made his, and given him, which claim is called by Roman lawyers a jus ad rem, a right to the thing; but as the honour never became his, he had not in it a jus in re, a right of ownership in the thing. His claim remaining unsatisfied, the rulers of the State remain bound to attend to it; but they owe him no restitution, for the simple reason that what a man never has had can not be restored to him. We shall see presently that a violation of strict justice always involves restitution. Still less can a rogue unhanged complain that he has been wronged because he has not come to his own -- a halter. He is little likely to complain of that; and the maxim holds, volenti non fit injuria, no wrong is done to a willing man. Distributive justice then, and retributive justice, though it is part of the cardinal virtue, still is not justice in the strictest sense of the term.

To find that sense verified we must fall back upon what Aristotle calls corrective justice, and Catholic divines generally commutative justice. The variation of terminology is due to a clerical error in a translation of Aristotle used in the thirteenth century. We will keep to the true Aristotelian phrase, corrective justice; and that we will subdivide at our own convenience into commutative and restitutive. In corrective justice, and its two species just enumerated, we shall find the genuine idea of justice. The office of corrective justice is to regulate and rectify men's dealings with fellow-men, so that every man shall have what is properly his own, what is part or appanage of himself; shall keep it, or shall have it given back to him, if it has been wrongfully taken away. A man is well-nigh beyond instruction, who tells you that he does not know what his own means. However, we may point out to such a man that a thing may be his own in two ways: it may be his own legally, and it may be his own by right; and consequently it may be his own legally and by right, or legally, but not by right, or by right, but not legally. A thing is a man's own legally when the courts of his country will support his possession of it. A thing is a man's own by right when the civil courts ought to support him in possession of it,* so far as the matter lies within their competence. The distinction between what the civil courts will and what they ought to support is founded on the assumption that not all law, nor all administration of law, is good; evil administration is conceivable, and evil ought not to be; an assumption which any and every party readily enough makes, when itself has the misfortune to lose the upper hand in the conduct of public affairs. What is a man's own makes a sort of circle about himself. When men live "cheek by jowl," as they must in human society, these circles intersect; and it is important that they should intersect peaceably, on a good mutual understanding, without violent collision and fracture. This is secured by one neighbour resigning part of what was his own in favour of another, on condition of the neighbour so benefited making a reciprocal resignation. Hence a system of voluntary exchange, formulated by the Roman lawyers as "I give on condition that you give," "I do on condition that you do," do ut des, facio ut facias. Over these voluntary exchanges commutative justice presides. Commutative justice is justice in buying and selling, justice in all relations of debtor and creditor, justice between workman and employer, justice in the fulfilment of every valid contract. When your neighbour makes over to you something of what was his own, something of his material substance or something of his personal labour, he does so on the express understanding that you make over something of your own in return. The carrying out of this is an act of the virtue of justice, strictly so-called, namely, commutative justice. Your neighbour, however, may, and frequently will, make over to you something of his own without covenanting for a return on your part; he is then said to give. Giving does not belong to justice but to some further virtue, as liberality or charity. Unhappily, men will frequently take what is not given them. This is theft or robbery, according as it be done by stealth or with open violence. Theft and robbery are punished in the criminal courts of the land. To the action of those courts we have referred under the head of retributive justice. Such justice is dispensed on public, not on private grounds; for the benefit of the commonwealth, not for the satisfaction of the individual sufferer. It is no satisfaction to me that the man who has stolen my cheese has got a fortnight in prison. I am not compensated by his imprisonment. I want my cheese back. In taking away mine without my consent the thief, all unconsciously, made a contract with me, what divines call "an involuntary contract." Quite involuntarily on my part, he became possessed of the cheese; that was the first half of the contract. The second half consists in his making restitution to me of the cheese, or of its equivalent, voluntarily, if he will (and such restitution is a constituent element in his repentance); but otherwise, if he will not, he must be forced involuntarily to restore. Presiding over these "involuntary contracts" is restitutive justice, also part of justice strictly so called. Whenever you sin against strict justice you are bound to restitution.

* "A thing is a man's own by right, when the civil courts ought to support him in possession of it." It may further be demanded why they ought. I reply, first, because the thing is necessary to the man's existence and individual well-being. Secondly, because it is needed to enable him to discharge his social function in the commonwealth. Thirdly, because he is established in that possession by the will of God. Something in the same way, a garden flower requires this or that to grow up as a flower at all. Secondly, it requires this or that in order, in its proper place, to contribute to the general beauty of the garden. Thirdly, the gardener wills it to have these particular advantages for its purposes above named. It must be added that many rights are vague and indeterminate by nature, and must be determined and particularly fixed by the civil law of the State. For further study of this difficult subject of rights the reader is referred to my Political and Moral Essays; Moral Philosophy.

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