my views on justice and injustice

The words of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle have always come through with a degree of confidence and insight on a number of subjects. One of those subjects is the idea and definition of justice and injustice. These three individuals painted pictures of what these things mean for both the individual and society as a whole, and in their words, one can find some understanding about how individuals are to act in a well-intentioned society. In his work, The Republic, Plato addresses these ideas in full, concentrating on the just nature of personal decisions. He denotes a level of justice that can only be achieved if an individual is acting with a combination of wisdom, courage, and moderation. Socrates shares similar views on justice, offering a number of different definitions and admitting the complicated nature of this quest for knowledge. Though he admits that his words are not the final note on justice, it is his opinion that justice involves doing things that bring about both a personal good and a societal good for all people. For Aristotle, justice was something of an inherent character trait, as those who were just sought not only to follow the laws of the land, but to take their fair share. This is similar to the views of the other philosophers, as Aristotles views hold within some picture of the greater good. All of these philosophers provide a slightly different angle on an immensely complicated topic, and each makes points that one should agree with. Though their viewpoints do not claim to be, nor act as the final word on the subject of justice and injustice, they do provide an inquisitive look at these complex philosophical themes for society and individuals within a working society.

Platos thoughts on justice are well laid out in a number of different works, though clarity was not one of the strong points for that particular philosopher. Plato attempts to explain justice through the lens of what is right for society as a whole. He believes that people must act in accord if they are to produce results best for the state. In doing this, people must use their minds to make wise decisions, they must use their courage to act out those decisions, and they must use self-restraint to hold themselves back from certain emotional pitfalls. All of this speaks to the fact that Plato saw justice as much more of a state of being than in actual acts. The motives and processes behind peoples actions were the more important issue at hand, as they needed to be acting in a way that would ultimately benefit the state over the long run. For Plato, defining justice was relatively easy, since he believed personal justice to be a mass of personal acts that led to the betterment of all people in society. In a single, powerful question, Plato sums up his thoughts on justice in The Republic.  He writes, Then the just is like the wise and good, and the unjust like the evil and ignorant (Plato). Those who are in line with justice take that position because they have the proper intentions. Their actions then become subsidiary, since the most important thing is how they seek knowledge and how they seek the proper outcome for both their neighbors and the larger state in question.

These thoughts from Plato are deep and they are worthy of attention. His thoughts on justice strip the meaning of the phrases down to the bare bones, and they deal with what people actually have the power to control. It is easy to agree with this take on justice, since anything else would be asking too much of individuals in society. The key thing to understand is that individuals can only control certain actions. Well-intentioned acts can often come off with a different result. In this, one can clearly see why intentions and motives are the most important thing. If the definition of personal justice falls outside the bounds of what individuals are able to control, then justice no longer has any purpose. The just are those individuals who seek, at the purest level, understanding and a deeper level of knowledge.

Additionally, Plato argues that a simple interpretation of justice is not nearly enough. While some people might take justice to mean just doing the right things  paying debts, telling the truth, and observing laws, Plato thinks that justice goes well beyond that. Someone can do something that society says is the right thing, and they can still be unjust in that act. This speaks to the fact that many of societys conventions are unjust, and thus, they are not a good basis for judging whether or not an action is unjust. If societys conventions do not provide a proper framework for understanding the intent of actions, then some other value system must be used. Though paying back debts and acting in accordance to the laws can often satisfy the qualifications for justice, those are not the only things necessary for a person to call himself just. Likewise, there are some acts that might not match up with the societal conventions of right and wrong that could be called just. If the heart of the action is good, and a person uses his facilities of wisdom, courage, and self-restraint, then he is acting in a just manner.

These are complex ideas, but they are ideas that one can easily agree with. Justice is often more complicated than what society says is right. The only way that societys conventions would be a proper definition for justice would be if society was perfect. Given that society is not perfect, it figures that there will be times when a different understanding of justice is necessary. By stripping the view of justice down the lowest common denominator and putting it in complete control of the individual, Plato leaves no room for excuses and places all of the burden to uphold a certain standard on the individual. An Oswego University report on Platos views sum up the arguments perfectly and provide a basis foe why they work. That study stated, Justice in a society is like health in an animal. Well functioning of the whole due to cooperative functioning of specialized internal parts (Oswego University). One can agree with Plato on justice, because his views speak to the survival of society as a whole.

Though Socrates and Plato share many views on the role and definition of justice, he does take some of his own views outside of what Plato has to offer. One of the most important views on justice that Socrates offers is that justice is hard, and it is something that is unnatural for human beings (Dockendorf). He offers that justice is an idea that most men will shy away from, because it involves more risk and can bring about more hardship than being unjust. This also speaks to the view that Socrates views justice as something that can often conflict with self-interests. This opposes the viewpoint that justice is always the aspiration for what is good for ones self. Sometimes, doing the just thing can have the opposite effect, given that society is not perfect. In a perfect society, just acts would be rewarded with positive results, but no society has the ability to operate on a just level. Because of that, Socrates offers up the opinion that men will, in most instances, why away from just acts if unjust acts are easier for them to pull off (Kealy).

This additional view on justice is something that one can easily agree with. Acting justly requires individuals to employ wisdom and to suppress their natural urges. As Plato stated, the only way to be just is to go through a process of thoughts and motives that leads to a just action. The majority of people slip up along the way, either by not thinking enough about their actions, not having the bravery to carry through on their actions, or not being able to suppress their emotions enough to make it all work. Because that process is hard and it goes against natural human urges, it follows that human beings will look to take the easy route. One can also see how this might be true, given the fact that imperfect societies often reward unjust acts. If there was some sort of incentive to act justly, then individuals might take the hard route and go against natural tendencies. Since society often only provides incentives to act unjustly, it creates an almost unrealistic expectation of just behavior. Though it may seem cynical to opine that just acts are outside of the reach of normal society, there is much truth to that opinion. In the view of the philosophers, this is something that holds back society and keeps it from achieving certain levels of distinction. It could be said that this applies to todays society, too, as todays society fails to offer the proper incentives for just behavior. If more emphasis in the modern world was put on acting with proper motives, then we may see more justice and a better overall state. Instead, the only incentives that exist are to keep people within the law, and as the philosophers have stated, being within the law and acting justly are often two very different things. Instead of simply providing negative consequences for illegal acts, society would benefit from providing positive impacts for just behavior from an early age.

Aristotles views speak to this, noting the importance of going beyond the law. He is one philosopher that states a personal justice system of unselfishness. Though his theory could not be called selflessness, since he does present that justice should involve a person taking his or her share, it is true that Aristotle believes a person needs to leave greed at the door (Burnett, p. 8). According to Stanford, Aristotles views on justice can be summarized with, What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole (Stanford). He believed that everything acts in relationship with something else, so any person who wants to act justly must understand these interactions at the core. This makes plenty of sense, though it does shift the personal directive that Plato and Socrates were so found of. Instead, this puts a bit more responsibility on individuals to make the right decisions, adding an additional dynamic that people had to adhere to in order to find the success that they sought. The one problem with this is that it can be difficult to define just how much is right for a persons personal share, which leaves the line between sustenance and greed somewhat murky. With that said, the consideration of others for the satisfaction of justice is an idea that can be supported, given that justice is a societal idea at its core. Individuals do not live alone on the earth, so any actions that they carry out must be understood in the context of what is going on around them. If justice is defined as something that is done for the good of society, then it has to also be something defined as being good for individuals within society. This is where Aristotle succeeds in adding something to the philosophical knowledge base that Plato and Socrates did not provide.

The basic notion of Platos ideas on justice is something that I can agree with. Whether a person acts justly or not should be dependent upon that persons motives, not the result of the act. Too many things can impact how an act is received and perceived, and many of these things are outside of a persons control. With that in mind, I agree that motives should power whether or not an act is just. Additionally, I agree with the premise that emotional urges must be suppressed in order for a person to act justly. Justice is based upon rationality, and emotions often get in the way of that rationality. People tend to make good decisions when they are thinking clearly and when they process information to the fullest. The problem with emotional thinking is that it strips a person of his or her ability to think clearly and process all of the information. Additionally, emotions can cause a person to act selfishly, not taking into account the needs or goals of society. This can bring about unjust actions, or at the very least, it can bring about actions that do not provide a complete representation of justice.

I tend to agree with Aristotle on a very important point. That is that we do not live on earth alone, so all of our actions must be considered in a societal context. Because interactions power the world, they must be considered if one is going to consider what is a just act and what is not. Justice is all about how a person impacts the environment around them. How a person deals with the changing dynamic of relationships and everything else that goes along with maintaining a place in society. This speaks to Socrates assertion that justice involves an element of helping society to be a better place. I agree that a just act is one that has societys best interests in mind, but I tend to think that it all comes down to motive in the end. An act is just if a person has these interests in mind when making the initial choices. How an act is eventually represented within a societal context should have no bearing on that acts standing as just or unjust.

These three philosophers take the idea of justice to varying degrees, each providing their own interesting takes on the societal and personal dynamics associated with just acts. One thing that each does is present justice as something that is highly personal, removing the typical conventions of how society judges an act. By simplifying things and breaking them down into terms that are easy to understand, they provide an explanation of justice that is applicable for human beings even today. Motives and meanings are the most important things, trumping results and consequences. Since those last items are defined by society, the philosophers primarily reject what they have to offer in terms of transactional analysis. These are ideas that are easy to agree with, and they offer something of a lasting take on how individuals should act in order to move society forward to much higher levels.


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