Thomas Aquinas on Justice

Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Philosophy / 6 October 2021

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The historical background

The ancients were well aware of the many aspects of justice. Reading their texts, one is struck by the great richness and complexity of their perspectives.

The very root of the Greek word dikaiosynē (justice), dikē, refers to a multiplicity of operational meanings that concern, first of all, the relationship with God and the government of the self that are expressed in operational terms through directives, orders and dispositions. Dike was the mythological daughter of Jupiter and Themis, goddess of laws and courts. She was depicted with a sword and scales, the image by which justice is still represented today.

Justice is above all the characteristic proper to God, who is its foundation, an aspect that constantly returns in the classical and biblical tradition.[1] In this sense, “justice,” more than the observance of a law, is above all a characteristic of being.  Dikaiosynē allows us to assign to things their “right” and “true” place: it is the place that for the Bible belongs to every being in the harmony of Creation, respecting the sphere assigned to it and contributing to the Creator’s great design.

Unlike other living creatures, humans are called to bring order to their lives, existing in harmony with themselves and with others. In this sense justice is the foundation of civilization, authority and living in community. It also involves a reference to life as a vocation, as the capacity to collaborate for the common good. This vision is still a part of today’s cultural heritage.

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre sums up his own educational journey in these terms: “My imagination as a child was first of all nourished by a Celtic oral culture, the heritage of farmers and fishermen, poets and storytellers, a culture largely already lost, but to which some of the elderly people I came into contact with still felt they belonged. […]. To be fair it meant playing the role to which everyone was assigned by the local community. The identity of each person came from the place that the individual occupied in the community.”[2]  

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