John Stuart Mill and David Luban on Justice and Crimes Against Humanity

John Stuart Mill on Justice


John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) was a British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator, and one of the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century. In order to learn about his approach to justice, I read chapter 5 of his book Utilitarianism, a philosophical defense of utilitarianism in ethics. The chapter is titled “Of the Connection between Justice and Utility.”

In this chapter, Mill begins by acknowledging his opposition, which claims that utilitarianism is incompatible with justice. Utilitarianism can imply that we should treat people unfairly at times, and in doing so violate their moral rights. It extends the acceptable choices that one makes for his/her own life to situations of conflict of interest among people.

In this chapter, J. S. Mill examines this conflict between utilitarianism and justice. He sees the problem as being that the sentiment of justice feels more compelling and morally authoritative than the sentiment of benevolence associated to utilitarianism. Mill thinks that ‘people are in general willing enough to allow that objectively the dictates of justice coincide with a part of the field of general expediency.” Still, the “subjective mental feeling of justice” is usually more imperative in its demands that the feeling “which commonly attaches to simple expediency”.

Mill looks for a common quality that unites all modes of conduct and policy we deem just. It is thought normally to be unjust to (a) violate someone’s legal rights, or those that ought to be his rights, (b) not to treat people as they deserve, (c) to break faith with anyone, (d) to be partial in those situations where impartiality is required, and (d) to treat people unequally, though people disagree greatly on what kind of equality is morally required.

Mill looks at the etymology of the word “justice”, and finds that the idea of justice is tied to the idea of conformity to law, at least law as it ought to be, and this is the common thread that he draws between different modes of injustice.

We consider something to be unjust if we think law should not enforce it, and that it is fit for punishment, either by law, public opinion, or conscience. However, this is not a specific idea of injustice but a more general idea morality. Mill states that an act that is morally wrong is one that ought to be punished somehow.

To define injustice, Mill talks about how a particular person or persons may be wronged. He states, “Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right” (p. 49). Justice, Mill argues, should not have independent moral authority against general welfare. The following is a summary of his points supporting this argument:

1. Justice is a primitive instinct. Mill says that “the sentiment itself does not arise from anything which would commonly or correctly be termed an idea of expediency, but that, though the sentiment does not, whatever is moral in it does” (p. 50). An example that he provides is that the desire to punish someone who harms a person grows out of two primitive sentiments–the instinct of self-defense and the feeling of sympathy. We want to harm those we see as threatening to harm us and those with whom we sympathize. There isn’t anything moral in these instincts, which Mill identifies with the principle of utility.

2. Justice is ambiguous. Injustice occurs when someone’s rights are violated. When someone has a right to something, he has “a valid claim on society to defend him in the possession of it” (p. 2). But there may be many conflicting rights claims, especially when considering controversial issues. For example, Mill brings up the point that some say punishment is just only when done to benefit the person punished; others say this would be wrong and that punishment is acceptable only when needed to protect the legitimate interests of other people, others say punishment is always unjust. Some say the punishment should be exactly proportioned or matched to the severity of the crime; others say that the only good justification for punishment is that it is necessary to deter that criminal or others from committing further crimes. Mill says only utility can reasonably resolve these conflicting claims. The rights claim that is valid is the one protection of which best promotes the general happiness.

3. Part of the explanation of the strength of the feeling of mortality, that we should do what is just is that, in general, this moral code promotes utility in matters that are important to peoples’ lives. Justice may not be a moral standard distinct from utility, but where justice that coincide with utilitarianism is “the chief part, and incomparably the most sacred and binding part, of all morality” (p. 58). Justice and utility overlap on rules forbidding people to hurt one another or interfere with their freedom without good reason, such as through torture. Of course these rules are not absolute, and they allow for unusual circumstances or cases when general happiness is best served by making an exception.

4. The core of justice is implied by the principle of utility. Treating other “according to his deserts, returning good for good, as well as repressing evil by evil, ” requires us to “treat all equally well . . .who have deserved equally well of us” and requires society to “treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it.” This is, according to Mill, “the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice.” This rule is derived from utilitarian morals, which requires that each person’s happiness “counts equally in calculations to determine social policy as every other person’s.” Norms of justice as implied by the utilitarian morality stipulate that everyone has an equal claim to happiness, and the means to happiness.

Even if these considerations of justice may not determine the morally right answer, they might rule out some wrong answers, and the utilitarian inclination might be among these. In order to establish equality in utilitarianism, there must be equal consideration when determining the right policy, and nobody’s interests and desires may be discounted. However, if the aim is to maximize the sum of utility, this practice may be compatible with extreme inequality. For some, equal consideration may not seem equal enough.

Mill suggests a proposal about what the utilitarian criterion of right conduct is. This is that a wrong act is one that is fit to be punished or ought to be punished, and a utilitarian account of wrong acts then stipulates that these acts that ought to be punished are the ones punishing which would maximize utility. A right act is an act that would be wrong to not do. An act is neither right nor wrong if it is not wrong to do it and not wrong to not do it either J
David Luban on Justice and Crimes Against Humanity


David Luban is a Professor of Law and Philosophy at Georgetown University. He has also directed Georgetown’s center on National Security and Law. He has published many works, such as Legal Ethics and Human Dignity (Cambridge 2007) and Torture, Power, and Law (Cambridge 2013), as well several edited anthologies on legal ethics and textbooks on international criminal law and on legal ethics. His writing includes more than 150 articles on international criminal law, moral and legal philosophy, professional ethics, law and literature, just war theory, and issues surrounding the U.S. “war on terrorism.” He has testified before both houses of the U.S. Congress on the torture debate.

In his paper Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb, David Luban talks about the nature of torture in relation to liberalism, and whether or not its use is justified. He begins by stating, “Torture used to be incompatible with American values”. He then brings up the point that the Bill of Rights forbids cruel and usual punishment, which includes all forms of corporal punishment except prison and death by methods deemed painless. He mentions the Senates ratification of the Convention Against Torture, anti-torture legislation that Congress has enacted, and America’s historical condemnation of states that utilize torture, and our practice of granting asylum or refuge to those who fear it.

He then moves to September 11. He described a quiz that was given to a university ethics class less than a week after the event, asking what the proper US response to the terrorist attacks would be: A execute perpetrators on sight, B bring them back for trial in the US, C subject perpetrators to an international tribunal, or D torture and interrogate those involved. A majority of the students chose A and D: execute on sight and torture them. He talks about the increased discussion of torture after 9/11, and the press reports about FBI harsh interrogation tactics, and generally the extent to which the supposed American abhorrence to torture had been shaken.

Luban defines liberalism in the context of the US being independent of progressive or conservative ideology, including conservatives as well as progressives so long as they believe in “limited government and the importance of human dignity and individual rights.” He argues that liberal abhorrence towards torture may only be “skin deep”. While the liberal reverence for individual rights makes torture morally unacceptable, these same liberal ideas can justify interrogational torte in cases of extreme danger.

The example the he brings up is that of the use of nonlethal torture in a ticking-bomb case, in which it would be justified. However, he points out that the ticking-bomb stories make the case for the use of torture as an emergency exception, but use institutions based on these exceptional cases to justify institutionalized practices and procedures of torture.

He discusses how there has been no taboo on torture in military and juridical contexts throughout most of human history, but it is in today’s society that cruelty is “put first”, and regarded as one of the most vicious of all vices. However, he argues that torture and cruelty are incompatible with liberalism, and seeks to show this through establishing that torturing terrorist for information is not done out of cruelty.

The difference between suffering in collateral damage during the Afghan and Iraq wars, the examples Luban gives, seem to be less immoral and illiberal than torture because of the relationship between torturer and victim. The self-conscious aim of torture to cause victims to be isolated, overwhelmed, terrorized and humiliated stripes away qualities of human dignity that liberalism prizes. Luban argues that the relationship between the torturer and victim of the torture is a microcosm of the highest level of intensity of the “tyrannical political relationships that liberalism hates the most.” Luban argues that there are five aims of torture: victor’s pleasure, terror, punishment, extracting confessions and gathering intelligence.

Liberalism, Luban says, incorporates “a vision of engaged, active human beings possessing an inherent dignity regardless of their social station.” Victims subjected to torture are in every aspect opposite to this vision, reduced, terrified and humiliated instead of engaged, active and dignified. The victor’s pleasure in torture is a living embodiment of liberals’ worst nightmares of tyrannical rulers who take pleasure from degradation of those who are subject to their will.

One aim torture is to terrorize people into submission, for reputation and intimidation for enemies. this practice of subduing and tyrannizing people is again fundamentally hostile to liberals’ political philosophy.

Punishment is another aim of torture. Luban talks about how the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, rot cruelty more generally. He says that cruel and unusual punishments would be contrary to justice, and to the nature of the social contract, as suppressing citizens in the manner would contradict liberal understanding of the ends of society. Luban argues that the abolition of punitive torture had little to do with increased humanitarianism, but with the change in distribution of crime in Western Europe, how property crimes began to eclipse crimes of passion as social problems. This led to milder systems of punishment. Torture, Luban argues, was “a symbolic assertion of the absolute sovereignty whose personally prerogatives had been affronted by crime.” With the growth of liberal democracy, this ideology became irrelevant as the people had the rule, and the responsibility of punishment, whether punitive torture or otherwise, therefore fell on them.

Another aim of torture is extracting confessions.When it was accepted that the criminal justice system could base guilty verdicts on evidence that rationally established facts, rather than through confession, the need for torture to convict criminals was no longer present. Furthermore, the “only crimes for which the primary evidence is the perpetrator’s own words are crimes of heretical or seditious belief – and liberalism rejects the criminalization of belief.”

Based on these arguments, Luban concludes that the four illiberal motives for torture are victor’s pleasure, terror, punishment, and extracting confessions. The last aim of torture that he discusses, and that he argues might conceivably be liberally acceptable is torture as a technique of intelligence gathering from captive who will not talk. This aim is the most relevant and important in the context of the FBI 9/11 interrogation techniques report. The key difference between this aim and that of extracting confessions is that the later is focused on ratifying the past for purposes of retribution, while the former is forward-looking and aims to gain information to prevent future evils such as terrorist attacks. This rationalizes the motivation for torture, and can almost make it seem heroic if it is done to save lives. However, Luban calls this a “dangerous delusion”. He believes that the ticking bomb is the wrong thing to think about, and that it is proffered against liberals who believe win absolute prohibition against torture in order to force them to admit that torture is justified in a least this one situation. Once the prohibitionist concedes this, opposition to torture is no longer based on principle, and it is only a question of what conditions justify torture.

Luban discusses a case in 1995 in which an al Qaeda plot to bomb eleven US airliners and assassinate the Pope was thwarted by information tortured out of a Pakistani bomb-maker by the Philippine police. Luban argues that one cannot use the argument atht preventing the al Qaeda track justified the decision to torture, as at the moment he decision was made, no one knew about eh al Qaeda attack; it was based solely on word of threats that the police as heard – rumors. Luban argues that the ticking time bomb case is the wrong question to ask as the conditions of knowing for sure that there is a bomb, and that officials know it and know they have the man who planted it will seldom be met. He instead asks how likely does it have to be that a victim of torture know something important? And, how long should the victim be tortured before officials accept that he or she knows nothing?

Luban brings up the reality of torture in the US, referring to the group of lawyers in President George W. Bush’s administrate who wrote the secret memoranda that came close to legitimizing torture for interrogate purposes. He talks about the two Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos written in early 2002, concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not cover al Qaeda or Taliban captives. He also recalls President Bush’s February 7, 2002 memo asserting that “the prisoners would be treated consistently with Geneva to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity,” a large loophole for intelligence-gathering he claims.

Luban concludes that the liberal ideology of torture, which assumes that torture can be neatly categorized as moral or justified in the exceptional ticking-bomb cases and therefore removed from cruelty and tyranny, is a dangerous delusion.

This is especially important, he notes, in the contexts of an endless war on terror, a permanent emergency in which the White House insists that its “emergency powers rise above the limiting power of satires and treaties.”

In his paper A Theory of Crimes Against Humanity, Luban defines crimes against humanity in relation to justice. He first distinguishes between different definitions of “humanity” – the first is the abstract property, the quality of being human, while the second refers to humankind, the set of individuals. Crimes Against Humanity, he states, are “not committed only against the victim, but primarily against the community whose law is violated.” He brings up Mary Ann Glendon’s explication of Crimes Against Humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. She states that to “persecute, oppress, or do violence to individuals or minorities on political, racial, or religious grounds in connection with such a war, or to exterminate, enslave, or deport civilian populations, was a crime against humanity.” Luban says “crimes against humanity are simultaneously offenses against humankind and injuries to humanness.” They are so “universally odious”, he argues, because they injure a fundamental aspect of human being, that of our character as political animals. We are creatures compelled to live socially by nature, but we cannot do so without artificial political organization that “inevitably poses threats to our well-being, and, at the limit, to our very survival.” The worst of these threats, he says, are represented by crimes against humanity. Luban essentially proposes that 1) “humanity” in “crimes against humanity” refers to our political character and 2) that these crimes pose a universal threat that all humankind has interest in repressing. He expresses how all the statutory “definitions of crimes against humanity” have in common is that they specify that these crimes are severe persecution inflicted by a state, or a state-like organization, on a civilian population or groups under their control as part of an organized plan. In the case of the interrogation and torture practices on the part of the CIA, the state would be the US, and the group or population would be anyone suspected of association with the al-Qaeda and with Islam.

Resources and Citations:

Luban, David, “A Theory of Crimes Against Humanity” (2004). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 146.

Read here:


Luban, David, “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb” (2005). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 148.

Read here:


Mill, John Stuart (1906). Utilitarianism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Read here:


Plato on Justice and Slavery

Plato was an Ancient Greek philosopher who was born on 399 BCE. His views on justice were significantly different from other philosophers at the time, because he felt that justice was an internal concept, not the external principle that other philosophers considered it to be. According to Plato, justice is a natural human virtue that makes a person good and “self consistent”1. This concept of justice permits the assumption that for Plato, justice and morality are almost interchangeable; because his definition of justice could just as easily be a definition for morality.

For an individual to act in a just manner does not necessarily require them to conform to all legislation and laws of the state. A just individual is one whose soul guides them to work toward “a vision of the Good”2 (a morally good society) and who uses reason to direct their passion and ambition towards this vision.  Only when this occurs, can a person’s soul be “harmonious, strong, beautiful and healthy”2. For an action to be considered just, they must fall in line with these stipulations. Essentially, this means that how just you are depends on your internal goodness, not how well you conform to societal norms or laws.

The reason this is such a radical view on justice is because it gives permission to break laws if one determines them unjust. It begs the question as to whether a just person should to refrain from lying, stealing or killing; simply because those actions are prohibited in our society. Plato counters this objection by saying that a person who was truly just, and had a “healthy harmonious soul”2 would not have the need to lie, steal or kill.

When studying Plato it is also important to keep in mind the basic principles of ancient justice, which Plato subscribe to. Many views on ancient justice rest on the foundation that treating equals equally and unequals unequally is a just action in itself. As a common view at the time was that people naturally had specific status, which could not be altered with. The way you treat others would be affected as to whether they were your equal or your unequal.

When examining Plato’s view on justice one should also consider the fact that the Athenian democracy was on the verge of ruin while he was developing his philosophies, and that many of his views surrounding justice are based on “Utopian Ideals”1; or how he thought society should be, compared to how it actually was. According to Plato, in the ideal society justice would have to “reign supreme”1.

Plato had a very specific view on what the ideal state should be. In Plato’s opinion, philosopher kings, who were also members the highest social class, would rule the just state. These kings would have the support of soldiers, who would keep the common people in line, and allow the philosopher kings absolute rule. These philosopher kings would be the only ones in society who could properly determine what was just and what was unjust; so their views on justice should be followed. Plato was of the opinion that every state had a destination, and that this destination should be justice.

Because of these views, one might assume that Plato would oppose slavery, because we in this modern society consider slavery to be inherently evil. But to Plato, slavery was natural, as it was natural for the superior to rule over the inferior. Plato saw what he considered evidence of people’s inherent inferiority, or superiority in nature, and to him this justified slavery.

In fact, in his book “Gorgias” Plato says:

“Nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior” 3

And because slavery in ancient Athens doesn’t’ appear to be any less brutal than the slavery that occurred in Bermuda, we can assume that Plato would also have supported it; especially because slavery in Bermuda was based off of the same principles of superiority and inferiority that occurred in Ancient Athens.

While Plato supports slavery, it was only because he saw no injustice in it; because of the slaves “inherent inferiority”. In Plato’s perspective, slaves were essential in the running of a state, and there were no moral conflicts towards owning slaves. Following this line of thinking, it is only logical that Plato would support slavery. However; all of Plato’s views on justice point towards acting in a way that is morally just. So, one could easily apply those views and determine slavery is wrong. But you would have to discount Plato’s apparent supremicism and blatant support of slavery to do so.











Aldo Leopold – Land Ethic

Hey guys! So for our project we studied the philosophical background of different constitutions, and I looked at Aldo Leopold and how he influenced Ecuador’s constitution. I read through Ecuador’s constitution and found it really impressive that it includes the rights of nature. So, even though you probably won’t need to know about Ecuador’s constitution, I decided to include a little bit about it because I thought you might find it impressive too (you know, cause here at Pearson we love sustainability and all those shenanigans)! I know Zoë looked at Leopold too, so at the risk of being redundant, here it is!


Over the years, our concept of justice has shifted. As we have grown to include all humans in our concept of justice, we have begun to look outside of ourselves in order to include the environment in our view of justice. Aldo Leopold, an American philosopher, environmentalist, and author born in 1887 was the first to develop a concept he called “Land Ethic” in his major publication, A Sand County Almanac (1949). This philosophy seeks to guide our human action when making changes to the land. In his own words, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land…[A] land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” Leopold was a strong influence in the creation of Ecuador’s Constitution, the first ever constitution to include rights for nature, a concept they call Sumak Kawsay in Quechua (yes, the language they sang in at One World!), a language indigenous to the country. The constitution has the rights of nature mentioned as a recurring theme woven throughout the text, as well as the entirety of Chapter Two to biodiversity and natural resources, including sections in its constitution outlining the rights of nature, the soil, water, ecological systems, and natural resources, the Ecuadorian Constitution has come to express a similar conception of justice as Leopold. For example, Article 277 outlines the “general duties of the state in order to achieve the good way of living” to be first and foremost “To guarantee the rights of people, communities, and nature.” Article 397 even gives legal rights to the environment: “In case of environmental damages, the State shall act immediately and with a subsidiary approach to guarantee the health and restoration of ecosystems. In addition to the corresponding sanction, the State shall file against the operator of the activity that produced the damage proceedings for the obligations entailing integral reparation, under the conditions and on the basis of the procedures provided for by law.”


Because we are all very busy people, here is a more bite size format:


Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)


Professor, Author, Nature Writer, Scientist, Environmentalist, Ecologist, Forester… (you get the gist)

Major Publication: A Sand County Almanac (1949)

Doesn’t he look like a nice guy squinting into the sunlight?



“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” 

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land…[A] land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”


Justice as:

Leopold’s conception of Justice: Land Ethic: Philosophy that seeks to guide the actions when humans use or make changes to the land.

Ecuador’s Constitution’s conception of justice: Sumak Kawsay: “Good Living”, in other words, living in harmony within communities, ourselves, and most importantly, nature – integrated into the constitution as a way of granting rights to nature, values people over profit.


If you want to check out Ecuador’s super cool constitution, here it is:

Also, if you want to know more about Aldo Leopold’s theories and environmental ethics, section 1.d has some good info!

Cotemporary View On Justice

Contemporary philosophers’s view of justice
Rawls is a political philosopher of the 20th century (Justice as Fairness) and wrote his theories about justice in the context of civil right movements in the US and Vietnam war. He was investigating what was a just society. Rawls described justice as the basis of politics and the maximal moral statement. This can therefore be achieved through just institutions. According to him, we have to maximize the amount of liberty of all, as long as the amount every citizen has the same liberty. His theory is based on Kantian premisses about people as ‘free and equal’, as rational and capable of autonomy. Rawls observed that it is desirable to serve every individual’s interests but also keeping in mind justice (in terms of rights). We need basic things  such as rights, liberties,opportunities, health, self-respect and wealth  in order to realize our conception of a good life. Theferefore, Rawls establishes 2 principles: we all have basic and equal rights (‘liberty principle’) and even if we cannot except everyone to enjoy the exact equal wealth, health, opportunities, we should try to make inequalities(material ones) to the individual’s advatange (every party gains from inequalities). Gap between very rich and very poor (it is ok only when worse off benefit. rather than insist on strict equality, according to need). Rawls also argues that injustice occures when diasdvantaged members of a society gain advantage by being in this position. eg. People living on the government’s money without working.
The family of liberal philosophy of Rawls on justice is extremely proeminent in developped and capitalist countries. Amartya Sen has been particularly critical of Rawls’ work on justice and argues that he did not take into account cultural cohersions and simply focusing on economic criteron of justice. 
Amartya Sen is an indian economist born in 1933. He argues that before talking about justice, we should talk about injustices. The way he investigates justice is in total opposition with contemporary philosophy (which Rawls belong to). He looks for criterons in real life situation that make it just or injust. His goal was to eliminate injustices in the world, whereas Rawls’ was to create a well-ordonated where each citizen is supposed to act fairly. 
Sen criticizes Rawls’ argument of a just society by reason by giving the example of 3 children wanting a flute: one for artistic reason, one because he is poor and one because she made the flute. All 3 reasons are good and 3 different schools of thoughts would give three different answers to whom should get the flute. We have different belief systems (utilitarians, egalitarian, libertarians) and pick different alternatives. Thus, Sen argues, we need a comparative perspective on justice. This would be achieved by comparing the different definitons of justice that can be defined only by looking at what is unjust. Just to add to this idea, John Harsanyi a Hungarian economist argued that human beings can do interpersonal comparaison of utility (and therefore partial comparability of utility) because of share of background and cultural experiences. This reinforces the difference between Rawls and Sen, whereas Rawls argues for a universal conception of justice, Sen reminds that reality prooves that there is none of that, that it is not needed and insuffisant anyway. According to Sen, we still can evaluate the fairness of institutions without having an ideal of justice. He takes especially into account the access to advantage (goods that satisfy basic needs, freedom and capabilities).

Plato ( continued )

In republic, Plato have a really ideal view about how justice should be. It can be deduced from his writing in republic that justice meant two things. Justice is doing on own job or justice is harmony. Doing one owns job can be defined in the following example that Plato give in his Republic. The body and the state. The body has been covered in earlier post. Thus I will cover the state part of the anology. 
The state, akin to the earlier analogy is divided to three part. The worker, soldier and ruler. However, in the contemporary society, this might be unacceptable to have this kind of dividing class. But in Republic, Plato said that everyone have equal chance to become all of these three classes by being separated from birth (as the parent might influence their children in many ways). However, Plato also mention the existent of ‘Noble Lie’ where mother nature has created people from three material either with the ability to rule, to guard and to work. That’ll be Gold, silver and bronze respectively. Can be a state with a cobbler as a ruler, the guardian as the farmer and the ruler as a soldier. Plato denies that and justifies his class division that it is justice that the state to have the extremely skillful cobbler, the courageous soldier and the wisest ruler. Hence “doing one own’s job”
    The harmony factor comes in play when all the people in each part accept and do their part and not to meddle with other because the skill level is appropriate for their own specific job. Plato calls it harmony, but contemporary society might see this as a justified oppression. By which it is, no matter how Gung-Ho Plato tries to sugercoat it.
    How would a ruler be chosen then? Plato answer this quite eloquently by saying when philosopher become kings. The reasoning behind it is when the philosopher have achieve the world of forms they will no longer interested with fame and honor rather they will lead to people to achieve the truth and justice behind the true forms. 

Aristotle and the Athenian Constitution


Aristotle lived from 384 BCE to 322 BCE and was a Greek philosopher, logician, and scientist whose teacher was Plato. He is known to have travelled extensively from northern Greece (where he was bron) to the Isle of Lesbos to Macedonia which is one reason that has been attributed to his opinions on how a state should be run and by whom.

Aristotle believed that justice is synonymous for lawfulness and/or fairness due to the fact that injustice is the opposite (unlawfulness and unfairness). Since lawfulness is synonymous for justice, it is then implied that enacted laws encourage citizens to behave virtuously just. Aristotle thus describes justice as a virtue because if someone behaves lawfully, then they are behaving in a just manner.

However, one could argue that laws can be also unjust which questions whether, if obeying such laws, a person’s actions are nevertheless justified as they are acting in line with the law. Aristotle responds to this by differentiating political justice and domestic justice. Political justice is defined as being governed by the rule of law and domestic justice more based upon respect. Domestic justice originates more from natural laws so what is lawful in terms of political justice may not necessarily be lawful in terms of domestic justice.

Aristotle believes that a just state is one in which is ruled with the common advantage in mind. This means that the interests of the common (of the majority) dictate the political motivations of the state. This is a correct state. The opposite of a correct state (a polity) is a deviant state, which is unjust. A deviant state (a democracy) is dictated by political motivations that benefit the interests of the rulers. Aristotle outlines in Part 6 of Book 3 of Politics that “a state is a community of freemen”. It is essential to notice the inclusion of the word “community” which alludes to a state where everyone is involved in government in accordance to their status. Aristotle believes equals should be treated equally as unequals should be treated unequally. For example, slaves were meant to be slaves and thus deserve the proper treatment of being a slave. They should not act more or less than what they are. The same goes for a powerful person.

It is important to understand that Aristotle’s philosophies did not influence the Athenian Constitution. The Constitution differs from modern and contemporary constitutions as it is more a narrative of the political history of Athens as a city-state. Nevertheless, Aristotle is recognized for his contributions to the Constitution as an author and inclusions of his bias. Through an Aristotelian lens, the Athenian Constitution is as deviant as it is correct. Its history is colourful and there are aspects of it that Aristotle agreed with (such as election by lot and the participation of the common in government) and aspects with which he did not agree with (democratic institutions and the treatment of equals as unequals). It is also just as important to understand that although Athens is attributed to being the birthplace of democracy, Aristotle’s philosophies defy this as Aristotle believes a polity, which consists of a healthy mix of the wealthy and the poor to rule, is a better way to run the state. A democracy is of the people, insinuating that the poor have the power. Not only is this unrepresentative of the middle-class or the wealthy, but it is encouraging the treatment of unequals as equals.


Aristotle’s Politics, Book 3

The Nicomachean Ethics (important parts included in Solomon)




The Republic, Plato, 399 BCE


Born: 428/427 or 424/423 BC

Died: 348/347 BC (aged c. 80)

The Republic basically asks, “What is Justice”

  1. What the best Person is (personal level/morality)

  2. What the best State is (state level/justice)

The answer to this question is basically the same between the two. The most moral person is ruled by Reason (brain) and reason cooperates with Will Power (chest) to overcome the “appetites” (stomach+)

The just state is a state that is ruled by Reason (in the form of Philosopher Kings), with the cooperation of the Soldiers to rule over the People.

The Ship of State” is a story which justifies this.

The story begins with a situation where you have a bunch of people who have a bunch of money. Nothing special about them except for their money. With their money, they buy a ship, which they own. They staff the ship with Sailors, and each sailor, they choose because that sailor has a specific skill, and are best suited to do the job (non-democratic)/ Yet, there is one sailor who we haven’t mentioned – the navigator. He uses celestial bodies for navigation (Looking at the stars in order to navigate). One thing Plato assumes when telling the story, is that because the purpose of the ship is to go from Point A to Point B, that means all ships have a destination. If it is not in the harbour and not going anywhere, it has become untied and is a problem.

So, he asks questions like, “Just because these people have lots of money, should they tell the navigator where to go?” No, because they don’t know. The Sailor’s don’t know either. Except, while the Sailor’s cannot tell the navigator what to do, he can tell them what to do, for he knows what will help them reach their destination. What is the destination of the state? JUSTICE.

For plato, the whole justice of the state is to move people into it.

Distributive justice: How money gets distributed.

Retributive Justice: How criminals are dealt with.

The sailor’s, says Plato, are politicians. This is a problem because politicians tend to make decisions outside of their sphere or excellence. What is the minister of Forestry doing trying to tell us about gay marriage?

They see their jobs as hierarchy, and are constantly trying to move up the scale.

The Navigator is the Philosopher, and the celestial bodies they see are the Forms (Forms:Justice)

The world of Forms (World of Ideals) is unseen, and in it, there is the perfect form of everything we can see in this world.

Take a table, for example. Plato might ask you 2 questions about this table

  1. Is this the most perfect table imaginable? No, not really. If we can say that, then Plato feels confident in concluding that we must have some idea of what he might call, “tableness” – The ideal form of the table. We couldn’t describe it or create it but we know it.

  2. This is a table, is a chair a table? No. How do we know? Function is part of it, though you can use some things as other things… The fact that we are able to recognize specific things under general categories shows that we have the ability to understand the general ideas of general things.

As a point of interest, Aristotle disagreed. He said you see specific things, then place them in categories.

We have specific examples of Justice and Injustice in the world, which we all recognize.

So, how do we explain then, the fact that we all can recognize these things in categories?

We can see the ideals, so we can steer our world closer to them.

What’s important for society is knowing the form of justice, because that means you can navigate that state towards the form of justice.

Who are the rich people (masses)? They have power in terms of numbers when it comes to how many people where there.

It doesn’t matter whether they have truth or education, as long as they realize they have strength in numbers.