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.



Locke On Jusitce



Locke’s view on justice has it’s grounds in his view of the state of nature. In Locke’s state of nature, their is a Law of Nature that extends to all people. It is based on the premise that all people come from god, and therefore have a right not to be harmed and an obligation not to harm others. Furthermore as it was god’s intention for us to thrive as a species, we should intend to survive as a group for as long as possible. This means that we have a duty to help others as long as it does not cause harm to ourselves.

In this state of nature, conflicts would initially be few and far between due to ample availability of goods. However with the invention of money,  Locke believes it became possible for people to stockpile excessive amounts of wealth without the risk of it spoiling. This led to a shortage of goods and therefore disputes and conflicts. With the presence of these conflicts, there came a need for a motive for people to obey the Law Of Nature. Locke’s solution to this problem is known as the “Executive Power of the Law of Nature”. As the law of nature applies to all people, everyone, not just the victim, has a right to punish those who transgress from it. Locke believes that this punishment should be “with so much severity as will suffice to make it an ill bargain to the offender, give him cause to repent, and terrifie others from doing the like” (Second Treatise S.12 p. 275 .)

So how does this view of justice in the state of nature affect those of us in a state? Locke’s view is that a state is actually formed when people delegate the Executive Power of the Law of Nature to a small group of people. He reasons that they would do this as squabbling over who transgressed from the Law Of Nature, and to what extent, would be a major source of conflict. Therefore it would be easier to impart this power to an impartial “judge”. Sound familiar?

Finally Locke believes “that all men are naturally in that state (of nature), and remain so, till by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society” (Locke, second treatise s.15, p. 278.) In other words, a person does not have to follow the ruling of a judge in a foreign state, unless they consent to being a member of the state. However Locke believes that tacit consent in sufficient to become a member of a foreign state. Therefore almost always the foreign judge will almost always have jurisdiction over the transgressor.