Law, Justice, and Equity in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Berry, Matthew. “Law, Justice, and Equity in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics”, Boston College, 2016. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107190.
At the beginning of the fifth book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us that, according to common opinion, justice is lawful and fair. He concludes his examination of justice with a discussion of equity, which proves to be neither strictly lawful nor strictly fair—and yet Aristotle tells us that equity is, in a certain sense, the highest form of justice. This dissertation explains how Aristotle reaches this startling conclusion. I begin with an exploration of the careful taxonomy of justice that Aristotle lays out in the first half of book five. But Aristotle abruptly abandons this taxonomy midway through the book when he turns from the simply just to the politically just. For this reason and others, I argue that the second half of the book is not, as some have asserted, the application of the universal principles of justice to a political situation, but a new beginning and a fresh attempt to articulate the virtue of justice, free from the flaws we discover through a careful study of the first half of the book. Aristotle’s political justice takes its bearings from the health of a republican government, that is, a government of free and equal citizens. And yet political justice, like political courage, remains on the level of politics. Aristotle’s discussion of equity at the end of the book presents the virtuous form of justice, which corrects the flaws of justice as lawfulness and justice as fairness and permits justice to take its place in the economy of a noble human life.