Justice as a Self-Regarding Virtue

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 82 (1):46–64

By Paul Bloomfield

Abstract: Justice has long stood out among the virtues as being an “other-regarding” virtue. As Michael Thompson writes, “The mark of this special virtue of human agents [justice], as Aristotle says, is that it is “toward another”, pros heteron or pros allon; it is, as St. Thomas says, ad alterum, or as Kant says, gegen einen Anderen.”1 Justice is conceived as being beneficial to others, as compared to courage, temperance, and wisdom, which are commonly thought of as “self-regarding”. It is easy to see how the so-called self-regarding virtues can be other-regarding: courageous heroes snatch others from the jaws of death, temperate parents raise well-tempered children, and wise people give the best advice. It is, of course, quite easy to see why justice is considered as other-regarding, for it is only the character trait of being a just person which reliably keeps us from taking advantage of others when we can get away with it. But seeing how being just benefits the just person has caused the greatest philosophical consternation: Simon Blackburn once wrote that resolving this set of issues is “the holy grail of moral philosophy”.2 Going back at least to Plato’s Republic, much of morality’s driving concern is if and how dealing fairly with others (dikaiosyne) can be in a person’s self-interest.3 More recently, but most succinctly, Philippa Foot has re-phrased Plato’s challenge: “if justice is not a good to the just man, moralists who recommend it as virtue are perpetrating a fraud.”4 And while moral theorists have worried that justice cannot justify itself, immoralists, like Thrasymachus, Machiavelli, or Nietzsche, and all those claiming to be in possession of realpolitik, claim either that justice is “the interest of the stronger” or that we really need not be fair to everyone, that not everyone deserves equal consideration. These immoralists claim that justice works against happiness by requiring sacrifice to self-interest, and that the courageous, wise, and clever way to be, the way to best preserve one’s self-respect and happiness, is to act as if one were just but to take what one wants when one can, without (much or any) regard for others. The present goal is to answer this challenge by showing how justice benefits the just person, how being just is in fact a prerequisite of genuine self-respect. At the very least, the burden of proof will shift from the innocent shoulders of the defenders of justice to those of the detractors of justice: the latter’s position being shown to require them to defend the unlikely idea that being happy is consistent with lacking self-respect. The traditional problem can be solved by bringing together the ancient Greek understanding of happiness, or possessing well-being or flourishing (eudaimonia) and a modern, Kantian notion of self-respect.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Thursday, April 7, 2011 by agomberg
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