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  • Daniel Vargas

How a Stoic lives through Justice

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just." - Marcus Aurelius

Have you fellow Stoics seen the Zac Snyder cut of Justice League yet? Pretty awesome movie, I am a little disappointed that I didn't hear Batman say Justice! The Batman with Robert Pattinson’s coming out will be saying Vengeance instead so it may be a while before we hear it again.

Anyway, the quick tangent was related to what Marcus Aurelius would say, Justice being the most important virtue. While I went into a little detail in a previous podcast, today’s episode will go into more detail. With the state of the world being in a position of seeking Justice in all ways, I know it is important to understand the wisdom behind Justice, how we navigate it and how we as Stoics apply Stoic principles to Justice.

For starters, Justice is the virtue of fairness. There is this concept of symmetry at the core of what Justice means. Symmetry being “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, and the scales of lady justice all seek to restore the balance. This idea of fair exchange is just an appeal to symmetry.

Abusing power is an asymmetrical relationship, and is typically the cause of injustice. A shift in power, including state sponsored sentencing or home-grown revenge is often used as an attempt to restore justice.

Being that we live in a civil society, there is a system in place that remedies or attempts to prevent loss. This is why many legal constructs are intended to prevent loss. For example, traffic regulation prevents traffic accidents. Contracts help clarify expectations and avoid misunderstandings about an impending transaction. When a loss occurs, steps are taken to remedy the loss. Returning stolen goods, paying fines, or imposing some pain or suffering on the offender intended to be equivalent to the pain inflicted on the victim.

This symmetry demanded by justice affirms the inherent equality of all people. Much of what we deem as just stems from the theory of universal law, or universal morale. Some theories sprang about such as Utilitarianism, being an ethical theory holding that proper action should be taken when those actions maximize the overall “good” for the greatest number of individuals. Libertarianism, being a political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society.

Alongside these theories, we also got amazing works that much of the US utilizes such as that of John Locke, a philosopher who argued that individuals have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and property. Philosopher Immanuel Kant advocated a strict concept of freedom, based on the concept of autonomy - acting according to the laws which you give yourself. This is not to be confused with the political system Anarchy. Kant also argued that this strict moral freedom should be deemed moral if done with a good motive.

Kant objects to considering humans only as a means to an end, and believes humans are an end to themselves. This is the origin of the respect and dignity people intrinsically deserve. Aristotle believed justice requires giving people their due; what they deserve. He used reasoning - reasoning from the goal or purpose - to best allocate scarce resources. For example, the best flutes should be given to the best flute players since the goal is for the flutes to be played well.

The Stoics felt Justice was the most important of all because justice influences all the others. In fact modern acts of justice were done in the name and led by Stoicism. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were moved by the Stoics to create a new nation free from any other nation’s influence. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a translator of Epictetus, led a black regiment of troops during the Civil War. Countless other people took the Stoic virtue of justice to heart and believed the power of the individual to make positive change.

Justice is most powerful when used with all the other virtues and is also influenced by all other virtues. A reason we need to act courageously is for the justice of your fellow man or yourself. Moderation is realized as a necessity when the imbalance of justice occurs. Lastly, wisdom is needed to take proper action to ensure justice is taken. Something that can break the balance of justice is often a misuse of the other virtues. You see, wisdom and moderation being two of the most important drivers of Justice must be used to understand and make decisions not for here and now, but for future generations too. But how can we make proper decisions that honor tomorrow? We can answer this question by going back to the beginning of the episode, this ideal of balance, an eye for an eye. Very simple concept but does this help balance what was lost? We don't live in a barbaric society and we can agree that many people act more irrationally than rationally. Especially when emotions are on the rise. This is a reality that we can't escape.

What is another reality? We cannot change the past. Punishing people today for crimes committed a generation ago does not balance the imbalance. In cases like this we should look to social improvements such as equality, respect and current justice. We would dishonor our future by opening up old wounds that no longer impact us the way they impacted the generations before us. Oftentimes with social justice we must remember that people have sacrificed their lives for the improvements to society today, opening up the wounds that no longer impact today don't inherently resolve that level of hurt. It only serves to imbalance the power and thus promote injustice for a group that had nothing to do with the past other than be the bloodline. This direction would be barbaric.

Back to my original question, how can we make proper decisions around justice that also honor tomorrow? Well, in some cases, forgiveness also provides the greatest justice for the past and benefits the future. In all other cases, remember to make wise and calculated decisions on actions that would benefit everyone, not just your group, not just your feelings. The purpose of justice, to take action that benefits the maximized number of people.

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