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every external good and thereby largely undisturbed by the sway of
fortune to which they are naturally exposed (NE 1124a13“16). He is
eager to aid another, but typically declines aid because it belongs to
his virtue “to be in need of no one or scarcely so” (NE 1124b17“18).
He also tends not to dwell upon past evils or to hold grudges; he is not
given to ¬‚attery or complaints; and he is little concerned with pro¬t
or utility (NE 1125c3“5; cf. 1124b12“15; 1125a9“10, 11“12). His very
deportment re¬‚ects his self-possession: He moves slowly, and his voice
is deep and steady, “for the one who takes few things seriously is not
prone to haste and the one to whom nothing is great is not excitable”
(NE 1125a12“16).
Indeed, as several commentators have noted, there is a gentle mea-
sure of caricature in Aristotle™s portrait of the magnanimous man
so that we may rightly wonder whether this portrait is in part a ¬c-
tion rather than a representation of an actual human being.18 This
suspicion might begin to be allayed by the fact that magnanimity is
the only virtue for which Aristotle offers examples “ except that nei-
ther of the examples is of a single great man: The ¬rst example is
Zeus, and the second, the Athenians (NE 1124b15“17). The unusual
step of adducing examples, that is, would seem to corroborate our
suspicion.
But what, then, are we to learn from this somewhat ¬ctionalized
peak of virtue? Is this ¬ction, as commentators have argued, intended
as a critique of the magnanimous man™s overweening ambition or of


17 In reconciling self-suf¬ciency with magnanimity as a civic virtue, Hanley admittedly
downplays the magnanimous man™s idleness and aloofness (“Aristotle on the Great-
ness of the Greatness of Soul,” pp. 10, 13, 15“19).
18 Howland, “Aristotle™s Great-Souled Man,” pp. 31“3; Arnhart “Statesmanship as
Magnanimity,” pp. 265“7; Hardie, “Magnanimity in Aristotle™s Ethics,” Phronesis: A
Journal for Ancient Philosophy 23 (1978), p. 74; Joachim, Aristotle, p. 125; Burnet, The
“Ethics” of Aristotle, pp. 179, 181.
Magnanimity and Virtue as the Highest Good 63

his error with respect to his true self-suf¬ciency?19 In the ¬rst place,
Aristotle™s portrait of magnanimity and of the magnanimous man™s
elevation of virtue to the place of the highest human good represents
the fullest expression of virtue as an independent end. For in contrast
to the courageous man, who still distinguishes virtue as an end from
his own “greatest goods,” the magnanimous man now wholly identi¬es
virtue as the greatest of his goods. This identi¬cation is the logical com-
pletion of the morally serious human being™s devotion to virtue, with
the result that all other goods, including life itself, diminish in signif-
icance. In contrast to courage, then, magnanimity represents a more
perfect if still problematic union of self-awareness and self-forgetting.
Although the magnanimous man will not take small risks, as inappro-
priate to his greatness, he will take great risks, and when he does so, “he
is unsparing of his life, on the grounds that living is not at all worth-
while” (NE 1124b6“9).20 Indeed, Aristotle is intent on drawing our
attention to the fact that to the magnanimous man, for whom virtue
is best, “nothing is great,” a phrase repeated three times. This sense of
the insigni¬cance of all but virtue supports the magnanimous man™s
disinclination to act basely or unjustly: “for the sake of what does he
do shameful things, he to whom nothing is great?” (NE 1123b31“2).
Except when a great honor or work appropriate to his virtue is at stake,
his singular dedication to virtue makes him tend toward inaction and
idleness (NE 1124b24“6). The magnanimous man is unlikely even to
¬ll the time in study or thought: Since “nothing is great to him,” he
is “not given to wonder” (NE 1125a2). In short, the “activity” of mag-
nanimity, about which there is much debate, could be described most
simply as the magnanimous man™s self-contemplation of his own great
virtue.21

19 Smith, Revaluing Ethics, p. 116“21; Howland, “Aristotle™s Great-Souled Man,” pp. 32,
46“9; Tessitore, Reading Aristotle™s “Ethics,” pp. 31“5; MacIntyre, Dependent Rational
Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago: Open Court, 1999), p. 127.
20 In contrast to my translation ”living is not at all worthwhile,” most translators render
this ¬nal phrase as ”living at any cost is not worthwhile.” The Greek admits of both,
but I have chosen the former translation because it makes sense of the suggestion
that the magnanimous man is reckless with (apheidein) his life. See also Aspasius,
Commentaria, 212.
21 Gauthier contends, for example, that the activity of the magnanimous man is philos-
ophy (Magnanimit´: L™ideal de la grandeur dans la Philosophie Pa¨enne et dans la Th´ologie
e ± e
Chr´tienne [Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1951], pp. 55“118), Jaffa argues
e
that it is largely political (Thomism and Aristotelianism, pp. 134“8), and Aspasius
Citizen Virtue and the Longing for the Noble
64

But Aristotle thus shows that in reaching its peak in magnanimity,
moral virtue also reaches an impasse that re¬‚ects the abstraction from
the requirements and concerns of justice. For even if most things are
not worth doing, let alone pondering, at this high point of virtue, the
greatest and noblest of actions “ the great risks on behalf of which
the magnanimous man is willing to throw away his very life “ remain
most choiceworthy. As Aristotle will insist in Book IX, the serious man
(spoudaios) would prefer “to live nobly for one year than lead an indif-
ferent existence for many, and to do one great and noble deed than
many insigni¬cant ones” (NE 1169a22“5; cf. the account of Dion at
Pol. 1312a21“39). And, as we have seen, the action of the virtues from
courage through magnanimity issues from an admirable longing on
the part of the virtuous person to exercise his virtue. Even in the face
of death on the battle¬eld, the truly courageous man longs to perform
a courageous deed, and at the peak of the virtues, the magnanimous
man will “throw away” his life in a great deed that accords with his great
virtue. Yet, in the absence of the necessary “resources,” the longing
for noble action that distinguishes the morally serious human being
requires him either to remain idle or to acquire the means to exercise
his virtue.22
The problem that this choice presents has already been pointed to
by Aristotle™s discussion of liberality: The means to the greatest scope
of noble action are open only to the tyrant. In explicitly confronting
this problem in his introduction to the best regime in the Politics,
Aristotle suggests that it might indeed cause us to wonder whether, for
the person who loves noble action, “having authority over all is best,
for in this way one would have authority over the greatest number and
noblest of actions” (Pol. 1325a34“7). The argument Aristotle marshals
in support of this view insists that the only clearsighted course for the
one who believes that the most choiceworthy life is the life of noble


suggests that it is perhaps theology (Commentaria, 114). Stewart observes that “he
[the magnanimous man] ˜contemplates™ the kosmos or beautiful harmony of his own
nature, and allows nothing external to it to dominate his thought or conduct,” but
he then insists also that the magnanimous man “is a man of the highest speculative
power” (Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, I.336“7).
22 Compare Smith, Revaluing Ethics, pp. 118“19, who, following from his criticism of
magnanimity, argues that the magnanimous man™s idleness is a kind of “sloth” that
points up the emptiness of a life devoted to “virtue-as-virility” and honor.
Magnanimity and Virtue as the Highest Good 65

action is to forgo all obligations of justice, and even of family and
friendship, in order to rule over others (Pol. 1325a36“41).23
But as Aristotle also indicates in the discussion of liberality and
explicates more fully in the Politics, this argument leaves the virtuous
person in a terrible quandary. Obtaining the conditions of his own
activity will require deviations from virtue that he could never make
up for later. In particular, the one who would seek the greatest scope
of noble action would need to deviate so far from justice “ in wresting
rule from those who possess it and who may have an equal claim to
it “ as to degrade his own virtue. For justice too is a virtue; it is, more
importantly, the other complete virtue, understood as “the sum of the
virtues” and as “directed toward another” (NE 1129b29“33).
Aristotle™s complex picture of moral virtue is made still more com-
plex by the presence of two complete virtues. Magnanimity is in part
a ¬ction because it wishes for a self-suf¬ciency and superiority that
abstracts from the demands and concerns of justice.24 Indeed, the
magnanimous man demands as virtue™s prize the honor that Aristotle
reserves in Book I for the truly self-suf¬cient and divine things: the
gods and happiness (NE 1101b13“27, b35“1102a4). By contrast, as
human beings, we live in community with others, and our perfection
must therefore also take account of justice “ as a matter of moral or
right action and not simply, as current students of Aristotle emphasize,
of our happiness or ¬‚ourishing.25 Aristotle indicates that even in the
case of less than perfect regimes, the weight of law and the importance
of the common good are such that some consideration of justice must
be made (NE 1128b21“6, 1129b11“19, 1134a24“32; Pol. 1253a30“9,
1269a12“24, 1276b27“35, 1282b14“18). Yet, as he also suggests in

23 Here the discussion of magnanimity in the Eudemian Ethics is illuminating: The mag-
nanimous man would be pained not only by being dishonored, especially by other
good men, but also by being “ruled by someone unworthy” (EE 1132b10“14). See
also Posterior Analytics 97b15“20 and Jaffa, Thomism and Aristotelianism, pp. 122“3,
128“130.
24 Contrary to the suggestions of Howland (“Aristotle™s Great-Souled Man,” pp. 46“9)
and Tessitore (Reading Aristotle™s “Ethics,” pp. 31“5), the horizon within which Aristotle
is critical of magnanimity is not “true greatness of soul” understood as philosophy, but
moral virtue itself. Thus, the magnanimous man™s error is not primarily intellectual “
an error of reasoning “ but moral, and can be described as a deep tension between
his love of virtue for its own sake and the considerations that attend justice.
25 Compare Smith, Revaluing Ethics, pp. 153, 211“16, 225“9; Howland, “Aristotle™s Great-
Souled Man,” pp. 50“3; Ward, “Nobility and Necessity,” pp. 80“2.
Citizen Virtue and the Longing for the Noble
66

the Politics, perhaps there is one regime “ the best “ in which the
virtues of the good man will coincide with those of the good citizen
(Pol. 1278b1“5). To formulate this possibility in terms of justice: In
the best case, perhaps our full moral perfection is truly to be found in
community with others and in action “toward the good of another.”
Aristotle™s discussion of the second completion of virtue explores the
full scope of this possibility and, in doing so, confronts the problem
of its limits.
3

Justice as a Virtue




As a principle of the political order, justice is the focus of much scrutiny
in contemporary political theory, yet even among neo-Aristotelians,
little attention is paid to justice as a characteristic or virtue of the indi-
vidual.1 Aristotle, by contrast, begins his inquiry by emphasizing that
justice is like the other virtues in constituting a characteristic that dis-
poses us to act well, namely, “to do just things, act justly, and wish just


1 Thomas Smith and David O™Connor are exceptions that prove the rule and share
much common ground with one another; see Smith™s Revaluing Ethics: Aristotle™s Dialec-
tical Pedagogy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001) and O™Connor™s “The
Aetiology of Justice” in Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Thought, eds.
Carnes Lord and David O™Connor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
My argument will diverge on several important points, not the least of which is the
question of justice as a perfection. Pierre Aubenque takes up some aspects of justice
as a virtue, but ¬nally offers a modern, even Christian, rendering of isonomia as “equal
dignity” grounded in “the logos inscribed on [human] essence” (Pierre Aubenque,
“The Twofold Natural Foundation of Justice According to Aristotle,” in Aristotle and
Moral Realism, ed. Robert Heinamen [Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995], p. 38).
Bernard Williams looks at the question of “motives” instead of “characteristics,” argu-
ing that Aristotle erred in attempting to tie acts of injustice to character traits (“Justice
as a Virtue” in Essays on Aristotle™s “Ethics,” ed. Am´ lie Oksenberg Rorty. [Berkeley: Uni-
e
versity of California Press 1980], p. 194). As for the school of virtue ethics, Rosalind
Hursthouse™s comment is informative: “An obvious gap [in On Virtue Ethics (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999)] is the topic of justice, both as a personal virtue and as
the central topic in political philosophy. . . . Although I acknowledge the existence of
the gap, it would be premature to assume that this gap cannot be ¬lled. In their intro-
duction to Virtue Ethics, Crisp and Slote, admitting that virtue ethics needs to meet
the challenge . . . look forward to the day when there will be an ˜Oxford Readings in
Virtue Politics™” (pp. 6“7).

67
Justice as a Virtue
68

things” (NE 1129a3“11). His ¬rst task, then, is to examine justice as a
virtue that constitutes our perfection. The immediate complication is
that justice has two meanings that are similar but not the same: “the
lawbreaker is thought to be unjust,” but so too is “the one who takes
more than his share [pleonekt¯s] and is unfair [lit. “unequal,” anisos]”
e
(NE 1129a32“4). In short, justice may mean either “lawfulness” or
“fairness,” alternatives that Aristotle classi¬es under the respective
headings of general and particular justice (NE 1129a34“b1). Accord-
ingly, there exist two different, though related, characteristics in the
case of justice. General justice as lawfulness is complete virtue, under-
stood as the sum of all the virtues directed toward the good of
another (NE 1129b26“30). Particular justice as fairness is the proper
disposition concerning the good things “ security, money, and
honor “ in which all who belong to the political community must
share (NE 1130a32“b5).2
In exploring the full range of justice as a virtue, Aristotle addresses
the question raised by magnanimity: whether the devotion to the com-
mon good can be reconciled in the best case with the dedication to
one™s perfection in virtue simply. The limits of justice in this regard
¬rst become apparent in the discussion of particular justice. In brief,
the requirements of particular justice understood as fairness prove to
be grounded in a standard other than the one that Aristotle himself
establishes as that by which an individual ought to choose the good
things. This standard is one™s true bene¬t or harm “ in the best case,
the possession and activity of the virtues that pertain to the good things
simply. One ought to choose the goods that contribute to one™s perfec-
tion in this sense and avoid those that are detrimental (NE 1129b3“6;
see also 1124a26“31). Aristotle™s discussion of particular justice shows
that, in contrast to the other virtues, justice as a mean is not de¬ned
in relation to our good condition or perfection, but in terms of a

2 I employ the usual English translations, “general” and “particular” justice, but Kraut
objects: “Many scholars call justice as lawfulness ˜universal™ or ˜general™ justice, and
justice as equality ˜particular™ or ˜special™ justice. I ¬nd these tags misleading, and
prefer to describe Aristotle™s distinction as one between a broad and narrow sense
of the word. To speak of one type of justice as ˜universal™ or ˜general™ and the
other as ˜particular™ or ˜special™ might suggest that the former is observed in all or
most communities, whereas the latter is more restrictive. But that is not at all what
Aristotle™s distinction is meant to suggest” (Aristotle: Political Philosophy [Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2002], p. 102, n. 6.)
Justice as the Lawful 69

principle of equality that establishes what is equal or fair in relation
to the common good and that accords with the equality constituting
the “regime” (politeia). For this reason, Aristotle will settle the question
of justice as a virtue only after he has investigated the “proportionate
reciprocity” at the origin of the political community. After setting forth
Aristotle™s accounts of general and particular justice as perfections, I
turn to his discussion of reciprocity for the light it sheds on the limits
of justice as a virtue.


justice as the lawful
General justice is complete virtue in being all the virtues “summed up
in one” and “directed toward another,” and complete virtue in this
sense is properly understood as justice ¬rst in its connection with the
law (NE 1129b26“30).3 As Aristotle observes, “all the lawful things
are somehow just” not only because they have been “laid down by
the lawgiver” but, more importantly, because they have a comprehen-
sive scope and end: The laws “make pronouncements on everything,”
and they seek the common advantage, understood in terms of the
variety of regimes as “the advantage for all in common or for the
best or for those who hold power in accord with virtue or in some
other such way” (NE 1129b14“17). Complete virtue is justice, then,
because the law commands the deeds of virtue and forbids bad acts
in order to “produce and preserve happiness and its parts for the
political community” (NE 1129b17“19). With this end in view, for
example, the law commands courage in requiring that soldiers not
break ranks in battle; moderation, in prohibiting adultery or outrage;
and gentleness, in forbidding assault or slander (NE 1129b19“24).4

3 See again NE 1138a5“11. Grant observes: “The view given here of law, which is
expressed still more strongly below, ch. xi § 1, is quite different from modern views.
Law is here represented as a positive system . . . aiming at the regulation of the whole
of life” (The “Ethics” of Aristotle, 2 vols. [New York: Arno Press, 1973], II.101“2).
4 For recent liberal versions of the virtues understood in terms of the regime, com-
pare Galston™s account (Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State
[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991], pp. 213“327) with that of Macedo
(Liberal Virtues [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 265“77). See also Berkowitz™s
discussion of the relation between liberalism and virtue in Virtue and the Making
of Modern Liberalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), especially
chs. 1“4, and Salkever, Finding the Mean: Theory and Practice in Aristotelian Political
Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 178“90. In “Justice and
Justice as a Virtue
70

The law thus strives to instill all the virtues or general justice in every
citizen.
The orientation of general justice toward another constitutes its
unique power “ ”justice alone of the virtues is thought to be the good
of another” (NE 1130a3“5; my emphasis) “ and as a result of its ori-
entation, justice attracts very high praise as “the greatest [kratist¯ ] of
e
the virtues” (NE 1129b27“9). Indeed, the case for justice as the best
or highest of the virtues is the one Aristotle offers here. Citizenship in
a community means that any action, including a virtuous action, has
a dual aspect: It can be understood from the point of view of either
one™s own perfection or another™s bene¬t. Justice would appear to be
the most complete of the virtues, then, because, in obvious contrast
to the pride and self-suf¬ciency of magnanimity, it comprises both the
sum of the virtues and the “use” of this perfection in its orientation
toward the good of another.5 General justice, by this account, con-
stitutes both another™s good and our true perfection, a conclusion
Aristotle encourages in saying that virtue and justice are the same, but
“in their being [to einai],” they differ: “in being in relation to another,
it [the characteristic] is justice, but in being a certain characteristic
simply, virtue” (NE 1130a10“13).6
The tenor of Aristotle™s account of general justice becomes clearer
in light of the attack on justice to which it alludes: the attack by
the sophist Thrasymachus in Plato™s Republic. Thrasymachus attaches
blame to justice understood as the advantage of another, arguing that
justice is simply the advantage of the stronger: the ruling group that
establishes laws for its own advantage and then declares that it is just
for the ruled to obey them (Republic 338c“339a). In celebrating the
greatness of justice understood as “another™s good,” Aristotle recalls
Bias™s saying that “ruling will show the man [an¯r]” (NE 1130a1“2); it
e


the Dilemma of Moral Virtue” (Aristotle and Modern Politics: The Persistence of Political
Philosophy, ed. Aristide Tessitore [Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press,
2002], pp. 105“29), I offer a general comparison of Aristotle and contemporary lib-
eral thought on the question of virtue and justice.
5 See Aquinas, Commentary on the “Nicomachean Ethics,” 2 vols., trans. C. I. Litzinger
(Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964), I:910: “The law-abiding just man is most
virtuous and legal justice is the most perfect of the virtues.”
6 This is a notoriously dif¬cult statement in the Nicomachean Ethics. For further discus-
sion, see Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1892), I.401, and O™Connor, “The Aetiology of Justice,” p. 141). See also Smith
on equity (Revaluing Ethics, pp. 151“5).
Justice as Fairness 71

will show the man in the best sense as one who is “a guardian of the just”
and not, as Thrasymachus recommends, as a tyrant (NE 1134b1“8).7
Far from condemning justice as the advantage of another, Aristotle
distinguishes between the best and worst human beings in a manner
heavily weighted on the side of justice: “the one who uses wickedness
both toward himself and toward his friends is the worst, but the best is
the one who uses virtue not toward himself but toward another, for this
is a dif¬cult task” (NE 1130a5“8). By identifying the best of actions with
de¬nitively just acts at the same time as he singles out the dif¬culty of
such acts, Aristotle captures a side of justice that Thrasymachus™s attack
obscures. Justice does indeed require us to act with a view to another™s
good, and this is exactly why it is admired.
Having bestowed such praise on general justice, Aristotle turns to
particular justice, which he tells us is the true focus of our investigation
(NE 1130a14, 1130b18“20). Like the other virtues, particular justice is
a part of the law and so of general justice: It is therefore its own perfec-
tion as a virtue and a part of that complete virtue commanded by the
law with a view to the common advantage (NE 1130b8“16). Like gen-
eral justice, however, particular justice is also distinguished from the
other virtues in having its speci¬c character de¬ned by its orientation
“toward another,” and the investigation of particular justice begins to
illuminate the problematic consequence of this orientation for justice
as a mean and a virtue.


justice as fairness
Whereas commentators who treat particular justice in the Nicomachean
Ethics tend to focus on its technical terms “ the proportional equalities
of its two forms, commutative and distributive justice “ Aristotle™s own
¬rst order of business is to prove that particular justice is in fact like
the other virtues in being a characteristic and a speci¬c perfection.8

7 See also NE 1125b11“14 as well as Republic 359b1. As Aristotle notes, the ruler is thus
the “guardian of the just,” but as a result, “there seems to be nothing left for him” (NE
1134b1“3).
8 Smith, Tessitore, and O™Connor tend either to focus on general as opposed to partic-
ular justice or to collapse the discussion of particular justice into the consideration of
general justice. See Smith, Revaluing Ethics; Tessitore, Reading Aristotle™s “Ethics”: Virtue,
Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996); and
O™Connor, “The Aetiology of Justice.”
Justice as a Virtue
72

His very efforts in this direction suggest room for doubt, and his case
in favor of this view begins to bring out the dif¬culties with partic-
ular justice. He argues that certain bad actions, even some that may
appear to issue from a vice other than injustice, actually stem from
the desire “to get the larger share” (NE 1130a16“22). The coward may
¬‚ee from danger, for example, a stingy person may begrudge a loan,
or an immoderate human being may commit adultery. But none who
act from these speci¬c vices do so with a view to pro¬t or gain strictly
speaking; indeed, they may even suffer a loss as a result of their deeds
(NE 1130a24“8). By contrast, the one who is unjust in wanting more
of the good things without consideration for others would do all these
same deeds simply from the desire for gain. Particular justice is thus
distinguished both from the other virtues and from complete justice as
the perfection that pertains speci¬cally to gain (NE 1130a24“5, 32“3).
As virtues that both “possess their power in being in relation to
another,” general and particular justice are similar, but as the perfec-
tion pertaining to gain, particular justice consists more narrowly in the
proper disposition toward the goods of another (NE 1130a32“b5). The
just human being in this sense stands in relation to another in being
disposed to take only his own fair or equal portion of the goods that
human beings necessarily share as members of the same political com-
munity (NE 1130b4). The crucial question for particular justice, then,
is how to de¬ne the equality in accord with which one must choose,
and it is in connection with this question that the difference between
justice and the other virtues begins to emerge.
The formal de¬nition of particular justice is offered in Aristotle™s
discussion of its two kinds: distributive and commutative justice.
Aristotle presents a mathematical account of these equalities, each
of which involves a minimum of four terms: the shares of the good to
be allotted and the persons to whom these shares are to be assigned
(NE 1131a15“20). Distributive justice is concerned with equality in the
distribution of the common goods understood as “honor, money, or
any of the good things of which there is a part for those who share in
the regime” (NE 1130b30“2), and it employs a geometric proportion
to measure all the terms of the equation because it assigns goods in
accord with a principle with which “everyone” agrees, which is merit
or desert (NE 1131a25“6). Commutative justice pertains to contracts
or transactions, “voluntary and involuntary,” and because it is blind to
Justice as Fairness 73

the differences with respect to merit, it employs an arithmetical pro-
portion to restore the parties involved in an unjust transaction to the
correct equality by compensating the plaintiff and imposing a penalty
(or punishment, z¯mia) on the wrongdoer (NE 1131b32“1132a18).9
e
The crucial difference between justice and the other virtues
emerges, then, as Aristotle links the assignment of the equal in particu-
lar justice with the de¬nition of justice as a mean and virtue. For the just
mean represents not our good condition with respect to two extremes,
de¬ciency and excess, but the principle of equality established by law
in relation to which the excess and the de¬ciency “ taking more and
receiving less than this equality “ are then de¬ned (NE 1131a10“15).
Moreover, in its distributive form, this equality is the object of a dispute
that points to the problematic signi¬cance ¬rst of distributive justice
and ¬nally of the regime in de¬ning justice as a mean and a virtue
(cf. NE 1130b30“2). For, Aristotle acknowledges, there exist deep divi-
sions concerning what constitutes desert or merit in the distribution
of the common goods: “democrats say it is freedom; oligarchs, wealth;
others, noble birth; aristocrats, virtue” (NE 1131a27“9). The “¬ghts
and accusations” that break out when there is a perceived inequality
extend not only to the distribution of security, money, and honor (NE
1131a22“4), but also, as Aristotle will indicate in his discussion of reci-
procity, to the regime itself as the de¬ning distributive principle of the
political community. As the distribution of ruling of¬ces determined
by the authoritative element of the city and by the end for the sake of
which this element rules, the regime re¬‚ects the fundamental equality
in accord with which one is just (Pol. 1278b10“15, 1279a25“1279b10).
Aristotle leaves the full resolution of the dispute connected with
ruling of¬ces to his Politics (Pol. 1280a7ff.), but his discussion of reci-
procity points to the necessary and problematic role of the regime in
establishing justice as a mean and a virtue. As Aristotle™s ¬nal step in
clarifying the limits of justice in this regard, this discussion also begins
to illuminate a tension within moral virtue between the two ends that
demand our devotion as morally serious human beings: the common
good, on the one hand, and our perfection in virtue as an end in itself,
on the other.

9 On the question of the assessment of this penalty, see Burnet, The “Ethics” of Aristotle
(London: Metheun & Co., 1900), pp. 218“9.
Justice as a Virtue
74

reciprocity and the regime
Aristotle™s discussion of reciprocity presents itself largely as an analysis
of the conditions for economic exchange necessary for the common
life of individuals seeking the good. Yet this analysis also raises the
more fundamental question concerning the foundation of political
rule.10 While rejecting the “Pythagorean” view that simple reciprocity
(or “retaliation,” antipeponthos) “ suffering what one has done to
another “ is justice, Aristotle insists that a certain proportionate reci-
procity is necessary if human beings are to come together in a political
association (NE 1132b21“34). There is the necessity of “exchange”
in the case of both evils and goods, since if people cannot requite
evil for evil, they are regarded as slaves, and without an exchange of
goods, there is no community (NE 1132b34“1133a2). Accordingly,
reciprocity in the form of an original equality among individuals must
exist if a community is to exist. Indeed, this equality, however it is
ultimately elaborated, is the ground of law, since law is natural only
among those “for whom there is equality in ruling and being ruled”
(NE 1134b14“15).
Now, in the case of economic exchange, the natural standard by
which goods are valued is “need,” and the “measure” “ the term
that represents need, makes the value of goods comparable, and acts
as a “guarantee of future exchange” “ is, by general agreement or

10 Even the most careful treatments of justice devote little attention to Aristotle™s discus-
sion of reciprocity. See D. G. Ritchie™s “Aristotle™s Subdivisions of Particular Justice,”
The Classical Review 8 (May 1894): 185“93, on ill-conceived efforts to absorb the discus-
sion of reciprocity into the accounts of commutative and distributive justice. Miller
brie¬‚y surveys efforts of this kind (Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle™s “Politics”
[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995], p. 73, n. 14). Keyt is correct in noting that
“distributive justice for Aristotle is concerned primarily with the distribution of polit-
ical authority (politik¯ arch¯ ) and only secondarily with the distribution of wealth”
e e
(David Keyt, “Aristotle™s Theory of Distributive Justice” in A Companion to Aristotle™s
“Politics,” eds. David Keyt and Fred D. Miller, Jr. [Oxford: Blackwell, 1991]). But this
fact is made clear in particular in his discussion of proportionate reciprocity. In A
Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2005), Frank emphasizes the voluntary nature of economic relations in Aris-
totle™s discussion of reciprocity in order to argue for a notion of “reciprocal justice”
that will lead to “social harmony” and even “friendship” among classes, but while
Aristotle af¬rms the importance of economic exchange in uniting a political com-
munity, he also points to the necessity of equality in the capacity to requite evil for
evil “ an aspect of reciprocity that largely drops out of Frank™s analysis (see especially
pp. 83“92).
Reciprocity and Regime 75

convention, money (NE 1133a19“31, 1133b10“12). By equalizing
goods in this manner, money thus makes possible a relation of
exchange that, as the ground of a common advantage and life, holds
the community together as a community. But every political associa-
tion must agree also on the distribution of political goods, the most
fundamental of which are ruling of¬ces. The arrangement of these
of¬ces is determined by the distributive principle with which everyone
agrees: to each in accord with merit. Not need but merit, then, estab-
lishes commensurability, and honor, not money, is the currency when
it comes to the distribution of political of¬ces (cf. Pol. 1278b8“17,
1279a22“32, 1280a7“21, 1281a28“39).
In determining what or who is to be honored in the matter of rul-
ing, however, we are thrown back on the dispute over what constitutes
merit: freedom, wealth, noble birth, or virtue. With respect to the ques-
tion of rule, the ¬ghts and accusations that break out concerning the
distribution of shares are the most pressing issue for justice, as Aristotle
reveals in the example he offers as evidence against the Pythagorean
view that simple reciprocity is justice. For if a ruler strikes one who
is ruled, the ruler should not be struck in return; if the reverse were
to happen, however, then the one who is ruled should not only be
struck in return but “punished in addition” (NE 1132b28“30).11 As
this example pointedly recalls, justice must preserve rule and account
for the compulsion and punishment necessary for ensuring the obedi-
ence to law. In acknowledging the necessity for such coercion, in fact,
Aristotle draws our attention to his general reticence to speak of force
and punishment throughout the account of justice. His mathematical
treatment of distributive and commutative justice not only downplays
the dispute over rule but also virtually ignores the role of anger and
retribution in the punishment of harms.12 Even as he acknowledges
the need for the “exchange of evil for evil” in his analysis of propor-
tionate reciprocity, he focuses on the exchange of goods and thereby


11 As Aquinas remarks, “Obviously, worse damage is done when someone strikes a ruler,
by reason of the fact that injury is done not only to the person of the ruler but also
the whole commonweal” (Commentary, I:960). See also Burnet, The “Ethics” of Aristotle,
p. 224.
12 See Delba Winthrop, “Aristotle and Theories of Justice,” American Political Science
Review 72 (December 1978), pp. 1203“4, and Ritchie, “Aristotle™s Subdivisions of
Particular Justice,” p. 190.
Justice as a Virtue
76

on the more voluntary pursuits that bring human beings together in
community. Nevertheless, the role of reciprocity at the origin of the
political community reminds us that justice involves an agreement or
convention concerning the most fundamental question of rule, and
even Aristotle™s studied avoidance of the issue of force cannot fully
cover over the partly compulsory character of this “agreement” and
so of the de¬ning principle of the political community, the regime, in
accord with which justice is a mean and a virtue.
Once he has clari¬ed the origin of the political community in pro-
portionate reciprocity, Aristotle acknowledges that justice is not a mean
with respect to two vices. Rather, justice “belongs to a mean,” and the
person whose “choice accords with the just” is one who “does not
assign more of the choiceworthy to himself and less to his neighbor, or
the reverse of harm, but assigns equal shares in accord with proportion”
(NE 1134a1“6; my emphasis). As a characteristic and a part of general
justice, therefore, particular justice disposes a person to abide by the
mean established in law, and the law itself accords with the equality
consistent with the common advantage of those who “share in the
regime” (cf. NE 1130b30“2).


justice and the dual ends of moral virtue
In light of the conclusion that the just choice accords with the mean
established in law and more fundamentally the regime, we are now in a
position to consider the status of justice with respect to the other stan-
dard for choice pointed to by Aristotle. This standard was the good “
in the best case, the possession and activity of virtue. In the best case,
that is, it would seem that one ought to choose the things necessary
for the perfection of one™s character and the exercise of virtue. Yet
the dif¬culty now appears to be that the requirements of the good
in this sense would entail particular injustice. For the law must also
meet another standard: It must care for the common advantage and
therefore require that we abide by the mean established by distribu-
tive and commutative justice for the sake of the common advantage.
Aristotle™s analysis of justice as a virtue has therefore raised the question
of whether, even in the best case, the law can reconcile the two ends
to which it demands our devotion as morally serious human beings:
Justice and the Dual Ends of Moral Virtue 77

the common good, on the one hand, and our perfection in virtue as
an end in itself, on the other.13
Aristotle proposed a preliminary answer to this dif¬cult question
in his discussion of particular justice as a characteristic: Justice is the
speci¬c perfection that pertains to the desire for gain (see again NE
1130a16“32). To choose in accord with the just and the law, by this
account, is to act in accord with the virtue with respect to gain. But
in the course of providing evidence that there is a characteristic we
identify with particular justice, Aristotle reminded us that there are
other characteristics pertaining to gain. In the case of the good that
human beings tend to love most, money, the obvious one is liberal-
ity (cf. NE 1130a16“19, 1121b31“1122a3, 1122a7“13, 1122a3“7), and
Aristotle has also identi¬ed courage and magnanimity as the respective
virtues pertaining to security and honor, the other goods associated
with particular justice. In light of these other virtues, then, how can
it be said that justice constitutes the proper perfection pertaining to
gain?
Aristotle suggests an answer to this question by making particu-
lar justice a part of complete justice: Particular justice constitutes the
proper mean pertaining to gain in relation to the common good. But
this answer, we can now see, merely begs the question.14 For justice™s


13 The dif¬culty is that the law seeks two aims “ our perfection and the common good “
that it cannot reconcile, and therefore it requires guidance concerning the proper
order of ends for a human being. But compare Tessitore, who suggests that the
dif¬culty is that the law “does not look toward virtue from the point of view of virtue
itself (i.e., the noble or what be¬ts the noble), but rather from the point of view of
political justice” (Reading Aristotle™s “Ethics,” p. 39). Smith takes a similar view: “law
does not in truth aim at comprehensive excellence” (Revaluing Ethics, p. 150).
14 Kraut notices the problem: “Since injustice is caused by a great desire for money,
honor, or some other good, why cannot Aristotle treat all cases of injustice as the
manifestation of one of the vices he has already discussed in Books II“IV of the
Ethics?” (Aristotle™s Political Philosophy, p. 137). But Kraut™s solution “ “Aristotle takes
pleonexia to be a distinct vice because he tacitly assumes that it involves a desire to
have more at the expense of others” (p. 138; emphasis in the text) “ does not resolve
the dif¬culty that the standard of more and less is set by the law and not the good.
Moreover, Kraut goes quite far in claiming that the “unjust person is glad that his
gain comes at the expense of another, because causing that suffering is part of his
motive” (p. 138). Although Aristotle indicates that an unjust person takes pleasure
in his gain, he nowhere clearly suggests that pleasure in another™s suffering is a part
of such a person™s motive (cf. pp. 138“40).
Justice as a Virtue
78

status as a virtue is on the table precisely because the mean in the
case of justice is established not by reference to our good condition
regarding gain “ not, that is, by the standard Aristotle pointed to in
saying that one ought to take those of the good things that are nec-
essary for the education to and exercise of virtue (NE 1129b1“11).
Rather, the mean in the case of justice is determined by the equality or
proportion established by law concerning parties contending for the
good things. If, in its connection with the common good, particular
justice is not a mean with respect to two vices, then by this very fact, it is
also not like the other virtues in being an “extreme in accord with the
best and that which is done well” (NE 1107a6“8).15 Just action accords
with what is fair or equal, and not with the good judged by any other
standard.
We are confronted by the dif¬culty, then, that particular justice
as a mean is necessarily de¬ned by a standard other than the good
condition of the individual with respect to moral virtue. For in deter-
mining the distribution of goods among equals, justice must guard
the good of the community as a whole, and even in the best case “ the
regime in which merit is de¬ned by virtue “ there not only are com-
peting claims of merit, but the goods human beings generally pursue,
including those necessary for the education to and exercise of virtue,
are limited and must be shared.16 Indeed, by de¬nition, the “equal”
as a measure for particular justice, and as the necessary ground of
law, exists to adjudicate competing claims with regard to the good,
and the very “nature of justice” is to be this principle of equality by
which limited goods are distributed and are not the property of one

15 Compare O™Connor, “The Aetiology of Justice,” pp. 148“55.
16 Aristotle™s discussion of justice thus opens up the question, raised in the Politics, of
whether the virtue of the good citizen and the good human being are the same.
For although scholars often assert that according to Aristotle, in the best regime
the virtue of the good citizen and the good human being are the same (see, e.g.,
Burnet, The “Ethics” of Aristotle, p. 212), Aristotle™s statements to this effect are highly
quali¬ed (Pol. 1277a20“5, b4“1278a5, 1293b1“7) and called into doubt by other
statements (e.g., Pol. 1276b35“1277a5) and by his insistence, on the one hand,
that citizenship necessarily involves “ruling and being ruled in turn” (Pol. 1277a25“
7, 1278a35“40, 1283b42“1284a3, 1287a16“25) and, on the other hand, that the
“regime” in which “the truly best” rule would have to be a kind of permanent kingship
(Pol. 1284b24“34, 1288a24“39). In this regard, consider Robert Bartlett™s discussion
of the choiceworthy life and the best regime in “The ˜Realism™ of Classical Political
Science,” American Journal of Political Science 38 (May 1994): 381“402.
Justice and the Dual Ends of Moral Virtue 79

(NE 1134a14“16, 1134a24“b2).17 It is for this reason also that justice
can never be wholly separated from compulsion.
The problem presented in the case of particular justice mirrors the
problem for justice generally, since in being oriented toward the gen-
eral advantage of the community, the virtues as complete justice must
take their bearings from an end other than themselves. The dif¬culty
for the virtuous individual is most striking in the situations in which
the community™s good and the activity of moral virtue are most at odds:
for example, when the common good requires ignominious surrender
rather than noble action in battle; when a generous or magni¬cent act
would mean robbing one to give to another; when the defense of the
country calls for deception or fraud or even the betrayal of a friend; or
when justice demands punishments at which reason balks. In seeking
to handle this dif¬culty, and to preserve the law™s full moral authority
and goodness, one might be tempted to rede¬ne virtue solely in terms
of the common good: If surrender is necessary for the preservation of
the community, for example, then surrender is the truly courageous
or noble act. Yet Aristotle™s own investigation of moral virtue indicates
that this temptation should be resisted. For, in addition to his insistence
that each virtue, such as courage, has its precise de¬nition and is an
end in its own right, he shows that the law also looks to more than the
requirements of the political community in de¬ning our perfection
and that the morally serious person understands this perfection not
simply in terms of the common good, but in terms of his or her own
nobility. Even in the case of a community as intimate and grounded in
affection as the family, Aristotle suggests, should a base act be required
for the “noble end” of its preservation, the act itself does not cease to be
base, and the action of a virtuous person in such a situation is therefore
“chosen” under compulsion (NE 1109b35“1110a19). Although the law
and a decent human being may bow to the necessity of actions that
preserve the common good, then, neither would wish to rede¬ne as
virtue such deception, fraud, or betrayal that the common good may
require but moral virtue itself abhors.
In general, the deepest dif¬culty that Aristotle points to in his
account of particular justice is the tension between moral virtue™s

17 Compare Ritchie, “Aristotle™s Subdivisions of Particular Justice,” pp. 191“2;
Winthrop, “Aristotle and Theories of Justice,” p. 1205.
Justice as a Virtue
80

orientation toward the common good and its requirements and activ-
ity as an independent end. Accordingly, when he cautions early in
his discussion of justice that the education of the citizen (the educa-
tion “with a view to the community [koinon]”) may not be the same
as the education of the good man (an¯r) simply (NE 1130b25“9),
e
he is pointing in the ¬rst place not to a tension between moral virtue
and some other possibility, but to a tension within moral virtue.18
He thus clari¬es the problem at the heart of civic education: The two
ends that necessarily demand our devotion as morally serious human
beings cannot be fully reconciled.19 In this way, Aristotle™s account
of the virtues both describes the political community™s noblest peda-
gogic aim and, on the basis of this community™s own aim, establishes its
limits.


law and right reason
Having completed his investigation of justice as a virtue, Aristotle indi-
cates that he has suf¬ciently treated the “nature of justice and injustice”
and “the just and unjust in general” (NE 1134a14“16), but his discus-
sion does not end here. He proceeds with brief accounts of political
and natural justice, a complex consideration of just and unjust action
and their relation to choice, an account of equity, and a ¬nal state-
ment on the connection between law and right reason. Among the
dif¬culties that remain is the question raised by the discussion of jus-
tice as a virtue: what the law and the morally virtuous human being
look to in determining right action (cf. NE 1103b31“4, 1138b18“34).
Aristotle™s investigation of the tension within moral virtue has revealed
that although the law and moral virtue seek to be authoritative with
respect to human action, neither on its own terms can provide full
guidance concerning the correct hierarchy of ends for a human being
(NE 1145a6“11, 1152b1“2; see also 1137b34“1138a3). This problem

18 Compare Smith, Revaluing Ethics, pp. 60“2; Tessitore Reading Aristotle™s “Ethics,”
pp. 39“42; Burnet, The “Ethics” of Aristotle, p. 212.
19 In Smith™s account of the law and moral virtue, this tension is obscured by his argu-
ment that equity, understood as a “sense of fairness” and “a persistent willingness
to render to others what is their due,” is “comprehensive moral virtue” and even
the “whole of virtue,” and therefore the “standard for law itself” and the end toward
which practical wisdom, “the single existential virtue that is required to order all our
actions,” directs us (Revaluing Ethics, pp. 35, 50, 151“5, 265).
Law and Right Reason 81

persists through the second half of his discussion of justice and is car-
ried forward into his account of the intellectual virtues in Book VI, in
which he immediately takes up the subject he had postponed in his
introduction to moral virtue: the subject of right reason.
In his introduction to moral virtue, Aristotle had noted that right
reason (orthos logos) underlies the particular virtues, and at the end
of the discussion of justice, he reiterates the law™s role as the voice of
right reason. Because the city and the law represent right reason, they
have as their aim more than the lawful things in a partial sense “ more
than simply the preservation of the “equal.” Just as, for example, the law
commands moderation, which produces and preserves our health and
well-being, so it forbids any action that contravenes the right reason
informing the virtues. It is as the representative of right reason that the
law is comprehensive and that Aristotle makes the sweeping claim, so
foreign to modern liberal ears, that “what the law does not command,
it forbids” (NE 1138a7).20 By way of example, he observes that the
law does not command suicide and therefore imposes a penalty on
the person who, in a ¬t of anger, kills himself. The law imposes this
penalty despite the fact that acts done out of anger are not thought
to have been done from forethought and that this penalty is neither
retributive nor remedial (cf. NE 1135b25“6). In harming himself, in
fact, this person suffers no injustice because, as Aristotle will establish,
it is impossible to do an injustice to oneself voluntarily. Since the one
who kills himself in a ¬t of anger acts contrary to right reason, however,

20 Compare Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Co., 1994): “As for other Liberties, they depend on the silence of the law. In cases
where the sovereign has prescribed no rule, there the subject hath the liberty to
do, or forbear, according to his own discretion” (p. 271). Aristotle™s statement is
so foreign to modern ears that Ostwald observes that “it hardly seems likely that
Aristotle meant to say that every action not explicitly ordered by the law is implicitly
forbidden” (Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald [Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pren-
tice Hall (Library of Liberal Arts), 1999], p. 143) and Irwin thinks nothing of simply
dropping the phrase (Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin [Indianapolis: Hacket
Publishing Co., 1985], p. 238). Burnet™s refutation of Victorius™s oft-cited tautology
that ou keleuei = apagoreuei is helpful in emphasizing the example Aristotle uses, sui-
cide: “The law forbids us to kill anything which it does not expressly enjoin us to kill”
(The “Ethics” of Aristotle, p. 244). But the larger context is made clear from the imme-
diately preceding statement: “Of the just things, one set are those that have been
established by the law in accord with the whole of virtue” (NE 1138a5“7). Cf. also
Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, I.533“4 with Grant, The “Ethics”
of Aristotle, II.141.
Justice as a Virtue
82

he does injustice to the city, and consequently, the law in¬‚icts a penalty,
dishonor, on him (NE 1138a12“14). The city seeks in such a case not to
mete out justice in the strict sense but to assert its authority regarding
right reason.
Now, as Aristotle argues in his discussion of political justice, “the
just exists among those for whom there is also law in relation to one
another,” and justice “is found in a life which is in common with a
view to being self-suf¬cient, among people who are free and equal,
either in accord with a proportion or arithmetically” (NE 1134a26“
31). The discussion of reciprocity has made clear that the political
community is constituted ¬rst by an established equality with respect
to the common goods of the regime among human beings who, in
being capable of the “reciprocal exchange of evils,” are not slaves to
one another (NE 1130b30“3; 1132b4“1133a1). In this respect, law
naturally exists among those “to whom ruling and being ruled equally
belong” (NE 1134b14“15; cf. Pol. 1287a8“18). But the discussion of
political justice underlines the fact that the political community is
constituted also by a common life that aims at “self-suf¬ciency” “ not
simply at living, but at living well (Pol. 1252b27“1253b1). The law
seeks to preserve the political community, therefore, by preserving
the regime, including both the principle of equality underlying the
regime and the good life its members hold in common.
It is with a view to preserving this equality and the common life of
the city that we prefer the rule of law to that of a single man. The
dif¬culty is that a man seeks his own good and, in distributing “more
of the simply good or less of the simply bad” to himself, takes the
law into his own hands and becomes a tyrant. By contrast, the ruler
who acts in accord with law is a “guardian of the just” and thus “also
of the equal” (NE 1134a33“b2). Indeed, precisely as a result of his
justice, “there is nothing left” for him, and he “labors for another”
(NE 1134b2“5). As the example of the just ruler illustrates, because
justice is clearly “the good of another,” some recompense in the form
of honor or privilege is necessary, and there are still those potential
tyrants for whom even such recompense is insuf¬cient. At the same
time that Aristotle points to the primacy of the good for human beings,
therefore, he indicates the need for coercion of those whose ambition
the political community cannot accommodate. The primacy of the
good undergirds the necessity of both law and force.
Law and Right Reason 83

Aristotle presents justice as the disposition to act “in accord with
the choice of the just,” and choice is so central to just action that
he returns to the subject repeatedly throughout this second half of
the account, including in his preface to political justice (NE 1134a17“
23; see also 1134b11“13, 1135b8“11, 1136a1“4, 1136b3“9, 23“9).21 In
short, since justice consists in choosing the just share, the character of
one™s choice determines whether an action is truly unjust or inciden-
tally so. A person can perform an unjust act through either passion
or ignorance, for instance, without being unjust: “a man could have
intercourse with a woman, knowing who she is, not on account of a
principle of choice but through passion,” just as one can steal and not
be a thief (NE 1134a1“21; see also 1130a24“7, 1136a1). One can per-
form an unjust action, then, without wishing to do harm or injustice
to another, and on this basis, Aristotle contends that only acts in which
a person deliberately chooses his own good over that of another are
truly unjust: “if a person does harm from choice, he is unjust,” and
likewise “he is just when he does a just action, having chosen to do so”
(NE 1136a3“4).
In connection with the consideration of choice, however, we must
ask not only whether one does harm or injustice to another, but
also whether one does harm or injustice to oneself “ whether, as
Aristotle puts it, the same holds for the suffering as for the doing (NE
1136a24“5). In his longer discussion of which unjust acts are truly or
incidentally unjust, Aristotle generalizes the question: Does anyone
ever choose to do harm or injustice to himself? It is by way of a denial
of this possibility “ “no one chooses to harm himself, and on account
of this, there is not injustice toward oneself” (NE 1134b11“13) “ that
he ¬rst distinguishes political justice from what is just for a master and
a father, and he reiterates this denial in his discussion of suicide (NE
1138a12). When he takes up the question directly, he points to the

21 Stewart notes that the passage on choice prefacing the discussion of political justice
seems out of place: “I believe, with Rassow (p. 38), Jackson (p. xvii, & c.), and Ram-
sauer that these sections are foreign to the present context; but I do not venture to
designate any other context in the Fifth Book as their original locus” (Notes on the
“Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, I.476“7). The passage does seem disconnected from
the discussion of political justice that follows, except that it is immediately preceded
by Aristotle™s summary of justice as a “choice” of the just share, and the question of
the choice of the good as compared to the lawful is central to the issue of political
justice.
Justice as a Virtue
84

example of an “incontinent” human being (akrat¯s, intemperate, lack-
e
ing in self-control), who might seem to harm himself voluntarily. But
the example itself proves that no one voluntarily seeks to be treated
unjustly, since the incontinent person does what he believes he ought
not to do and thus “acts contrary to his wish.” “No one,” Aristotle con-
cludes, “wishes what he does not believe to be a serious [spoudaion]
thing” (NE 1136b5“8).
In leading to this conclusion and thus to the view that no one
chooses to be treated unjustly, Aristotle™s analysis of just action and
choice suggests that human beings act with a view to their own desert
or merit, namely, the good we suppose we deserve. Because human
action is shot through with considerations of the good in this sense “
both the good that is owed another and that which is owed one-
self “ it inevitably raises the question of the true merit of each and
all.
By what standard, then, do we judge this merit? First, Aristotle
locates the “just things” by looking “among those [beings] who share
in the good things simply and who can have an excess and de¬ciency
of them” (NE 1137a26“7). On this basis, he eliminates two groups: the
gods, for whom there is no excess of goods, and the incurably bad,
whom the good things only harm (NE 1137a27“30). Because there
can be such an excess and de¬ciency among the rest of humankind,
however, justice must be a “human thing” (NE 1137a30). As the exam-
ples of the gods and of the incurably bad illustrate, this excess and
de¬ciency are determined not by the mean established by law but by
a consideration of the harm and bene¬t of each. In saying that justice
exists only for those for whom good things may be in excess or in de¬-
ciency, Aristotle recalls his observation early in the account of justice
that human beings ought not to pray for and pursue the good things
simply but ought to pray that these things also will be good for them
and choose what is good for them (NE 1129b4“6). If harm and bene¬t
are taken into a consideration of justice, then the truly just share is not
the mean established by law, but the share that will bene¬t and not
harm its recipient.
The problem presented by this distinction between law and bene¬t
is connected in a complicated way with one of the main controversies
that have divided commentators regarding Aristotle™s brief account of
natural justice: whether we can infer from this account the existence
Law and Right Reason 85

of a natural law or immutable principles of action.22 The immediate
problem is that he classi¬es natural justice as a part of political jus-
tice. Hence, political justice itself is derivative not of nature, which is
always the same, but of particular regimes, which vary; conversely, the
natural justice of which he speaks is a part of political justice.23 Never-
theless, against those who would argue that all the just things are just
by law or convention “ that there are no naturally just things “ since
what is by nature is unchangeable and the just things are changeable,
Aristotle insists that there are just things by nature. In his most puzzling
statement, he acknowledges that “what is by nature is unchangeable
and has the same force everywhere,” only then to assert that “among
us [human beings], there is something that is in fact by nature, yet all
is changeable,” and that the just by nature and the just by convention


22 The school of natural law that traces its roots back to Aristotle, of course, has its origin
in Thomas Aquinas, and Jaffa™s Thomism and Aristotelianism: A Study of the Commentary
by Thomas Aquinas on the “Nicomachean Ethics” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1952) and Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol II: Mediaeval Philosophy:
Augustine to Scotus (Westminister, MD: Neuman Press, 1950) each offers an analysis
of Thomas™s transformation of Aristotle™s discussion of natural right. But the history
of commentary on Aristotle™s short and puzzling discussion presents little agreement.
My treatment of the passage and this commentary is cursory. For longer accounts, see
´
Jaffa and Copleston, as well as R. A. Gauthier and J. Y. Jolif, “L™Ethique a Nicomaque,”
`
2nd ed., 2 vols. (Louvain, FR: Publications Universitares de Louvain, 1970), II.391“6;
Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle, pp. 492“7; Grant, The “Ethics” of
Aristotle, II.126“9; Hardie, Aristotle™s Ethical Theory, (London: Oxford University Press,
1968), pp. 204“5; Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1953), pp. 156“64; Joachim, Aristotle: The “Nicomachean Ethics” (Oxford: Claren-
don Press, 1951), pp. 154“6; Richard Bod´ us, “The Natural Foundations of Right” in

Action and Contemplation: Studies in the Moral and Political Thought of Aristotle (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 79“86, Yack, Problems of a Political Ani-
mal: Community, Justice, and Con¬‚ict in Aristotelian Political Thought (Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1993), pp. 140“9; Richard Kraut, Aristotle: Political Philosophy,
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 125“32; Fred D. Miller, Jr. “Aristotle on
Natural Law and Justice” in A Companion to Aristotle™s “Politics,” eds. David Keyt and
Fred D. Miller (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 279“308.
23 Commentators typically acknowledge that conventional or legal justice derives from
the “regime” (constitution or state); see, e.g., Jaffa, Thomism and Aristotelianism,
p. 181). Aristotle™s previous statement that political justice (and perhaps the just
simply) “is found in a life which is in common with a view to being self-suf¬cient,
among people who are free and equal, either in accord with a proportion or arith-
metically” makes clear that political justice too is derivative of the regime (1135a26“8;
see also 1135b12“15). As Strauss observes, however, the statement that natural right
is a part of political right “does not mean that there is no natural right outside the
city or prior to the city” (Natural Right and History, p. 157).
Justice as a Virtue
86

and agreement “are likewise changeable” (NE 1134b24“32). If the
fundamental question raised by justice is the true good of human
beings, then among the puzzles Aristotle™s discussion of natural justice
presents is the one with which he concludes: “the things that are just
not by nature but among human beings are not the same everywhere,
since the regimes are not, but there is one regime that is everywhere
the best in accord with nature” (NE 1135a3“5). However Aristotle™s
notion of natural justice is understood, his conclusion underlines
the dif¬culty that the naturally best is not always and everywhere
just.
In the face of this problem and of the centrality of choice in just
action, it is not surprising, as Aristotle observes, that contrary to what
“people suppose,” it is not easy either to act justly or to know what the
just things are (NE 1137a4“12). Acting justly requires that one not
only do the just things but do them “having a certain characteristic”
(NE 1137a6“9). Moreover, people suppose that it is not a matter of
wisdom to know the just and unjust things, since it is not dif¬cult to
understand what the laws say. But Aristotle insists to the contrary that
“the laws are not the just things, except incidentally” (NE 1137a9“12).
Rather, knowing how “the just things are done and distributed” is a
greater task than understanding what is involved in bringing about
health, “seeing that in this also it is easy to know honey and wine
and hellebore and cautery and surgery, but how they ought to be
applied with a view to health and on whom and when is no less a
task than to be a doctor” (NE 1137a14“17). Indeed, Aristotle™s ear-
lier discussion of justice as a virtue raises the question of the relation
between the characteristic or habit instilled by law and the knowledge
by which action is guided. For if, even in the best case, the law does
not supply the guidance we require, then to what do we turn for this
guidance?
Aristotle follows this dif¬culty through his account of equity and the
equitable. Equity, to which we turn when the law requires correction,
is not the same thing as justice, but it is also not different generically.
Yet, in sometimes praising what is equitable and the equitable person,
we make it clear that equity is better than justice (NE 1137a33“b2).
There is, accordingly, a tension in our claims, since “it appears strange
that if the equitable is something contrary to the just, it is a praise-
worthy thing” (NE 1137b2“4). Our speech points to several different
Law and Right Reason 87

possibilities: “If the equitable is better and praiseworthy, then the just
is not a serious thing; or if the equitable is different from the just,
then it is not just; or if both are serious things, then they are the
same” (NE 1137b4“5). The problem of the relation between equity
and justice, Aristotle says, leads to near perplexity concerning the
equitable.
He resolves this perplexity in the following way. Seeing that the
equitable is something better than the just (or a “certain” just), but not
in a different class, and therefore also that the just and the equitable
are the same and both are serious things, we come to understand that
“the equitable is just, not in accord with law, but as a correction of the
legally just” (NE 1137b8“13). Such correction is necessary because “all
law is general, but concerning some things, it is not possible to speak
correctly in general terms” (NE 1137b13“14). Where it is necessary
but not perfectly correct to speak in general terms, “the law takes the
majority of cases” “ it accepts what is correct “for the most part” “ but
it is also “not ignorant of the element of error” (NE 1137b14“16). The
law thus presents itself as just and authoritative and, at the same time,
as aware of its own de¬ciency. “The error,” Aristotle insists, “is not in
the law or in the lawgiver but in the nature of the matter, for such is
simply the stuff of actions” (NE 1137b17“19).
As a result of its necessary generality, therefore, the law must take
account of its own imperfection by looking to equity as a means for
its correction: “when a case arises under it which is contrary to its
general statement, then in that which the lawgiver neglects and errs
as a result of speaking generally, it is correct to rectify the omission”
(NE 1137b19“22). In such a case, the omission is recti¬ed by look-
ing to “what the lawgiver himself would have said if he were present
and would have legislated if he had known” (NE 1137b22“4). By this
account, the need for equity does not impugn the law™s justice since
the error is not in the law and there is provision for its correction in
those circumstances that the law could not foresee. Justice and equity
fall within the same class: “the equitable is just and better than a cer-
tain justice, not than justice simply but than the error that is due to
its absoluteness” (NE 1137b24“5). Aristotle calls the correction of law
“the very nature of the equitable” (NE 1137b26).
Yet, a second problem that equity must address reveals the inad-
equacy of this resolution: Not everything can be regulated by law
Justice as a Virtue
88

because some things are singular instances and must be handled by
a decree (NE 1137b27“8). Aristotle compares the application of a
decree to the use of the leaden rule in Lesbian house building, argu-
ing that “of a thing which is inde¬nite, so also the rule [by which it is
measured] is inde¬nite” (NE 1137b29“30). More precisely, the “indef-
initeness” of the rule in such an instance would appear to consist in its
¬‚exibility, which enables it to take the proper measure of any matter
not amenable to law: Just as the leaden rule is not rigid but adapts
itself to the shape of the stone, so too does the decree to the matter at
hand (NE 1137b31“2).
But this suggestion raises a question that Aristotle does not address
except to say that the rule is inde¬nite: Even though there is no general
rule or law, is there not a standard by which one who issues decrees
takes his bearings? This same question, moreover, must be addressed
also to the correction of the law. To use one of Aristotle™s favorite
examples: Just as the doctor looks to health as his end, to what does
the lawgiver look in deciding singular cases or in correcting the law?
Aristotle has referred several times to “the just simply” or to “the just in
the ¬rst sense,” but since he never supplies a clear account of either, we
depart his discussion of equity still with this puzzle before us (see NE
1132b22“3, 1134a25“6, 1136b33“4, 1137b24“5; see also 1134a30“1,
1137a11“12).24
Indeed, Aristotle concludes with an equally puzzling description of
the equitable man. Contending that it is apparent from the discussion
of equity who the equitable man is, he describes him as one who is
“disposed to choose and to do these sorts of things” (NE 1137b34“5).
In light of the discussion of equity, the equitable man would seem to be
the one who possesses the knowledge to correct the law and issue just
decrees.25 Yet Aristotle proceeds to describe him as one who is “not

24 In “The Natural Foundations of Right,” p. 79, Richard Bod´ us assimilates the “simply

just” to “political justice,” reading the phrase at 1134a23“6, kai to hapl¯s dikaion kai to
o
politikon dikaion, as placing the two in apposition. But this assimilation obscures the
problem presented especially by equity, and there is no necessity to read the phrase as
placing the simply just and political justice in apposition. Compare Tessitore, Reading
Aristotle™s “Ethics,” p. 39 and Stewart, Notes on the “Nicomachean Ethics” of Aristotle,
I.479“80.
25 This is the meaning that Kraut attributes to equity as a virtue: “A juror must call
upon the virtue of ˜equity™ (epieikeia), a skill that enables him to see how to correct
Law and Right Reason 89

insistent to a fault upon justice but disposed to less, even though he has
the law on his side,” and concludes by calling equity a “characteristic”
and “a certain sort of justice and not a different sort of characteristic”
(NE 1138a1“3; cf. 1136b19“21). Given the equitable man™s “¬‚exible”
stance toward the law, however, what is the characteristic that distin-
guishes him? Can his ¬‚exibility be grounded in a disposition or habit,
or does it require knowledge? If it is grounded in knowledge, then by
what, if not the law, does the equitable man take his bearings when
he chooses and acts? The equitable man is thought to merit an “equal
share” established in accord with the law, yet he clearly looks to some
other principle or end in his own action.
When describing the equitable man in his earlier discussion of
choice, Aristotle notes that while he may be thought to do injustice
to himself, by taking less than he merits, “it may happen that he takes
more of another good, for example, of repute or of the noble simply”;
at any rate, Aristotle insists, because “he suffers nothing contrary to his
wish,” the equitable man does no injustice to himself (NE 1136b21“
4). We might then expect an account of the relation between the law
and the good, but Aristotle™s vagueness regarding the principle or end
that guides equitable judgment seems of a piece with his ambiguity
concerning whether justice, and likewise equity, is a characteristic or
some kind of knowledge.26
In light of these dif¬culties, Aristotle™s return to the subject of right
reason as he concludes the account of justice is understandable. For
the law is not and cannot be our guide simply “ it is not absolute in
determining action. By recalling the subject of right reason, Aristotle
prepares us for the discussion of intellectual virtue with the problem of
the law and moral virtue still fully in play. After outlining his treatment


those de¬ciencies of the laws that result from their over-generality” (Aristotle: Political
Philosophy, p. 109). But this suggestion does not accord with Aristotle™s own descrip-
tion of the equitable person; nor does it resolve the question of what a juror looks
to in deciding a case, if not the law. The signi¬cance of the dif¬culty is noted by
Kraut most simply: “Paradoxically, lawfulness can occasionally require violating the
law. Little wonder, then, that being a lawful person and doing what is lawful are no
easy matters” (p. 110).
26 In raising this question, Aristotle also notes the possibility raised in the Republic: If
justice is an art, then the clever guardian is also the clever thief (Republic 333e“334b).
He denies this possibility by emphasizing justice as a characteristic (NE 1137a17“26).
Justice as a Virtue
90

of this problem in his account of prudence in Book VI of his Nico-
machean Ethics “ how this treatment leads to his investigation of
the good in the latter half of this work “ the next chapter follows
Aristotle™s turn to his Politics and his consideration in particular of the
regime as the source of the law.
4

Prudence, the Good Citizen, and the Good Life




the problem of prudence
When Aristotle concludes the account of the particular moral virtues
to turn to intellectual virtue, the question of the standard to which
the morally virtuous person and the law look in determining right
action forms a new horizon in the Nicomachean Ethics (NE 1138b13“14).
That this question remains is indicated immediately by the fact that
he returns to the subject of right reason he had earlier postponed (NE
1138b18“20). The investigation of right reason is inseparable from
a consideration of the target (scopos) at which the virtues aim and
the boundary (or limit, horos) within which the mean is identi¬ed
(NE 1138b21“5, 32“4). In the absence of such a consideration, the
de¬nition of virtue “ as the mean de¬ned by the prudent human
being (phronimos) “ is true but unclear (NE 1138b25“6).
Despite the apparent urgency of this task, Aristotle does not
approach it directly, instead undertaking a lengthy treatment of the
characteristics of the rational or intellectual parts of the soul. While
we might then expect his discussion of prudence, the rational charac-
teristic that governs deliberation in the realm of action, to shed light
on the question of right reason, this discussion proves ¬rst to com-
plicate rather than illuminate the matter. A simple sketch brings out




91
Prudence, the Good Citizen, and the Good Life
92

the central dif¬culty.1 In short, we learn that prudence is required
for perceiving the right thing to do in a particular situation. But in
tackling the question of how prudence makes this perception, Aristo-
tle concludes both that prudence requires moral virtue to set the end
and that it completes moral virtue by bringing right reason to bear
on the means to achieve the end and on the end itself (NE 1144a28“
b1, 1145a2“6, 1144b14“25).2 He thus leaves unclear the most urgent
matter: what right reason is and what the standard is by which the end
is determined.
Nevertheless, in concluding the discussion of intellectual virtue,
Aristotle begins to lay the groundwork for clarifying this standard by
redrawing the terrain within which it will be explored in his continuing
investigation of the good in the Ethics. For he reiterates that moral
virtue must ¬nally be understood not in terms of itself, but in terms of
its contribution to the proper target or end: the highest human good
understood as the perfection of a human being. But now Aristotle
no longer de¬nes this target in terms of moral virtue, as he did in
adopting the political perspective in Book II. Rather, he insists that
the highest good necessarily includes, if it is not wholly constituted


1 Like Aristotle™s account of natural justice, his treatment of prudence or practical
wisdom (phron¯sis) presents several interpretive dif¬culties; as Sarah Broadie observes,
e
“This [Aristotle™s discussion of practical wisdom] more than most is a rough terrain for
commentators, being densely thicketed with controversy” (Ethics with Aristotle [Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1991], p. 179). Richard Bod´ us offers an analysis of some of

the key disputes, and in particular the complicated question of the relation between
moral virtue and prudence. At the heart of this dispute is a disagreement about
whether prudence is dependent on moral virtue, deriving its “principles” from proper
habituation, or whether it is “an intellectual operation assigned to the discursive search
for principles of action” (see Bod´ us, The Political Dimensions of Aristotle™s “Ethics,” trans.

Jan Edward Garrett [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993], p. 35; see
pp. 27“38 for his overall analysis). In addition to the traditional commentators Bod´ us e¨
surveys, C. D. C. Reeve™s Practices of Reason: Aristotle™s “Nicomachean Ethics” (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1992) is a more recent treatment of prudence that differs from
Bod´ us™s view on several important points.

2 This dif¬culty informs Hardie™s remark: “Commentators have sometimes involved
themselves, and their readers, in needless perplexities about Aristotle™s doctrine of
practical wisdom, and about the so-called practical syllogism, as a consequence of
not attending to the limited scope of Aristotle™s remarks in particular parts of the
discussion. Thus they have felt bound to try to explain away the fact that Aristotle
describes phron¯sis both as discerning means to an end determined by moral virtue
e
(1145a5“6) and as involving a true understanding of an end (1142b31“3)” (Aristotle™s
Ethical Theory [London: Oxford University Press, 1968], p. 213).
The Problem of Prudence 93

by, wisdom (sophia). He is even so bold as to claim that it is wisdom
that constitutes the health of the soul and happiness and that has
authority over moral virtue, which seeks to bring wisdom into being
(NE 1144a3“7; cf. 1137a9“17; 1145a6“9).
Now these are claims Aristotle must more fully elucidate and
defend, but to do so, he must also step outside of the horizon of the law
and moral virtue. His account of the morally serious life has justi¬ed
such a move ¬rst by acknowledging the authoritative status of the law
and moral virtue and then by showing that they nevertheless require
guidance in establishing the hierarchy of ends for a human being.
When Aristotle turns to Book VII of the Ethics, therefore, he explic-
itly begins anew (NE 1145a15), and this new beginning points to the
“political philosopher,” as compared to the law, as the “architect of
the end toward which we look in calling one particular thing bad and
another good simply” (NE 1152b1“3; cf. 1094a22“8 and 1141b23“7).
In the investigation that follows, Aristotle expands the range of char-
acteristics that pertain to action and, in contrast to the easy dismissal
of the life of pleasure as slavish in Book I, he here investigates it
as potentially the highest human good (Bk. VII); he also offers a
lengthy treatment of friendship as the community, in contrast to the
polis, within which the good works most deserving of praise are done
(Bks. VIII, IX); and he explicitly defends the view that the contempla-
tive or theoretical life, and not the political or moral life, is the best one
for a human being (Bk. X). This fuller account of the human good
and the emergence of the theoretical life as best is the new terrain
within which virtuous action must ¬nd its ¬nal end and de¬nition.
This expansion of the investigation does not by itself resolve the
question raised by Aristotle™s elliptical statements regarding the rela-
tion between moral virtue and prudence: whether, in short, prudence
is dependent on moral virtue and thus on habituation to set the end of
action or whether it derives its principles from a discursive analysis of
the good.3 Aristotle™s account of moral virtue suggests that action issues

3 See again Bod´ us, The Political Dimensions of Aristotle™s “Ethics,” pp. 27“38. Bod´ us
e¨ e¨
himself argues that prudence is clearly dependent on moral virtue and habituation and
that it must be understood within the realm of political science or expertise: “Aristotle™s
man is above all a political man, prudence above all an excellence of political life, and
the good man a leading citizen” (p. 44). Bod´ us™s conclusion refutes the prevailing

´
notion, given weight by the commentary of Gauthier and Jolif (“L™ Ethique a Nicomaque,”
`
Prudence, the Good Citizen, and the Good Life
94

from the proper disposition of the desires and longings and therefore
that habituation is primary.4 Moreover, in determining right action,
prudence cannot ignore the authoritative character of the political
community and especially the law, which is this community™s voice of
command. The most that can be said at the conclusion of Book VI
is that the law and moral virtue have been shown to seek a self-
suf¬ciency they cannot fully attain. Against the claims of the law, not
to say its divine origins, Aristotle is thus able to suggest the necessity of
political philosophy as a guide and to posit the possibility of wisdom
as our ¬nal end.
If the need for or signi¬cance of Aristotle™s investigation of moral
virtue and law seems at ¬rst opaque to us, a modern liberal audience
that professes to view politics and law with much less reverence, the
current debate about citizenship suggests that we are not so free of
authority or reverence as we assume. In fact, especially for us, Aristotle™s
account of the virtues is necessary in illuminating the authoritative
place of moral virtue with respect to the human good and in clari-
fying the deepest problem of law and civic education. This problem


2nd. ed., 2 vols. [Louvain, FR: Publications Universitaires de Louvain, 1970]) that
“Aristotle™s ethical works expound an ˜autonomous moral science” (see the discussion
of P. A. Vander Waerdt, “The Political Intention of Aristotle™s Moral Philosophy,”
Ancient Philosophy 5 [Spring 1985], p. 77). But in placing the account of prudence
and political science more generally in the larger context of Aristotle™s treatment
of the human good, Bod´ us also concludes that Aristotle™s statements regarding the

relation between virtue and leisure “permit us to establish exactly the purpose of the
Aristotelian ethics. If it had been addressed to the particular individual, rather than to
the lawgiver, the ˜philosophy™ and ˜speculative™ excellence which Aristotle as a moralist
locates above the level of action would appear to be an ideal which the human being
must reach apart from the city and apart from every form of political life. But nothing
of the sort is being proposed” (p. 125). This conclusion is more dif¬cult to sustain.
Cf. Reeve, Practices of Reason, which argues that the primary audience of the Ethics is
the philosopher (pp. 189 and 195), as well as Tessitore™s criticisms of Reeve in Reading
Aristotle™s “Ethics”: Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy (Albony: State University of
New York Press, 1996), pp. 131“3.
4 John Cooper insists that it is “not open to reasonable doubt that in the Nicomachean
Ethics Aristotle held that the practically intelligent person knows by some kind of
intellectual intuition what the correct ultimate end is. This is something he knows,
but he does not know it either by having worked it out by deliberation or by having
deduced it from the ¬rst principles of any theoretical science” (Reason and Human Good
in Aristotle [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975], p. 64). The dif¬culty
remains, however, that Aristotle has not supplied the account of “right reason” he
promised and that moral virtue, which is to supply the “correct ultimate end,” is
sometimes inadequate to the task.
The Problem of Prudence 95

is not, as much of the current debate suggests, the tension between
the common good and individual ¬‚ourishing,5 but the tension within
moral virtue between its orientation toward the common good and
its independence as an end in its own right. It is precisely out of a
consideration of this problem, Aristotle helps us to see, that the ques-
tion of the human good, ¬rst answered by the political community,
reemerges as a matter of investigation, and that wisdom proves neces-
sary and potentially constitutive of the good. From the point of view
of the political community, then, the most fundamental dif¬culty con-
nected with its own education is the possible tension between the end
it authorizes as our perfection, justice, and the end Aristotle posits at
the conclusion of Book VI, wisdom.
In positing wisdom as our good, of course, Aristotle has not made
the case for its claim; nor has he concluded that justice and wisdom
are simply in tension with one another. Wisdom emerges as a con-
tender for the best way of life ¬rst from the problem presented by
moral virtue and, consequently, from a certain necessity: our need
for guidance concerning action. It does not reduce the complexity
of the question concerning the relation between justice and wisdom,
or moral and intellectual virtue, to note that they constitute different


5 The core issue of this debate is captured by a division among neo-Aristotelians them-
selves. While Aristotle™s current students generally agree that virtue™s aim or end is
the good, they disagree fundamentally about the scope of civic education and the
relation between the common good and individual happiness or “¬‚ourishing” (eudai-
monia). On the one side, liberal Aristotelians circumscribe civic education by distin-
guishing the virtues required for the common good and perpetuation of the con-
stitutional order from those that constitute diverse forms of individual ¬‚ourishing
(e.g., Galston, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory
and Practice [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], ch. 1; Liberal Purposes:
Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1991], pp. 140“3, 172“3, 301“4; Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in
Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, rev. ed. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001],
pp. xvii“xxiv; “Human Functioning and Social Justice: In Defense of Aristotelian Essen-
tialism,” Political Theory 20 (May 1992), pp. 202“46. Communitarian Aristotelians, by
contrast, seek to show that in the well-ordered community, the virtues that constitute
individual ¬‚ourishing also serve or achieve the common good (e.g., MacIntyre, Depen-
dent Rational Animals:Why Human Beings Need the Virtues [Chicago: Open Court, 1999],
chs. 9“11; Smith, Revaluing Ethics: Aristotle™s Dialectical Pedagogy [Albany: State University
of New York Press, 2001], ch. 8). But the division among neo-Aristotelians mirrors a
split more generally among scholars concerned about civic education, including those
who take their bearings from classical or liberal republicanism, progressive liberalism,
and deliberative democracy.
Prudence, the Good Citizen, and the Good Life
96

ends and activities and take their bearings from different authorities.
Whether the life of wisdom is a “radical alternative” to the ethical life,
as some suggest, or consistent and coherent with it, as others argue,
is a related but separate question to which Aristotle™s investigation of
the morally serious life opens the door without resolving.6

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