The Virtues


The word JUSTICE brings to mind the idea of punishing the wrongdoer while comforting and compensating the aggrieved party. That was, at least, the image I held all these years, until I was encouraged to write a mini-essay on the subject.

I started, Descartes-style, to think about the possible evolutionary origin, yet could not envisage any animal, even as advanced as the chimpanzee, evincing a group behavior even remotely resembling an act of punishment. Thus, I had to assume a human origin, and remembered how not so far in the past, the accused was judged by exposing him to absurd physical trials, whereby stamina was the determining 'proof.'

Looking up the dictionary, I found that the Latin word 'jus' is the root for 'just,' justice' and derivatives, such as 'judge' and 'judicial,' the basic meaning being 'RIGHT."
In Hebrew, I had learned that there are two kinds of 'justice,' there being among religious Jews a preference for associating the 'heavenly' one, called "Tse'dek," while the earthly one is called "Mishpat," from a root used for 'judge' too. The biblical Judges were the highest civil authority too, until the people under Samuel, fearing the Philistine might, forced the election of Saul, the first King, a symbol of true courage, "in the manner of the other nations."
A person fulfilling all of God's commandments to the letter is called a "Tsadik," by association with the heavenly justice, being then a personification of righteousness.

It became clear to me that justice embodies the concept of right behavior in a society that upholds the laws.
This sounded trite, but then I remembered that in Israel, people, starting from childhood, have adopted the English word "fair," preferring it to the time-honored one meaning "all right." At that moment, I realized that justice is actually a concept of FAIRNESS.
From this point on, I had to think about the time when an inchoate concept of UNFAIRNESS makes its mark in the infant's brain, because Tse'dek, Mishpat and Justice make their appearance at that very moment!

And what happens when a human fetus is born? It cries 'angrily,' as if stating: "This is unfair! I was cozy until this moment: what have you done to me?!"
After that, the infant starts to become possessive, interested in his own well being, and rejecting a sibling's appearance. It is a question of survival, of being 'bad' for self-advancement. Proper education will guide the inborn --but not yet manifested-- need to be 'good' for the benefit of the group. (Please see the mini-essays on THE GOOD, SURVIVAL, and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.)

In adulthood, unfairness to a person, a group, a society and a nation, is dealt with using all the instruments of 'justice,' as defined by each one of those who feel unfairly treated. People vary in the weight attached to such feeling. The reaction varies from mild reproof to physical attack, and from diplomatic friction to full war.
Upon 'discovering' what justice really is, I realized that its understanding is paramount for a person's self-knowledge.

Fundamentally different to such 'natural' sense of justice, so similar among different individuals, is the justice based on laws. Millenia have left their prints on laws, and we know about outstanding lawgivers, such as Hammurabi, Moses, Solon, Roman legislators, and Napoleon.
Natural laws are probably related to the individual sense of justice, while the positive law is the written, evolutive one.

In Israel, where no trial by jury exists, judges are guided by the written ('positive') law: the personal sense of justice (the 'natural' law) plays no role. Therefore, "aggravation," so important as a component of the feeling of unfairness, by itself has scarce judicial meaning. The result is dissatisfaction (a feeling of unfairness) for a complainant receiving the measure of his material loss, with complete disregard for his anguish.