Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online
OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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THE SOCIAL VIRTUES; JUSTICE.
What is society?
It is every reunion of men living together under the clauses of
an expressed or tacit contract, which has for its end their common
Are the social virtues numerous?
Yes; they are in as great number as the kinds of actions useful
to society; but all may be reduced to one principle.
What is that fundamental principle?
It is justice, which alone comprises all the virtues of
Why do you say that justice is the fundamental and almost only
virtue of society?
Because it alone embraces the practice of all the actions
useful to it; and because all the other virtues, under the
denominations of charity, humanity, probity, love of one's country,
sincerity, generosity, simplicity of manners, and modesty, are only
varied forms and diversified applications of the axiom, "Do not to
another what you do not wish to be done to yourself," which is the
definition of justice.
How does the law of nature prescribe justice?
By three physical attributes, inherent in the organization of
What are those attributes?
They are equality, liberty, and property.
How is equality a physical attribute of man?
Because all men, having equally eyes, hands, mouths, ears, and
the necessity of making use of them, in order to live, have, by
this reason alone, an equal right to life, and to the use of the
aliments which maintain it; they are all equal before God.
Do you suppose that all men hear equally, see equally, feel
equally, have equal wants, and equal passions?
No; for it is evident, and daily demonstrated, that one is
short, and another long-sighted; that one eats much, another
little; that one has mild, another violent passions; in a word,
that one is weak in body and mind, while another is strong in both.
They are, therefore, really unequal?
Yes, in the development of their means, but not in the nature
and essence of those means. They are made of the same stuff, but
not in the same dimensions; nor are the weight and value equal.
Our language possesses no one word capable of expressing the
identity of nature, and the diversity of its form and employment.
It is a proportional equality; and it is for this reason I have
said, equal before God, and in the order of nature.
How is liberty a physical attribute of man?
Because all men having senses sufficient for their
preservation--no one wanting the eye of another to see, his ear to
hear, his mouth to eat, his feet to walk--they are all, by this
very reason, constituted naturally independent and free; no man is
necessarily subjected to another, nor has he a right to dominate
But if a man is born strong, has he a natural right to master
the weak man?
No; for it is neither a necessity for him, nor a convention
between them; it is an abusive extension of his strength; and here
an abuse is made of the word right, which in its true meaning
implies, justice or reciprocal faculty.
How is property a physical attribute of man?
Inasmuch as all men being constituted equal or similar to one
another, and consequently independent and free, each is the
absolute master, the full proprietor of his body and of the produce
of his labor.
How is justice derived from these three attributes?
In this, that men being equal and free, owing nothing to each
other, have no right to require anything from one another only
inasmuch as they return an equal value for it; or inasmuch as the
balance of what is given is in equilibrium with what is returned:
and it is this equality, this equilibrium which is called justice,
equity;* that is to say that equality and justice are but one and
the same word, the same law of nature, of which the social virtues
are only applications and derivatives.
- Aequitas, aequilibrium, aequalitas, are all of the same family.