He held the view that justice provides an aim to the state, and an object to the individual. “When perfected, man is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all.” Like his teacher. Plato, Aristotle regarded justice as the very breath of the state/polity.
According to him, justice is virtue, complete virtue, and the embodiment of all goodness. It is not the thing as virtue, but it is virtue, and virtue in action. Justice is virtue, but it is more than virtue; it is virtue in action, i.e., virtue in practice.
Reason is, for example, a virtue, but the reasonable/rational conduct is justice; truth is a virtue, but to be truthful is justice. What makes a virtue justice is the very practice of that virtue. So Aristotle says: “The good in the sphere of politics is justice, and justice contains what tends to the common interest.”
For Aristotle, justice is no less significant, for he regards justice as the very virtue of the state. It is justice that makes a state, gives it a vision and coupled with ethics, it takes the state to the heights of all ethical values.
Justice saves the state from destruction; it makes the state and political life pure and healthy. Ross says: “Aristotle begins by recognising two senses of the word.
By ‘Just’, we may mean what is lawful or what is fair and equal”. For Aristotle, justice is either general or it is particular justice as a part of general justice; a part of complete virtue if by general justice we mean complete virtue.
According to Aristotle, “General Justice is complete goodness. It is complete in the fullest sense, because it is the exercise of complete goodness not only in himself but also towards his neighbours.” Particular justice is a part of complete/general justice; it is, therefore, a part of complete goodness, its one aspect.
A person seeking particular justice is one who observes laws but does not demand from the society more than what he deserves. Particular justice is of two types distributive and corrective. For Aristotle, distributive justice hands out honours and rewards according to the merits of the recipients equals to be treated equally and unequally.
The corrective justice takes no account of the position of the parties concerned. But simply secures equality between the two by taking away from the advantage of the one and adding it to the disadvantage of the other, giving justice to one who has been denied, and inflicting punishment to one who has denied others their justice.
One can compare the notion of justice as given by Plato and Aristotle:
i. For Plato, justice is the performance of one’s duties to the best of one’s abilities and capacities; for Aristotle, justice is the reward in proposition to what one contributes;
ii. Plato’s justice is related to ‘duties’; it is duties- oriented whereas Aristotle’s justice is related to ‘rights’; it is rights-oriented;
iii. Plato’s theory of justice is essentially moral and philosophical; that of Aristotle is legal;
iv. Both had a conception of distributive justice. For Plato, that meant individual excellence and performance of one’s duties while for Aristotle it meant what people deserve, the right to receive;
v. Plato’s justice is spiritual whereas Aristotle’s, practical, i.e., it is virtue in action, goodness in practice; and
vi. Plato’s justice is related to one’s inner self, i.e., what comes straight from the soul; Aristotle’s justice is related to man’s actions, i.e., with his external activities.
Aristotle’s theory of justice is worldly, associated with man’s conduct in practical life, of course with all ethical values guiding him. But he was unable to co-relate the ethical dimension of justice to its legal dimension. His distributive justice is far, far away from the realities of the political world.
It is, indeed, difficult to bring about a balance between the ever-increasing population and ever-decreasing opportunities of the state. The major differences that can be seen between these two arguments are seen when we examine the goals of both Plato and Aristotle.
Plato has two main goals behind his argument; the first is to refute the position that injustice is better than justice. Secondly, his human function argument helps to set up the idea of his model cities, in which each person has a function and the city is virtuous when everyone performs their own function.
Aristotle is examining happiness as the ultimate end and is searching for ways to get to that end. Thus, by proving that this good is found in the expression of reason, Aristotle is able to prescribe a path to happiness. If one fulfils one’s function, expression of reason, and does so in an excellent manner, one will necessarily attain happiness.