Iustitia

Gerechtigkeit, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1537

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In Roman philosophy, Iustitia, or Justice, was very much tied to Pietas. Beyond holding up the notions of fairness and impartiality as good character traits, Justice was seen as the earthly manifestation of Pietas.  As Cicero explains it, Pietas is all about giving the Gods their due, while Iustitia is the same concept, but with human laws and fellow men instead of divine laws and the gods. Livy, on the other hand, firmly denounced replacing Fides with Iustitia, as his understanding of Justice is that of a somewhat one-sided virtue.

Unlike Fides, which has to do with mutual right relationships, Justice is about being fair to the people who one has power over.  The Roman state wished to appear just to its conquered territories, much as a father wishes to appear just in his dealing with his various children.  Iustitia depends very much on hierarchical relations and Fides does not.  Livy found Fides to be a more Roman virtue and thought of Iustitia as a Greek interpolation of weaker value. Even so, I think Livy would have to admit that Roman society was indeed patriarchal and hierarchical, and in those circumstances it is very important for the powers that be to be perceived as just.

As a personal virtue, Iustitia is a little hard for me to navigate. I of course wish to be just with my children and fair to my friends, but my children are only under my sphere of influence for a limited time and my friends are peers, not people I lord over in some way.  Other situations where I personally might think of applying Iustitia are more matters of Wisdom or Integrity.

On a societal level, however, Justice is absolutely vital to a healthy state and culture. Injustice harms those it favors as much as it harms those it pushes down.  We should always pay attention to how our authority is treating the least among us, and not simply because one day something might happen to make us the least. Our civic virtuous life is reflected in how our society treats the people on the bottom. Without a solid foundation of Justice, our state cannot stand and present itself as a right, moral, legitimate power.

And this is the last of my Roman virtues series. It took me a bit longer to finish than the ADF virtues, but it was time well spent. I’ve learned quite a bit about what I consider virtuous and have a lot of new material to help me live a self-examined life. I’ll be thinking very heavily on the virtues that I’ve rejected; why I rejected them, what it says about me, and how embracing might or might not improve my life.

  • Amicitia (titarufiaprisca.wordpress.com)
  • Severitas (titarufiaprisca.wordpress.com)
  • Courage (dragonflyhouse.wordpress.com)
  • Virtue (olmwsimpletruths.wordpress.com)
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