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Ethical Justice and Political Justice

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image of Phronesis

The purpose of Aristotle's discussion of political justice (τò πoλιτικòν δικαιoν) in EN V.6-7 has been a matter of dispute. Although the notion of political justice which Aristotle seeks to elucidate is relatively clear, namely the notion of justice which obtains between free and equal citizens living within a community aiming at self-sufficiency under the rule of law, confusion arises when one asks how political justice relates to the other kinds of justice examined in EN V. Is political justice a highly determinate subdivision of justice which Aristotle examines alongside the other varieties of particular justice analyzed in EN V.2-5? Or is political justice related to the analysis of ethical agency which follows in EN V.8-11? The question is complicated by the fact that the passage in question – EN V 1134a17-1135a15 – has occasioned much speculation about textual dislocations and has been incorporated into chapter divisions differently according to the two prevalent modern editorial divisions of the Ethics.

To resolve these problems, I argue that Aristotle's account of political justice is situated within an extended aporetic analysis which begins in EN V.6 and extends through EN V.8. Aristotle introduces the notion of political justice within the extended analysis concerning the ascription of character states because calling someone just or unjust presupposes that the person is a fully mature ethical agent, but anyone capable of political justice possesses such agency. Once the extended argument in the second half of EN V is properly understood, it appears that the received text is not in need of emendation. To further support my claim that Aristotle's account of political justice introduces a new inquiry which is not analogous to the analyses of particular justice in the first half of EN V, I compare political justice to the other species of justice.


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