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The foregoing discussion has indicated the answer to the question, Is it possible or not for a man to commit injustice against himself? (1) One class of just actions consists of those acts, in accordance with any virtue, which are ordained by law.1 For instance, the law does not sanction suicide (and what2 it does not expressly sanction, it forbids). [2] Further, when a man voluntarily (which means with knowledge of the person affected and the instrument employed) does an injury (not in retaliation) that is against the law, he commits injustice. But he who kills himself in a fit of passion, voluntarily does an injury (against the right principle3) which the law does not allow. [3] Therefore the suicide commits injustice; but against whom? It seems to be against the state rather than against himself; for he suffers voluntarily, and nobody suffers injustice voluntarily. This is why the state exacts a penalty; suicide is punished by certain marks of dishonor,4 as being an offense against the state. [4]

(2) Moreover, it is not possible to act unjustly towards oneself in the sense in which a man is unjust who is a doer of injustice only and not universally wicked. (This case is distinct from the former, because Injustice in one sense is a special form of wickedness, like Cowardice, and does not imply universal wickedness; hence it is necessary further to show that a man cannot commit injustice against himself in this sense either.) For (a) if it were, it would be possible for the same thing to have been taken away from and added to the same thing at the same time. But this is impossible: justice and injustice always necessarily imply more than one person. [5] Again (b) an act of injustice must be voluntary and done from choice, and also unprovoked; we do not think that a man acts unjustly if having suffered he retaliates, and gives what he got. But when a man injures himself, he both does and suffers the same thing at the same time. Again (c) if a man could act unjustly towards himself, it would be possible to suffer injustice voluntarily. [6] Furthermore (d) no one is guilty of injustice without committing some particular unjust act; but a man cannot commit adultery with his own wife, or burglary on his own premises, or theft of his own property.

(3) And generally, the question, Can a man act unjustly towards himself? is solved by our decision upon the question, Can a man suffer injustice voluntarily? [7]

(It is further manifest that, though both to suffer and to do injustice are evils—for the former is to have less and the latter to have more than the mean, corresponding5 to what is health-giving in medicine and conducive to fitness in athletic training—nevertheless to do injustice is the worse evil, for it is reprehensible, implying vice in the agent, and vice utter and absolute—or nearly so, for it is true that not every unjust act voluntarily committed implies vice—, whereas to suffer injustice does not necessarily imply vice or injustice in the victim. [8] Thus in itself to suffer injustice is the lesser evil, though accidentally it may be the greater. With this however science is not concerned; science pronounces pIeurisy a more serious disorder than a sprain, in spite of the fact that in certain circumstances a sprain may be accidentally worse than pleurisy, as for instance if it should happen that owing to a sprain you fell and in consequence of falling were taken by the enemy and killed.) [9]

In a metaphorical and analogical sense however there is such a thing as justice, not towards oneself but between different parts of one's nature; not, it is true, justice in the full sense of the term, but such justice as subsists between master and slave, or between the head of a household and his wife and children. For in the discourses on this question6 a distinction is set up between the rational and irrational parts of the soul; and this is what leads people to suppose that there is such a thing as injustice towards oneself, because these parts of the self may be thwarted in their respective desires, so that there may be a sort of justice between them, such as exists between ruler and subject. [10]

So much may be said in description of Justice and of the other Moral Virtues.

1 The argument seems to be, that suicide does not prove the possibility of a man's committing ‘injustice,’ in the wider sense of any illegal injury, against himself. Suicide is an act of injustice in this sense, since it is the voluntary infliction of bodily harm not in retaliation and therefore contrary to law; but it is an offense not against oneself but against the State, since it is punished as such.

2 Or perhaps ‘and any form of homicide that it does not expressly permit.’

3 i.e., the principle of retaliation.

4 At Athens a suicide's hand was buried apart from the body; Aeschin. 3.244.

5 This clause has no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence; Ramsauer brackets it, Rassow supplies before it τὸ δὲ δικαιοπραγεῖν μέσον, ‘whereas just conduct is a mean.’

6 Plato's Republic and the writings of Plato's followers: cf. 1.13.9.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon, 244
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