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[1282b] [1] But the difficulty first mentioned1 proves nothing else so clearly as that it is proper for the laws when rightly laid down to be sovereign, while the ruler or rulers in office should have supreme powers over matters as to which the laws are quite unable to pronounce with precision because of the difficulty of making a general rule to cover all cases. We have not however yet ascertained at all what particular character a code of laws correctly laid down ought to possess, but the difficulty raised at the start2 still remains;3 for necessarily the laws are good or bad, just or unjust, simultaneously with and similarly to the constitutions of states (though of course it is obvious that the laws are bound to be adapted to the constitution); yet if so, it is clear that the laws in conformity with the right constitutions must necessarily be just and those in conformity with the divergent4 forms of constitution unjust.

5And inasmuch as in all the sciences and arts the End is a good, and the greatest good and good in the highest degree in the most authoritative of all, which is the political faculty, and the good in the political field, that is, the general advantage, is justice, it is therefore thought by all men that justice is some sort of equality, and up to a certain point at all events they agree with the philosophical discourses in which [20] conclusions have been reached about questions of ethics6; for justice is a quality of a thing in relation to persons,7 and they hold that for persons that are equal the thing must be equal. But equality in what characteristics does this mean, and inequality in what? This must be made clear, since this too raises a difficulty, and calls for political philosophy. For perhaps someone might say that the offices of state ought to be distributed unequally according to superiority in every good quality, even if the candidates in all other respects did not differ at all but were exactly alike, because men that are different8 have different rights and merits. Yet if this is true, those who are superior in complexion or stature or any good quality will have an advantage in respect of political rights. But surely the error here is obvious, and it comes out clearly if we consider the other sciences and faculties. Among flute-players equally good at their art it is not proper to give an advantage in respect of the flutes to those of better birth, for they will not play any better, but it is the superior performers who ought to be given the superior instruments. And if our meaning is not yet plain, it will become still clearer when we have carried the matter further. Suppose someone is superior in playing the flute but much inferior in birth or in good looks, then, even granting that each of these things—birth and beauty—is a greater good than ability to play the flute, and even though they surpass flute-playing proportionately more than the best flute-player surpasses the others in flute-playing, even so the best flute-player ought to be given the outstandingly good flutes;

1 Viz. that in whatever class sovereignty is vested, some hardships will result, 1281a 14 ff.

2 See 1281a 36.

3 Probably this clause should stand after the next, ‘though—constitution’ (which will be a parenthesis), and should run ‘but <the difficulty is there> for necessarily—states.’

4 The usual rendering is ‘perverted,’ but the Greek term is more neutral.

5 What follows is a summary of Aristot. Nic. Eth. 2.

6 See also Aristot. Nic. Eth. 5.3.

7 Literally, ‘the just is (a just) something and (something just) for somebody.’

8 i.e. different in some good quality.

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  • Cross-references in notes to this page (1):
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1103a
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1131a
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