previous next
13. Let us now classify just and unjust actions generally, starting from what follows. Justice and injustice have been defined in reference to laws and persons in two ways. [2] Now there are two kinds of laws, particular and general. By particular laws I mean those established by each people in reference to themselves, which again are divided into written and unwritten; by general laws I mean those based upon nature. In fact, there is a general idea of just and unjust in accordance with nature, as all men in a manner divine, even if there is neither communication nor agreement between them. This is what Antigone in Sophocles1 evidently means, when she declares that it is just, though forbidden, to bury Polynices, as being naturally just: “ For neither to-day nor yesterday, but from all eternity, these statutes live and no man knoweth whence they came.

” And as Empedocles says in regard to not killing that which has life, for this is not right for some and wrong for others, “ But a universal precept, which extends without a break throughout the wide-ruling sky and the boundless earth.

” Alcidamas2 also speaks of this precept in his Messeniacus. . . . [3] And in relation to persons, there is a twofold division of law; for what one ought to do or ought not to do is concerned
with the community generally, or one of its members.

Therefore there are two kinds of just and unjust acts, since they can be committed against a definite individual or against the community; he who commits adultery or an assault is guilty of wrong against a definite individual, he who refuses to serve in the army of wrong against the State. [4] All kinds of wrong acts having been thus distinguished, some of which affect the State, others one or several individuals, let us repeat the definition of being wronged,3 and then go on to the rest. [5] Being wronged is to suffer injustice at the hands of one who voluntarily inflicts it, for it has been established that injustice is a voluntary act. [6] And since the man who suffers injustice necessarily sustains injury and that against his will, it is evident from what has been said in what the injuries consist; for things good and bad have already been distinguished in themselves,4 and it has been said that voluntary acts are all such as are committed with knowledge of the case.5 [7] Hence it necessarily follows that all accusations concern the State or the individual, the accused having acted either ignorantly and against his will, or voluntarily and with knowledge, and in the latter case with malice aforethought or from passion. [8] We will speak of anger when we come to treat of the passions,6 and we have already stated7 in what circumstances and with what dispositions men act with deliberate purpose.

[9] But since a man, while admitting the fact,
often denies the description of the charge or the point on which it turns—for instance, admits that he took something, but did not steal it; that he was the first to strike, but committed no outrage; that he had relations, but did not commit adultery, with a woman; or that he stole something but was not guilty of sacrilege, since the object in question was not consecrated; or that he trespassed, but not on public land; or that he held converse with the enemy, but was not guilty of treason—for this reason it will be necessary that a definition should be given of theft, outrage, or adultery, in order that, if we desire to prove that an offence has or has not been committed, we may be able to put the case in a true light. [10] In all such instances the question at issue is to know whether the supposed offender is a wrongdoer and a worthless person, or not; for vice and wrongdoing consist in the moral purpose, and such terms as outrage and theft further indicate purpose; for if a man has struck, it does not in all cases follow that he has committed an outrage, but only if he has struck with a certain object, for instance, to bring disrepute upon the other or to please himself. Again, if a man has taken something by stealth, it is by no means certain that he has committed theft, but only if he has taken it to injure another8 or to get something for himself. It is the same in all other cases as in these.

[11] We have said that there are two kinds of just and unjust actions (for some are written, but others are unwritten),
and have spoken of those concerning which the laws are explicit; of those that are unwritten there are two kinds. [12] One kind arises from an excess of virtue or vice, which is followed by praise or blame, honor or dishonor, and rewards; for instance, to be grateful to a benefactor, to render good for good, to help one's friends, and the like;9 the other kind contains what is omitted in the special written law. [13] For that which is equitable seems to be just, and equity is justice that goes beyond the written law. These omissions are sometimes involuntary, sometimes voluntary, on the part of the legislators; involuntary when it may have escaped their notice, voluntary when, being unable to define for all cases, they are obliged to make a universal statement, which is not applicable to all, but only to most, cases; and whenever it is difficult to give a definition owing to the infinite number of cases,10 as, for instance, the size and kind of an iron instrument used in wounding; for life would not be long enough to reckon all the possibilities. [14] If then no exact definition is possible, but legislation is necessary, one must have recourse to general terms; so that, if a man wearing a ring lifts up his hand to strike or actually strikes, according to the written law he is guilty of wrongdoing,
but in reality he is not; and this is a case for equity.

[15] If then our definition of equity is correct, it is easy to see what things and persons are equitable or not. [16] Actions which should be leniently treated are cases for equity; errors, wrong acts, and misfortunes, must not be thought deserving of the same penalty. Misfortunes are all such things as are unexpected and not vicious; errors are not unexpected, but are not vicious; wrong acts are such as might be expected and vicious, for acts committed through desire arise from vice. [17] And it is equitable to pardon human weaknesses, and to look, not to the law but to the legislator; not to the letter of the law but to the intention of the legislator; not to the action itself, but to the moral purpose; [18] not to the part, but to the whole; not to what a man is now, but to what he has been, always or generally; to remember good rather than ill treatment, and benefits received rather than those conferred; to bear injury with patience; to be willing to appeal to the judgement of reason rather than to violence;11 [19] to prefer
arbitration to the law court, for the arbitrator keeps equity in view, whereas the dicast looks only to the law, and the reason why arbitrators were appointed was that equity might prevail. Let this manner of defining equity suffice.

1 Soph. Ant. 456.

2 Of Elis, pupil of Gorgias. The oration is not extant, but the scholiast supplies his words: ἐλευθέρους ἀφῆκε πάντας θεός: οὐδένα δοῦλον φύσις πεποίηκεν (“God has left all men free; Nature has made none a slave”). The Messenians had revolted from Sparta.

3 1.10.3.

4 Book 1.6.

5 1.10.3.

6 Book 2.2.

7 Book 1.11, 12.

8 Roemer reads, after Dittmeyer, εἰ ἐπὶ βλάβῃ [τούτου ἀφ᾽ οὗ ἔλαβε] καὶ . . . from the old Latin translation

9 Laws are special and general, the former being written or unwritten. The unwritten law, again, is of two kinds: (1) general; (2) supplementary to the special written law. This general law (not the same as the general law “based upon nature” sect. 2) refers to acts which go beyond the legal standard of virtuous or vicious acts and are characterized by a remarkable degree ( καθ᾽ ὑπερβολήν) of virtue or the opposite. For these laws do not prescribe any special reward or punishment, but acts are praised or blamed, honored or dishonored, rewarded or punished, in accordance with the general feeling of mankind.

10 “Inexperience” (Jebb).

11 “To be willing that a judicial sentence should be nominal rather than real” (Jebb).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Notes (E. M. Cope, 1877)
load focus Greek (W. D. Ross, 1959)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Elis (Greece) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (4 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 454
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 3.53
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 456
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: