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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: November 2009

6 - Justice


Clearly, no one has a higher claim on our reverence than the man who possesses the instinct and the strength for justice. … In fact, the will to be just is not enough; and man's worst miseries are the result of justice that lacks discernment. This is why the general welfare demands above all else that the seeds of judgment be sown as widely as possible so as to distinguish between fanatic and judge, and to recognize the difference between the blind desire to be judge and the ability to judge. But how can we possibly develop such discernment?

Friedrich Nietzsche

Justice differs from the other virtues in a number of respects. It seems preeminently a social or political virtue, bearing on the relations required for the very existence of community in a way that other virtues do not. Unlike the other virtues, justice may rightly be exacted from us by force. The principles or rules that define justice are ordinarily taken as enforceable whereas the rules of benevolence are not. The rules specifying what actions justice requires or prohibits are more precise than those of the other virtues; as we have seen, Smith compares them to the rules of grammar. Further, justice is distinct in that it is primarily a “negiative virtue” (II.ii.1.9), defined in terms of abstention from wrongdoing. Whereas Smith insists on the distinctness of justice, he also holds that justice is a virtue or excellence of character, though not an admirable disposition of self in quite the same sense as the other virtues.

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Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment
  • Online ISBN: 9780511608964
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