What does justice mean? Answering this question is necessary before you start claiming you want “justice in the public sphere.” I am looking through Oliver and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius on how earlier Christian thinkers reflected on justice.
Background: Aristotle (Nic. Ethics, BK V).
Equality is a kind of proportion, a relation of four terms. The treatment of one person is equivalent to the treatment of another person. Distributive justice is a geometric proportion: the treatment then differs between the persons’ estates.
The Christian conclusion to all of this is that there is more to justice than the fair exchange of property rights. Neo-liberals tend to construe justice in transactional terms. Aristotle said justice was “just distribution,” but how do we go about that?
The Christian witness saw a new aspect to justice: performative justice, or judgment (O’Donovan 170).
John of Salisbury: “Injustice is (as the stoics agree) a mental disposition (mentis habitus) which removes equity from the realm of morals….Moreover, justice consists chiefly in this: do no harm and prevent the doing of harm out of a duty to humanity” (Policratus 4.8).
Moral virtue of rendering to others their due (ST 2a 2ae. 57.1). It is a balance of equity. In terms of property Thomas says that while community of goods is part of the natural law, it does not follow that private property is outlawed. All this means is that the natural order doesn’t tell you how to divvy up the land–only, one can’t take land that makes another starve (ST 2a 2ae. 66.2).
Dante: “Justice is at its strongest only under a monarch; therefore, monarchy or empire is essential if the world is to attain to a perfect order” (Monarchia 1.11). Dante’s reasoning seems to be that justice is most powerful if it is concentrated. If we divide justice among rulers, we weaken justice.
Jean Gerson: “The definition of justice is: a perpetual and constant will to assign everything its proper right” (On Church Power and the Origin of Law and Right, sec 13). He then defines “right” as “a proximate faculty or power which belongs to some subject as prescribed by primary justice.”
justice in transactions: this is strict justice as such, a proportionality between entities (citations from The Right of War and Peace, 1.8). Grotius calls this expletive justice, implementing rights that already exist.
Distributive justice: there is no inherent claim to right, but only a potential for it.
Grotius brings together Aristotelian distinctions with that of subjective rights.
subjective right: right attaching to a subject (Irenaeus to Grotius, 797-799). A faculty is a right in the strict sense (entitles me to claim something as my own).
Grotius reworks subjective rights, not as entitlement, but as “fitness” or “aptitude.”