Screenshot from ‘Lord of the Rings’

1. What is justice?

Socrates says that justice is a virtue. This means that justice is one of the ways that a human being can be excellent. According to the Socratic tradition, there are four cardinal virtues and justice is one of them.

In the book called Euthyphro by Plato, the character Euthyphro creates a further distinction in one of the virtues. He considers justice to be of two parts. For sake of organization, I have named them “Ethics” and “Morality.” Morality is the part of justice is concerned with our relationship with the gods, and Ethics is the part of justice that is concerned with our relationship with fellow humans. [NB: Neither Socrates nor Euthyphro provide a formal label for these domains; the labels are my own invention based on their descriptions.]

Below is a modified Euler-diagram to help visualize the sub-division of justice into its two parts:

This modified Euler-diagram (above) shows that some matters are relevant to the domain of ethics but not morality, while some matters are relevant to the domain of morality but not ethics. And finally, some matters are relevant to both ethics and morality, while justice encompasses all the possible areas of the sub-divisions. (Question: What would a book like Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics be concerned with?)

Below is another version of the modified Euler-diagram:

This alternate variation of a modified Euler-diagram (above) shows that all of ethics is a matter of morality. But it also shows that some matters of morality are not a matter of ethics. Just as in the first diagram, justice still encompasses all the possible areas.

There are likely other ways to view the situation. For instance, it may be the case that all morality is a matter of ethics (i.e., the inverse of the second diagram). Or, it may be the case that morality and ethics are mutually exclusive domains of justice. I have only provided a couple ways of viewing the bigger picture, to help us get organized in thinking about the issue of justice. (Question: What do you think is the correct view of things?)

2. What is Socrates’ question to Euthyphro?

Euthyphro makes the claim that something is holy (i.e., a matter within the moral domain) if it is whatever the gods love. But Socrates points out that all the gods love different things! –which might mean that nothing can be holy. But is this correct?

Euthyphro still wants to cling to the belief that whatever the gods love is holy. So Socrates helps Euthyphro qualify his belief by suggesting that perhaps what he means is that something is holy only if all the gods love it. But what is it that all the gods love?

(Question: What do you suppose it is, that all the many gods love?)

The next section is my proposed answer to Socrates’ question. Before you read any further, you might want to stop here and try to formulate an answer to the question for yourself before proceeding, so that you can compare it with mine. It would be surprising if we got the same answer independently!

3. What do all the gods love?

So Socrates’ question to Euthyphro was, What do all the gods love?

To start, let’s reformulate the question. Imagine that the set of things that each Greek god loved was represented by the area inside of a modified Euler-diagram circle. Now envision many such rings placed around, so that they all share one area of overlap. What could go in this area of overlap?

My answer is: the self. Why do I think that?

Well, my view of the Greek gods is that they are quite a narcissistic bunch. Presumably, they would always fight with one another because they were never willing to compromise their own interests. It became apparent to me that they must all each at least love themselves. And so that seemed to solve the riddle for me. That is, the thing that all the gods loved was the self, since there is no Greek god who did not love him or her self. And since whatever all the gods love is what is considered holy, it must be the case that the self is holy. [Even mortal selves!]

Therefore, the domain of morality concerns itself with our relation to our self. And since morality is a sub-division of justice, having a proper relationship with the self is also justice.

You wouldn’t be alone if you thought that Euthyphro and Socrates basically invent monotheism in the West with their examination of the question: What do all the gods love?

(And is it just me, or are Euler-diagram rings really cool things or what???)

• Last updated 2017, July 27 @ 2050 hours.

For Further Reading:
Plato, Euthyphro, 9e-15b