Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 4 (1131b25-1132b20)

By Aristotle

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Book 5, Chapter 4 (1131b25-1132b20)

  • Here we have specifics on "corrective justice." If you recall, this involves voluntary and involuntary transactions/interactions.
  • This type of justice also has to do with equality. But the proportion involved here is "arithmetic" (rather than the geometric one Aristotle proposes in Chapter 3).
  • This equation deals with lawfulness and harm done. It doesn't matter who's been hurt (or who does the hurting). If a wrong has been done, the law must address it.
  • It's the judge's job to make things right hereā€”to restore the balance of justice. He does this by punishing (i.e. inflicting loss on) a person who's gained in some way from unlawful action.
  • Aristotle wants to make sure we understand the terms "gain" and "loss" so that we can arrive at equality (which is the middle term here).
  • "Gain" = more of the good; "loss" = less of the good (or more of the bad).
  • To re-establish equilibrium, corrective justice seeks that middle place, which may mean inflicting loss on someone who has unrightfully gained something.
  • Aristotle says that people go to a judge to resolve their disputes because a judge should be "the just ensouled."
  • Their job is to find that place of equality to make things right.
  • Aristotle uses geometry again to illustrate how a judge restores equality in each of his cases.
  • If we think of a line that has been cut into unequal parts, imagine the judge as one who takes the excess from the larger line and adds it to the smaller line.
  • Aristotle provides a more precise arithmetical proportion to calculate by how much a larger line should be reduced to achieve equality.
  • Loss and gain belongs to voluntary transactions (i.e. business transactions, one that at least two parties can enter into voluntarily).
  • When we take only exactly what we've contributed, then we can say that we have neither lost nor gained.
  • Aristotle calls this just distribution: coming out with neither more nor less, but with your skin intact.

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