Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 5 (1132b21-1134a17)

By Aristotle

Book 5, Chapter 5 (1132b21-1134a17)

  • Aristotle investigates the possibility that reciprocity (i.e. we scratch your back, you scratch ours) is a kind of justice.
  • But he comes to the conclusion that reciprocity in a community is neither distributive nor corrective justice. It's a kind of "eye for an eye" type of justice.
  • And in some cases, reciprocal justice just doesn't fly. Case in point? If a sovereign punches a subject, it is not okay for the subject to sock him back.
  • Aristotle says that proportional reciprocity is an important kind of social justice in communities based on exchange.
  • Since mutual exchange is a kind of glue that holds communities together, Aristotle adds this in to his geometric proportion as another variable: "proportionate reciprocal giving."
  • He uses the example of a house builder and a shoemaker who wish to exchange goods/services. In order for the transaction to be just, they have to establish proportional equality.
  • This means that they have to figure out how many shoes equal the type of house-building services at issue here.
  • When this equality is reached, reciprocal giving can take place.
  • Aristotle says that all work doesn't have to be equally important or valuable to be exchanged. The parties only need to work out a proper proportion for everyone to be happy.
  • And so it is that communities require people of different occupations in order to thrive.
  • Aristotle discusses currency ($$) as the great equalizer in commercial exchanges.
  • In this way, money provides a constant variable that all goods and services can be compared to.
  • Once everything has a proportional monetary value, we can see more objectively what things are equal.
  • Reciprocity can only happen when all variables are somehow made equal.
  • Money helps to do this by stabilizing need: it ensures that a person can buy what he needs, rather than simply hoping that he has the right goods or services to exchange.
  • Aristotle says that equality (at least, financial equality) can really only be reached if all things have a value assigned to them.
  • This keeps the door to exchange open—and this is the fundamental basis for a community.
  • He squeezes justice back into this equation by explaining that community relies on exchange; exchange on equality; equality on the ability to figure out what things are worth.
  • Nicely done.
  • To recap on justice (and the just): 1) It's a middle term, and injustice is the extreme; 2) It's a characteristic which disposes people to be concerned with fairness.
  • To recap on injustice (and the unjust): 1) It's both excess (taking more of the good) and deficiency (taking less of the bad); 2) It's worse to commit an injustice than to suffer one.