Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 6 (1134a17-1134b18)

By Aristotle

Book 5, Chapter 6 (1134a17-1134b18)

  • Aristotle says that it's possible to commit an injustice without being an unjust person. So just how awful do you have to be in order to be called unjust?
  • First, Aristotle has to figure out who is a candidate for justice (hint: it's not for everybody).
  • It is only for those to whom the law applies—for those living in a community, a political entity. Without community, there is no law—and therefore, no injustice is possible.
  • The law keeps things in balance—not humans.
  • If humans took it into their hands without the guidance of the law, rulers would always become tyrants.
  • That's because humans would choose more of the good and less of the bad for themselves if left to their own devices.
  • Aristotle says that a ruler should be a "guardian of the just," distributing what is good proportionally and fairly.
  • What does a ruler stand to gain if he doesn't hoard all of the good for himself? In being just, he earns honor and privilege—which are the highest goods.
  • The term "just" is relative. Aristotle claims that there can be no injustice from either a father or a slavemaster, since "things" aren't part of a system of justice. Um. Yikes.
  • Children are considered part of the father's body (at least, until they come of age)—and it isn't possible to be unjust to oneself.
  • Justice can be applied to a man's wife, but not in the political sense as Aristotle has defined it, since there is no law in that community of two.