Justice as Defined by Augustine and Aristotle
“Justice removed, then, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?” (Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, p. 147). Augustine makes quite a claim here. The presence or absence of “justice,” he implies, can make or break a great kingdom. What is this justice that Augustine speaks of? Is it the philosopher kings that define Plato’s “just city,” or perhaps Aristotle’s “good life”? Augustine approaches the challenge of defining justice in a different, but not necessarily contradictory way, than his predecessors. In The City of God against the Pagans, man’s relationship with justice is only secondary; for Augustine, justice is about God.
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This should not be a surprise, because if justice is perfection, than only the perfect being—God, not man—would have access to it. Man can only gain access when he becomes one with God, a situation provided for by Christianity, only after death. “Life, therefore, will only be truly happy when it is eternal.” (Augustine, p. 628). To make this distinction more clear, Augustine reveals the existence of two cities: the city of God (the heavens), and the city of man (earthly cities). The city of God is defined by a love of God, while the city of man is defined by a love of self. “Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self.” (Augustine, p. 632). This is where Augustine’s definition of justice becomes extremely clear. For a man to be just (more correctly, to pursue justice), he must deny human nature’s love of self, and actively drive himself towards a love of God. This is, as mentioned earlier, the recognition that man’s place is below God, and this recognition is accomplished through moderation. “Behold, therefore, the man who lives as he wishes because he has forced and commanded himself not to desire what he cannot have, but to choose only what he can have.” (Augustine, p. 628).