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Again the abstract principles of Justice have their province among those who partake of what is abstractedly good, and can have too much or too little of these. Now there are beings who cannot have too much of them, as perhaps the gods; there are others, again, to whom no particle of them is of use, those who are incurably wicked to whom all things are hurtful; others to whom they are useful to a certain degree: for this reason then the province of Justice is among Men.
1137b] We have next to speak of Equity and the Equitable, that is to say, of the relations of Equity to Justice and the Equitable to the Just; for when we look into the matter the two do not appear identical nor yet different in kind; and we sometimes commend the Equitable and the man who embodies it in his actions, so that by way of praise we commonly transfer the term also to other acts instead of the term good, thus showing that the more Equitable a thing is the better it is: at other times following a certain train of reasoning we arrive at a difficulty, in that the Equitable though distinct from the Just is yet praiseworthy; it seems to follow either that the Just is not good or the Equitable not Just, since they are by hypothesis different; or if both are good then they are identical.
This is a tolerably fair statement of the difficulty which on these grounds arises in respect of the Equitable; but, in fact, all these may be reconciled and really involve no contradiction: for the Equitable is Just, being also better than one form of Just, but is not better than the Just as though it were different from it in kind: Just and Equitable then are identical, and, both being good, the Equitable is the better of the two.
What causes the difficulty is this; the Equitable is Just, but not the Just which is in accordance with written law, being in fact a correction of that kind of Just. And the account of this is, that every law is necessarily universal while there are some things which it is not possible to speak of rightly in any universal or general statement. Where then there is a necessity for general statement, while a general statement cannot apply rightly to all cases, the law takes the generality of cases, being fully aware of the error thus involved; and rightly too notwithstanding, because the fault is not in the law, or in the framer of the law, but is inherent in the nature of the thing, because the matter of all action is necessarily such.
When then the law has spoken in general terms, and there arises a case of exception to the general rule, it is proper, in so far as the lawgiver omits the case and by reason of his universality of statement is wrong, to set right the omission by ruling it as the lawgiver himself would rule were he there present, and would have provided by law had he foreseen the case would arise. And so the Equitable is Just but better than one form of Just; I do not mean the abstract Just but the error which arises out of the universality of statement: and this is the nature of the Equitable, “a correction of Law, where Law is defective by reason of its universality.”
This is the reason why not all things are according to law, because there are things about which it is simply impossible to lay down a law, and so we want special enactments for particular cases. For to speak generally, the rule of the undefined must be itself undefined also, just as the rule to measure Lesbian building is made of lead: for this rule shifts according to the form of each stone and the special enactment according to the facts of the case in question.
1138a] It is clear then what the Equitable is; namely that it is Just but better than one form of Just: and hence it appears too who the Equitable man is: he is one who has a tendency to choose and carry out these principles, and who is not apt to press the letter of the law on the worse side but content to waive his strict claims though backed by the law: and this moral state is Equity, being a species of Justice, not a different moral state from Justice.
The answer to the second of the two questions indicated above, “whether it is possible for a man to deal unjustly by himself,” is obvious from what has been already stated. In the first place, one class of Justs is those which are enforced by law in accordance with Virtue in the most extensive sense of the term: for instance, the law does not bid a man kill himself; and whatever it does not bid it forbids: well, whenever a man does hurt contrary to the law (unless by way of requital of hurt), voluntarily, i.e. knowing to whom he does it and wherewith, he acts Unjustly. Now he that from rage kills himself, voluntarily, does this in contravention of Right Reason, which the law does not permit. He therefore acts Unjustly: but towards whom? towards the Community, not towards himself (because he suffers with his own consent, and no man can be Unjustly dealt with with his own consent), and on this principle the Community punishes him; that is a certain infamy is attached to the suicide as to one who acts Unjustly towards the Community.
Next, a man cannot deal Unjustly by himself in the sense in which a man is Unjust who only does Unjust acts without being entirely bad (for the two things are different, because the Unjust man is in a way bad, as the coward is, not as though he were chargeable with badness in the full extent of the term, and so he does not act Unjustly in this sense), because if it were so then it would be possible for the same thing to have been taken away from and added to the same person: but this is really not possible, the Just and the Unjust always implying a plurality of persons.
Again, an Unjust action must be voluntary, done of deliberate purpose, and aggressive (for the man who hurts because he has first suffered and is merely requiting the same is not thought to act Unjustly), but here the man does to himself and suffers the same things at the same time.
Again, it would imply the possibility of being Unjustly dealt with with one’s own consent.
And, besides all this, a man cannot act Unjustly without his act falling under some particular crime; now a man cannot seduce his own wife, commit a burglary on his own premises, or steal his own property. After all, the general answer to the question is to allege what was settled respecting being Unjustly dealt with with one’s own consent.
It is obvious, moreover, that being Unjustly dealt by and dealing Unjustly by others are both wrong; because the one is having less, the other having more, than the mean, and the case is parallel to that of the healthy in the healing art, and that of good condition in the art of training: but still the dealing Unjustly by others is the worst of the two, because this involves wickedness and is blameworthy; wickedness, I mean, either wholly, or nearly so (for not all voluntary wrong implies injustice), but the being Unjustly dealt by does not involve wickedness or injustice.
1138b] In itself then, the being Unjustly dealt by is the least bad, but accidentally it may be the greater evil of the two. However, scientific statement cannot take in such considerations; a pleurisy, for instance, is called a greater physical evil than a bruise: and yet this last may be the greater accidentally; it may chance that a bruise received in a fall may cause one to be captured by the enemy and slain.