Monday, 8 December 2014

Justice in M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis

For reasons I forget, I read some of M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis. Its a classic, you know, in which Cicero expounds his conception of the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations.

Of the three remaining divisions, the most extensive in its application is the principle by which society and what we may call its “common bonds” are maintained. Of this again there are two divisions—justice, in which is the crowning glory of the virtues and on the basis of which men are called “good men”; and, close akin to justice, charity, which may also be called kindness or generosity. The first office of justice is to keep one man from doing harm to another, unless provoked by wrong; and the next is to lead men to use common possessions for the common interests, private property for their own... The foundation of justice, moreover, is good faith— that is, truth and fidelity to promises and agreements.
That interests me, because of the way it parallels and yet differs from Hobbes. Which is, in case you've forgotten, the definition of injustice is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not unjust is just. Hobbes would insist on the Sword, not Good Faith.

Cicero has a different emphasis to Hobbes: he is more concerned to give practical advice, often by example:

Injustice often arises also through chicanery, that is, through an over-subtle and even fraudulent construction of the law. This it is that gave rise to the now familiar saw, “More law, less justice.” Through such interpretation also a great deal of wrong is committed in transactions between state and state; thus, when a truce had been made with the enemy for thirty days, a famous general went to ravaging their fields by night, because, he said, the truce stipulated “days,” not nights. Not even our own countryman's action is to be commended, if what is told of Quintus Fabius Labeo is true—or whoever it was (for I have no authority but hearsay): appointed by the Senate to arbitrate a boundary dispute between Nola and Naples, he took up the case and interviewed both parties separately, asking them not to proceed in a covetous or grasping spirit, but to make some concession rather than claim some accession. When each party had agreed to this, there was a considerable strip of territory left between them. And so he set the boundary of each city as each had severally agreed; and the tract in between he awarded to the Roman People. Now that is swindling, not arbitration. And therefore such sharp practice is under all circumstances to be avoided.
Hobbes by contrast never uses examples, because he is interested in a general theory.

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