All posts by Theodore Scaltsas

Reciprocity and Justice: What Aristotle tells us about it!

Professor Theodore Scaltsas holds the Chair of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He started his professional career at Oxford University, after receiving his degrees at Oxford, Brandeis and Duke universities. He specialises in Ancient Greek philosophy, and in innovative applications of Information Technology to abstract thought. He has held Research Fellowships at Harvard, Princeton, and Sydney universities. His publications focus on Aristotle, and extend to Plato, Socrates, Zeno and the Stoics.

In his Ethics Aristotle says:

“Of particular justice, one kind is that which is manifested in distributions of honour or money or the other things that fall to be divided among those who have a share in the constitution, and one is that which plays a rectifying part in transactions between man and man”.

Aristotle describes the range of application of the second kind — rectificatory justice — as extending to transactions of sale, purchase, loan for consumption, pledging, loan for use, depositing, and letting, as well as to such actions as theft, adultery, poisoning, procuring, enticement of slaves, assassination, false witness, assault, imprisonment, murder, robbery with violence, mutilation, insult.  The list is substantial, and between them distributive and rectificatory justice seem to provide a full spectrum for covering all cases of distribution of goods, exchange of goods and rectification for harm done.  My concern in this paper is to provide new arguments in support of the position that there is a domain for the application of justice which is not covered either by distributive or by rectificatory justice.  This is the domain of reciprocal justice, which is introduced by Aristotle to complement the other two.  One sector of this domain consists of acts of injustice, and the other, of exchanges of goods in society.  I shall first be concerned with the meaning of ‘reciprocity’ for Aristotle.  Then I shall argue that, according to Aristotle, reciprocal justice fills a gap left by distributive and rectificatory justice.  I shall finally offer a utilitarian argument, not offered by Aristotle but needed for his position, to distinguish between reciprocal and rectificatory justice. Continue reading