Aristotle reasons that no one can willingly suffer an injustice and that when goods are unjustly distributed, the distributor is more culpable than the person who receives the largest share. People mistakenly think that justice is an easy matter, as it simply requires obedience to laws. However, true justice comes only from a virtuous disposition, and those lacking in virtue are unable to perceive the just course of action in all cases.

Laws may not always be perfectly applicable. In particular circumstances in which the laws do not produce perfect justice, equity is necessary to mend the imbalance. Therefore, equity is superior to legal justice but inferior to absolute justice.

It is impossible to treat oneself unjustly. Injustice involves one person gaining at another’s expense, so it requires at least two people. Even in the case of suicide, it is not the victim, but the state, that suffers an injustice.


Justice, for Aristotle, consists of restoring or maintaining a proper balance. He hardly distinguishes the justice that deals with criminal cases and the justice involved in legal commerce except to call the former “involuntary” and the latter “voluntary.”

It might be difficult to see what a commercial transaction might have in common with a brutal assault. For Aristotle, they both involve exchanges between two people in which one person stands to gain unfair advantage and the other stands to receive an equivalent disadvantage. Since justice deals with maintaining a proper balance, any case that might result in unfair advantage or disadvantage is a concern of justice.

Though Aristotle considers justice to be a virtue, it is not listed in his table of virtues and vices because it is a special case. Because just behavior is virtuous behavior, justice encompasses all the other virtues. Further, it is not the mean between two extremes—injustice itself is a single extreme.