(If you haven’t read our blog post that gives an overview of the cardinal virtues of Stoicism, we recommend reading through that first.)
Introduction & Definition
Here at Maritime Supply Co, we draw a great deal of inspiration for our message and mentality from the Stoic philosophers of old. Though they lived in ancient times, their wisdom still holds true in this modern age. Although the Stoics did not assign a particular hierarchy to their cardinal virtues, we have found that they flow well in this order: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. This is the third part of our series focusing on each of the four Stoic virtues. For this episode, we’ll be examining the virtue of justice.
Justice (noun): the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action
- Conformity to truth, fact, or reason.
“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter. … There as well: ‘To do what needs doing.’” ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“Justice” is a word with a great deal of connotative meaning attached to it these days. When people speak of justice, sometimes they are speaking about the process of equality. At other times, the term is used interchangeably with “equity.” In the above quote, the ancient Roman senator Marcus Aurelius speaks to the heart of justice as defined by Stoicism - doing the right thing. “The right thing” could be further defined as the duty to our fellow beings to do no harm and moreover, to do good to one another.
The Golden Rule
Think of Stoic justice as the Golden Rule (1) in action, informed by wisdom and emboldened by courage. It is important to use the virtue of wisdom to determine the most fair and responsible course of action. After all, there is a reason why you would prefer a wise man to preside over a legal dispute instead of a brash man - justice is not a case to be taken lightly. Once you have discerned a virtuous path, you can move on to using your courage. Enacting fairness can be a daunting challenge and may require bravery in the face of adversity.
Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. ~Benjamin Franklin
The need for justice is often encountered in situations where people’s voices have been silenced, or where they are not given a chance to speak up for themselves. It is the responsibility of those in a position to be heard to carry that message forward. Just as Benjamin Franklin describes above, it is a person’s responsibility to care about situations that affect our entire community and society. Even if a problem does not affect you directly, it may still affect your neighbor or friend or coworker and they need your help to resolve it.
1 The principle of treating others as one would expect to be treated themselves.
A Network of Mutuality
The desire to help others is part of our human nature - just look at how folks are willing to step up to assist in situations ranging from natural disaster recovery all the way to holding the door for someone walking behind them. Living with virtue requires us to be aware of those in our communities who are suffering, as well as people who are prevented from thriving. As individuals, we strive for a life of ease and fulfillment - that same quality of life should be accessible for all.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. ~Martin Luther King Jr.
Our commitment to justice must be informed by our relationships with those around us. The more that we relate to our family, friends, and communities, the better we can empathize and understand what affects each person. From there, we can set short term goals to help those within our close circles and devote ourselves to a long term objective of justice in our greater world. Choosing the path of truth and justice is not an easy journey, but it is a necessary one and requires wise, courageous people to see it through.
Examine the world around you and determine what situation would benefit from justice. The next step is simple: do what needs doing.