Toward A Better Understanding of Epicurean Justice And Injustice (With Examples of "Just" and "Unjust")

  • "don't harm; don't be harmed" -

    One of the clear reservations I have about stating the point that way is that "harm" seems overbroad. If a burglar or murderer threatens me or my friends, I consider myself entirely justified in placing a high degree of "harm" on that person to stop them from their efforts, and I think Epicurus would fully agree with that. How would you account for those situations in use of the word "harm"? Is it not "harming" a murderer to put a bullet between his eyes before he accomplishes his goal?

  • In your scenario, the burglar has initiated an unjust act in going against the laws of the community (I'm assuming there are laws against burglary and murder in this hypothetical society especially if it's our own). The potential victim is protecting themselves from harm.

    As for definitions of harm let's let Epicurus speak for himself. He says specifically in several KDs:


    μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.

    Neither βλάπτειν nor βλάπτεσθαι.


    βλάπτειν

    Infinitive of βλάπτω

    to disable,to hinder

    to harm, to hurt, to damage


    βλάπτεσθαι

    middle/passive infinitive of βλάπτω

    which refers the action/benefit back to oneself

    That's where the "don't be harmed" comes from.

    Here's the LSJ for βλάπτω for full context:

    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…999.04.0057:entry=bla/ptw And http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…999.04.0058:entry=bla/ptw

  • Ok maybe where I am going is back in the direction of "examples.". Is protecting oneself from a murderer something that comes under the heading of " justice " at all?


    I think most people today would say that it does. Are you saying Epicurus would not (say that self-protection involving harm to the aggressor) because that does not fall under the category of justice?

  • Ok maybe where I am going is back in the direction of "examples.". Is protecting oneself from a murderer something that comes under the heading of " justice " at all?

    I think most pple today would say that it does. Are you saying Epicurus would not (say that self-protection involving harm to the aggressor) because that does not fall under the category of justice?

    To the first question:

    Yes.

    You are protecting yourself from being harmed. I believe Epicurus would say, if possible, make decisions that don't put yourself in a situation in which you can be harmed. But, if chance does put you there, it is natural for you to not want to be harmed.

    Eschewing the word "justice", I would fall back on δίκαιος's sense of "civilized behavior." Self-defense is justified under "Neither βλάπτειν nor βλάπτεσθαι."


    I guess that also sort of addresses question #2.

  • ok but suppose the two people involved in that murder hypothetical were on a desert island totally isolated from all organized communities or other people entirely? Would self defense then still be a matter of "justice"? Now clearly it is desirable / proper under Epicurean texts, but the question is must Epicurean justice be a matter of "society"?


    Maybe that last part is the key point. Is Epicurus talking about justice using his own terminology? As with gods, how much of the outside terminology is he accepting?

  • ok but suppose the two people involved in rhd murder hypothetical were on a desert island totally isolated from all organized communities or other people entirely? Would self defense then still be a matter of "justice"? Now clearly it is desirable / proper under Epicurean texts, but the question is must Epicurean justice be a matter of "society"?

    Epicurean justice or civilized behavior appears to me to be entirely contextual between human beings existing in a community of any size.

    Have the two castaways agreed on any ground rules? Or are they bound by the laws of the society from which they sailed? Those are the questions that would need answering.

    You can have a "community" (what you call "society") of two people I'd say as long as they've agreed on an agreement on how to coexist on the island. If they cannot agree or decide not to agree, then maybe "civilized behavior" isn't an appropriate frame for their interaction.

  • Maybe that last part is the key point. Is Epicurus talking about justice using his own terminology? As with gods, how much of the outside terminology is he accepting?

    I think like gods, he's boiling down the definition to its most basic essence. Gods = blessed and uncorruptible ones; justice = neither harm nor be harmed. People may embellish those definitions but almost everyone could agree on those boiled down definitions.

    Are the gods blessed and uncorruptible beings?

    Yes, but they're also...

    Wait, wait! Not so fast! That's enough.

    Is it just to not harm nor be harmed.

    Yes, but it's also...

    Wait! Wait! That'll do.

    ;)

  • I agree, that the issue of justice lies exactly here: "Have the two castaways agreed on any ground rules?"


    As we know, justice must be created, it does not just float around and therefore without us fabricating it by mutual agreement it will not be around at all.


    KΔ32 "Natural justice is a mutual agreement of mutual interest to not harm each other and to not be harmed. All of the living things that are not able to form treaties regarding not harming each other and not being harmed: for them nothing can be just or unjust - in this same situation also are all of those tribes who were not able or did not want to form treaties about not harming and not being harmed."


    Mελετᾶν οὖν χρὴ τὰ ποιοῦντα τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν.

    It is necessary to study what produces wellbeing.

  • That brings up a question: Is there a "natural" agreement among humans to neither harm nor be harmed, or does that have to be mutually agreed upon?

    I'm thinking if a culture/society/community made a law that it was legal to kill people with red hair, would that law then be just for that society? It would be legal, but would it be just for members of that society?


    My answer would be "no, it is not just" because a red-haired person would constantly live in fear of harm. That's what I'd say Epicurus meant by justice is the same for all people ... But what does he mean when he says if circumstances change. We're back to mutual benefit then. The red-hair murder law does not mutually benefit those with red hair in that society.


    I'm not saying any of this is easy, but I do think Epicurus gave us a framework and some basic criteria to decide if acts were just. Why else would he bother to talk about living justly etc. if there was no way to know what that meant.

  • I think Bryan has really encapsulated the whole issue here, which is the key to unwinding it:


    As we know, justice must be created, it does not just float around and therefore without us fabricating it by mutual agreement it will not be around at all.


    And I think that the issue of killing all red-haired people has to be analyzed in that context. Were the red-haired people formerly part of an agreement not to harm or be harmed? Are the circumstances that gave rise to the agreement still present?


    If (1) the red-hairs were not part of an agreement in the first place, a law to kill them would not be "unjust" in this viewpoint.

    If (2) the red-hairs WERE part of an agreement previously, but the circumstances under which the agreement was entered into have changed, and the parties no longer mutually agree that killing red-hairs is improper, then a law to kill them would not be unjust after those circumstances change.


    That's why this would not be a factor:


    because a red-haired person would constantly live in fear of harm.

    You would expect that the people you have determined to be your enemies, and whom you think it appropriate to kill, would constantly live in fear of harm. For whatever reason you've not agreed not to kill them, and "justice" must be founded on agreement, so it's either "not unjust" or "neither just nor unjust" to kill them, because you're not violating a present agreement.


    The bigger issue I have is distinguishing use of the term "unjust" from what Epicurus is apparently implying is "outside justice" (neither just nor unjust). I don't think we're yet clear on the difference between those two (unjust vs neither just nor unjust).

  • I'm not sure if I agree with all your conclusions but don't have any strong arguments at this time.

    I wanted to share the most recent podcast I listened to with Lisa Feldman Barrett:

    https://www.tenpercent.com/pod…/lisa-feldman-barrett-336

    It's a Buddhist podcast, so skip the first could minutes if you like... But I highly encourage you to listen to the end. I think it connects directly to our discussion here.

    She and the host talk about parallels with her research and Buddhist Abhidharma. But I still contend there are strong parallels between her research and Epicurean philosophy.

    Enjoy if you get the chance to listen and post if you see parallels too especially in the social aspect they discuss at the end.

  • Thank you I will listen to that ....


    Also, I think this is the appropriate time to restate what I think ought to be implicit, but maybe not:


    I think when Epicurus argues that "justice" does not exist in the air, he is not saying that the issues involved aren't of vital importance to the people involved, or that we should hold back from taking forceful, even "extreme," action to try to stop or resolve circumstances that we find painful. He's not saying that the red-heads should not defend themselves, or that we who presumably would be pained by their elimination (for whatever reason - they're our friends, they are us, or we just don't like the idea of eliminating anybody) should not take strong action to defend them.


    He's simply saying that when we act to defend the red-heads, we should be clear that we are doing so because we ourselves are impelled to do so by our "feelings" (or however we want to describe that). What we're NOT doing is because we are impelled to by some force of "natural justice" that was instituted by the gods, or which exists as somewhere as a platonic or aristotelian absolute.


    I think it's necessary to make this point regularly because we would not be being "heartless" to follow these last ten PD's to their logical conclusion, we would just be being "clear-sighted" when we realize that it's up to US to vindicate our viewpoints.


    And to me, that has a much more forceful value than thinking that there is some kind of universal "justice" that can somehow defend itself, or that somehow motivates every human being if we just somehow can find a way to bring it to the surface. As I read it, Epicurus is emphasizing that those things DON'T exist, and that if we want to truly respect our feelings and follow them, then we'll ourselves take action, to the best of our ability, to see that the red-heads (this example) are protected.

  • Agreed... Although that doesn't mean I'm not still grappling with the implications.

    Lisa Feldman Barrett hits these exact points at the end of that episode, too.