Principal Doctrine 31

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Natural justice is the advantage conferred by mutual agreements not to inflict nor allow harm.


With this Doctrine, Epicurus begins his extended discussion of justice; this discussion is continued, with various points further elaborated in Principal Doctrine 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, and 38, thus constituting a very significant body of extant philosophical information we have of the political teachings of Epicurus.

Epicurus sees and sets the foundation of justice in nature, the "justice of nature", as he puts it. While natural, however, this basic, foundational justice is not instilled into human behavior automatically (nor, of course, via divine providence).

In this Doctrine, Epicurus makes several points that become the cornerstone of his entire views on the subject of justice:

  • Justice is an agreement, i.e. the product of conscious consent between people.
  • This consent has been reached in the interest of mutual benefit (of the parties that have entered into agreement).
  • The basic tenet of the consent between the "signatories" to this agreement is neither to harm, nor to be harmed.

Thus Epicurus' views on justice can be loosely termed civic, and not at all theological (as would have been common, both during his own time and far beyond); they are also contractual, and not authoritarian. Further discussion demonstrates that they are also liberal/relativist, and often far detached from the mainstream norms of other Greek and Hellenistic philosophical schools.

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