Principal Doctrine 34

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Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the accompanying fear of being unable to escape those assigned to punish unjust acts.


Symmetrically to justice, argues Epicurus, the opposite injustice is not anything bad, in and of itself. In this respect, too, Epicurus stands in shocking disagreement with philosophical and social norms broadly held during his time and beyond.

Instead, explains Epicurus, the evil inherent in injustice -- or rather unjust conduct (i.e. "adverbial injustice") of a hypothetical individual -- is explained psychologically: the perpetrator of some unjust act(s) will surely harbor fears about whether or not he will manage to escape notice, whether "those who have been appointed to punish such acts" (i.e. presumably the relevant authorities) might suspect him and punish him for what he did.

Thus the relation of justice and injustice to the rest of Epicurean philosophy is asymmetrical:

  • Justice is good practice, because it yields the Epicurean desideratum of safety.
  • Injustice is respectively bad practice, because it engenders fear, the Epicurean arch-evil.
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