Principal Doctrine 36

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Justice is essentially the same for all peoples insofar as it benefits human interaction. But the details of how justice is applied in particular countries or circumstances may vary.


As regards what is common (i.e. the general relevance of justice to human association), asserts Epicurus, justice is the same for all people. Since what he means by "the common" relates to the basic principle of neither harming, nor being harmed by others within a koinonia, a society of peers, Epicurus' claim is certainly plausible: this sort of "common justice" is undeniably, as Epicurus states, "beneficial to the association [of individuals] with each other".

Beyond, however, this general relevance of justice to human association, what is just or unjust varies in particular cases, depending on the location (and, implicitly, the beliefs of the local people) and on various other "causes", i.e. circumstances that cause this variety in what is deemed just or unjust. Perhaps this legal notion relates somehow to Epicurus' customary reference to "multiple causes" in his scientific explanation of celestial phenomena.

Thus Epicurus' understanding of justice is both naturalist and relativist: on one hand, all people need some fundamental consent on reciprocal non-aggression in order for society to exist at all; on the other hand, determining what exactly is just or unjust in particular cases depends on several other factors. Both are supported by direct observation: humans have in fact been social animals for a very long time indeed, something that could not have happened at all if they slaughtered each other indiscriminately and incessantly; just as obviously apparent, people from different places and cultures harbor (sometimes radically) different notions of what is and is not just.

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