Justice – An Overview of the Ancient to Modern Times

Whether it is ethical, legislative, or political grounds, the concept of Justice holds a central and vital position. It is applied to acts of an individual, laws, and state policies with a common perspective that if any of them fails to be just, then there is a rational reason to reject them in society. Social institutions, law, and political bodies all claim to have justice as their base of ideology, yet they all possess a relative understanding of the term and its applications. Over thousands of years, Justice is defined and redefined by different institutions of society in different eras and is given the status of a religious norm by almost all of them (Pomerleau). From the time of Plato’s Crito to the modern world, justice has evolved and established in various forms. Although, something that might be termed as justice for one could be considered an injustice to another. To better understand the difference between the concept of justice in the past and justice in today’s world, I’ll be comparing different philosophies and mindsets of each time.

The Period of Ancient Greece

According to ancient Greece philosophy, justice was considered a virtue closely related to the concept of order and harmony in society. In his book, ‘The Republic,’ Plato depicts that understanding justice as harmony can bring remarkably interesting theories about restricting human behavior and the organizational matters of state (Plato, 1943). This philosophy of justice in ancient Greece required an individual to harmonize the three parts of its soul i.e., reason, spirit, and desire. A just person would perform his duties in the right way and be fair in all his matters. They might act differently depending on time and place, but a knowledgeable person was expected to know the right and wrong based on his experience (Hsu, 2016).

At that time, social philosophy was based on a totalitarian system where kings and rulers controlled the lives of individuals and ensured that they were in their proper assigned place so that harmony might prevail in the order. The interest of the society was above all, and the individual’s concerns were least important. Aristotle established that there is justice in whatever is lawful and fair and agreed that not everyone is the same, so different individuals should be considered accordingly (Aristotle, 1991).

The period of Medieval

Coming to the medieval justice philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned for the proportional reciprocity-based system of justice. An individual is just if he gives others their due part in the measure based on social and moral laws. He believed that each individual should consider himself part of the community and be concerned about everyone’s benefit rather than merely ourselves. He suggested that justice can be understood with reason and not just by religious grounds.

He also had strong views about the distribution of wealth and stated that making a profit is considered justice, but increase the price of highly demanded goods for the sake of extra benefits is injustice.

Modern Times

One of the significant differences between justice in the past and in the modern world philosophy, is the concept of egalitarianism, where everyone is considered equal in the eyes of laws (Miller, 2017). As Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of justice holds that people should be treated as ends in themselves rather than as our tools of desires. However, this concept of equality was limited to men in the society at first, but later, slowly and gradually accepted all genders under its bounds and continued to expand today. Adam smith’s theory of distribution of wealth in his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ was a breakthrough in the modern philosophy of justice, where he explains justice in the distribution of wealth and goods. Over time, laws have been refined to encompass further rights of individuals and societies. Yet the presence of law and its implementation are two sides of one picture. Today, we see incidents of injustice by the very lawmakers, and it’s protectors. Hundreds of people gathering to protest for justice and their rights. So, the definition of justice might have advanced to incorporate broader perspectives, yet its implementation everywhere and for everyone is somehow still under question.


With the evolution of time, the definition of justice has also been changing respective of that time. However, today, laws and legislation exist to protect individuals, political and social rights in almost all aspects of life, which is unprecedented. Yet, the same view was held by ancient Greece and medieval philosophers as well and later was rejected by most of the modern law bodies. Hence, in the future, current justice laws might be considered as inappropriate and vague. Though the basics remain the same, it can be said that the broader perspective of Justice may change with the changing times. Regardless of the time, Justice will only be complete when presence of appropriate law and its implementation will be ensured for everyone.

11 thoughts on “Justice – An Overview of the Ancient to Modern Times

  1. A very good presentation of justice and its counterpart. Plato’s words, “Good people don’t need laws to tell them to act responsibly . . . .” are only true in all people in a utopian society. There will always be some who act as if there are laws governing them, whether or not there are. However, peer pressure and the desire for pleasurable experiences work against adherence to that concept in even most seemingly good people. When this happens, the bad people influence the behavior of otherwise good people and chaos ensues. That is what has been happening with the riots here in the United States. There are those who believe that only certain people’s lives matter rather than all people’s lives. These beliefs have resulted in the law enforcement in some cities being totally disbanded. The good people said the law enforcement was not needed, that everyone would respect each other. However, that did not happen. In a couple of weeks, violence, murder and mayhem ensued. Their utopia had fallen apart and was taken over by the bad people. That is what happens when there is no standard policy of law. For the truly good people to be protected, there must be laws and law enforcement. Your blog is a good source of information! Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s absolutely right. This reminds me of a beautiful poem which states that there are laws even in Jungle. Peaceful Coexistence is only possible when there are laws and law enforcement. What has been happening in the US and several other parts of the world is an alarm to reconsider or restructure the policies to protect and enforce laws of justice in a better way according to the needs of society. Thanks much for the appreciation and comment. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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