The Moral Virtue of Justice – Part 2 of 7

Father Pegues continues his exposition of the virtue of justice by discussing the particular acts of justice.

The proper act of justice is judgment, which consists in “determining precisely what is due to each person.” When judgment concerns our neighbor, “justice should never either internally or externally judge in a bad sense so long as there remains any doubt about the motives of our neighbour and his acts.” Yet, it is wise to be suspicious and cautious, for “legal justice, and prudence, and charity demand that when there is question of some evil to ourselves or to others we should be on our guard even though our suspicions may arise from conjecture only.”

Legal justice regulates “the relations of individuals with the society,” whereas particular justice regulates “the relations of individuals of a society among themselves.” Two types of particular justice are distributive justice and commutative justice. Distributive justice is “that species of particular justice which safeguards fairness in the relations that exist between the society and the individuals of which the society is composed.” Commutative justice is “that species of particular justice which safeguards fairness in the relations of men with each other in the same society.”

The proper act of commutative justice is restitution, which is “that act whereby the right relation between one man and another is re-established, whenever this relation has been broken by the fact that one of the two has not received his due.” Note that the person making restitution need not be the one who committed the act of injustice: an innocent person may voluntarily atone for the guilty.

The following are five essential rules of restitution: (1) “by restitution, that which another lacks or might lack unfairly is given to him or restored to him”; (2) “that which is restored must be the thing itself or its exact equivalent, neither more nor less, in so far as the person possessed it previously, whether actually or virtually”; (3) “one must take into account whatever change may have taken place in the thing restored and make proper restitution as the case may be”; (4) “one must take into account the consequences that are or were prejudicial to the owner of the object due to the detention thereof”; (5) “an object to be restored must be given back to the owner and not to any other person unless the latter be acting for the owner”; (6) “he, whosoever he may be, who is in possession of an object to be restored is the one who must make restitution thereof, or whosoever is the one who is responsible for the act which was an offence against justice”; and (7) “restitution must be made without delay, except in the case when the immediate restoration of an object is impossible.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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