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Ancients prompt philosopher to see justice from the soul

By Patrick Nelson

Professor Brian Mooney … Few have attempted to think through the implications of justice as a virtue of character Professor Brian Mooney … Few have attempted to think through the implications of justice as a virtue of character

A Charles Darwin University academic has drawn from the writings of ancient philosophy to describe a “different theory of justice” to delegates at a conference in Japan recently.

Professor Brian Mooney said his paper explored the interplay between early Western notions of the soul and power, with a view to how these might inform a theory of justice that would be very different to those in the modern world.

He said the paper rejected contemporary accounts of justice as something procedural dispensed by an external system, or as something that placed emphasis on the individualistic and competitive elements of human nature.

“Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas thought of justice primarily as a dimension of personality, or a power of the soul,” Professor Mooney said.

“They likened it to virtues such as courage or temperance, which come from within.”

Professor Mooney said Western thinkers had not considered justice in these terms for a long time.

“This is a difficult task partly because there are very few thinkers who have attempted to think through the implications of justice as a virtue of character.

“It is a perspective that reverses the priorities of contemporary accounts of justice. No longer do we see ourselves primarily as individuals but rather as members of communities. This changes what we perceive to be important, and changes the way we engage with the world and other people.

“The Aristotelian account views the virtue of justice as contributing to a common pursuit of a shared conception of the good through excellent action.

“Justice no longer becomes something we demand from a system, but instead something that individuals, communities or nations bring to a situation. It becomes less about the penalty and more about the good associated with a punishment.”

Professor Mooney presented “Powers of the Soul – A Very Different Theory of Justice” at the fifth Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion and Philosophy in Osaka, Japan on March 27.