Justice 1

Justice 1

Analytical Definition of Justice

You have frequently heard that justice means “putting things in their right place.” Some have presumed that this definition is replete with ambiguity for it is a general axiom whose purports are not quite clear. However, it must be noted that a definition becomes ambiguous when the totality of it is questioned. However, if a definition has no shortcomings in this respect, it is not ambiguous although its purports may not be clear. To decipher the purports, one must refer to the source, which is responsible for adjusting them.

When a lawyer intends to know justice , he must be aware in recognizing its purports . To this end, one must understand the phenomena, and the place of the phenomena in the universe; one must also know how to put each phenomenon in its place. If like everyone else involved with justice a lawyer takes the three steps mentioned above, he can adjust that general axiom to clear purports.

After all, one must be aware that justice is not hypostatized although it is an evaluative concept. The implication is not that justice does not really exist in the universe, but fabricated by human mind. Like all other evaluative concepts, justice is derived from the universe and abstracted from genetic affairs.

It is appropriate now to give an instance at this juncture. When some people gather together with the intention of undertaking something purposeful and organized, their situation may be interpreted as a manifestation of a living human person. A human person has a head (the center to command the limbs) and limbs (the parts of taking command, each of which has a particular function.) With this choice and abstraction, one can choose among them one as the head to lead others and the rest of the limbs as parts engaged in a particular function. With this choice, the terms head and the members come into being. This is true for justice. In the universe, each phenomenon is in its place and busy with a task appropriate to its situation.

This harmony and proportion bespeak the justice of creation. One abstracts this from genetic affairs and with this choice, any time each member of the community the instance of which was given earlier performs his function, the situation is regarded as being just. Although justice is an evaluative concept, it runs within the stream of existence; however, in evaluative issues, the concept is a hypostatized one and in genetic affairs, a real concept.

With this in mind, it becomes evident that justice is not a concept replete with literal ambiguities. It cannot be said that justice in the creation of God holds a particular sense or that the human justice is different. It must not be imagined that social and political justice have two distinctive meanings. In addition, it cannot be accepted that these have difference of meanings.

The truth is that justice is a spiritual ambiguity and holds the same meaning in all this. The difference of purport never agrees with the conceptual unity . To clarify this point, one can consider science. Science is of different kinds such as hypostatized sciences or real sciences; immediate or intuitive knowledge; or the knowledge, which is identical to nature and the one going beyond it. These differences come from the difference of purports rather than that of concept. In fact, knowledge is not a sheer concept. However, in different cases, it has different manifestations. In other words, knowledge is a spiritual ambiguity. The same case is true for justice.

Understanding and Feeling Justice

At times this question comes up: how can one feel justice? Can one understand justice with tangible and experienced signs? If not, how can one understand justice in real life or in the realm beyond the human mind?

First, it must be said that justice is not of the perceptual concepts to have perceptual signs. One cannot experiment justice in the laboratory. Imam ‘Ali (A.S.) states, “Truth is not of the experimental signs through which one can distinguish between right and wrong.” (1)

However, this does not mean that one cannot distinguish between just and unjust. To understand right and just is not confined to sense and experiment. This Imam ‘Ali (A.S.) has shown us. The eminent Imam has stated in one of his letters, “Those who reside in my government, and joined the Umayids, saw and heard justice and placed it in their hearts, but did not accept it.”(2)

From this pithy statement, it is perceived that Imam Ali had treated in his time in a way that people could understand justice. In other words, a just government can introduce justice to people by showing the evidences of justice. By virtue of this reason, on the basis of a statement by the same venerable Imam, the best servants of God are those who can make understood justice by their deeds. “The nearest servants to the Lord are those who are more truthful than others though to their detriment, and stick to truth more than others, though there might be harm in it.”(3)

Although it is hard to be adorned with justice and truth, it is the best way possible to introduce it.

Basically, the politician who can be the representative of justice with his foresight shall prosper . Hence, reason is no other than justice. In defining the sage, Imam Ali has given the same statement as for justice. It was asked of Imam: “Define the wise man for us.” The Imam said, “The wise man is he who puts everything in its right place.” Then the Imam was asked, “who is ignorant?” the Imam replied, “the same thing I said about the wise man.”(4)

This means that the reverse image of the wise man mirrors the ignorant. Definitions of this type, which are sometimes observed in the sayings of the innocent Imams, are polemic definitions, albeit of the superior polemic. In this type of definition, an affair is not clarified by genus or differentia but by its likes. In the definition cited above, the same polemic method is used. Of course, the Imams have defined concepts by genus and differentia elsewhere.

With attention to the function of justice in policy making, one can perceive why justice is a better concept for some rulers. For instance, Imam Ali in response to a question said, “Justice puts things in their right places and puts them in categories; justice coordinates the public policy and gives benefit to those who are forgiven: so justice is nobler and superior.”(5)

In other words, from charity, one can benefit in time of tumult but what should be done by a ruler or a policy maker is justice. In view of what was said, justice is like reason and practical wisdom.

Now that our discussion has diverted to this point, it deserves note that one of the secrets of the needs of man for innocent Imams lies in this very fact. If they are not innocent, how can one choose among the numerous evidences something as justice? If the innocent Imam does not show justice within the matrix of evidences, how can one recognize justice? As understood by what Imam ‘Ali said, one can understand the right with utter simplicity.

However, when applying the truth, who but the innocent Imams can exercise the truth and offer it to people? “The truth in description is of great expanse but in practice, it is of the narrowest realm .”(6)

Nobody censors Plato, Aristotle or other sages as to why they have not presented a practical instance of their ideals?! They are scholars who do not have chastity in practice although they have sublime knowledge. However, the society expects an innocent Imam to present a practical instance of right and justice and truth so they may not fail to understand the truth. And if it is not so, how can one understand those general concepts?

Continue in the next article: ( Justice 2 )



1. Nahj al-Balaghah, letter 53, p.141, part 123

2. Ibid., letter 70, p.148

3. Sharh-i Ghurar wa Durar, vol. 2, p.448

4. Nahj al- Balaghah, Maxim 235, p.171

5. Ibid., Maxim 437, p.189

6. Ibid., Sermon 216, p.105, part 2.