JUSTICE, ETHICAL, AND EQUITY: Justice (in the ethical sense) in itself is the maintenance of positive legal order, assuring the peaceful and thriving existence of human society, the supreme political virtue--justitia regnorum fundamentum. Aristotle distinguishes justitia distributiva et correctiva. The first distributes riches, power, and honor according to desert; the other compensates for inequalities and balances the loss and gain in the transactions of life. Justice provides the exact proportion of duties and rights, and punishes every violation of positive legal order. Justice establishes general lines of direction by laws, which prove themselves emanations of justice whenever they correspond to the original conception of right and reveal it in the decisions and ordinances based upon them.

Equity (Lat. aequitas, Gk. isotes) is to be associated with justice. What the latter establishes in a general way, sometimes appears insufficient when applied to the individual case--summum jus, summa injuria. What is just in general and what is individually just may diverge considerably. In such a case equity regards and vindicates rationality of natural right and corrects positive law in its too wide or too narrow comprehension.

Justice as a personal quality is the demeanor of man in accordance with the legal order, his rectitude. Its principle is exact compensation--suum cuique. Benevolence can not stand in its place. Rectitude obliges us to conscientious practising of the law, even when thereby evil may arise to our neighbor. It is wrong and contrary to our duty to spare him out of fear or weakness. In actual practise rectitude becomes probity or honesty.

Here also equity forms the morally indispensable complement of rectitude (Col. iv. 1). In our conduct toward our neighbor equity consists in yielding up and desisting from our just claims, where, relentlessly pursuing them, we should damage the neighbor in a degree detrimental to charity; and, on the other hand, in acknowledging and fulfilling claims of our neighbor on us which are not founded on strict legality, if they are of true profit to him and if we do not neglect other duties by complying with them. In the union of rectitude and equity alone true justice of moral conduct is achieved.


In theology justice has been given many significations. In the doctrine of the divine attributes it has been regarded as an inviolable characteristic of holiness, and as such has been set over against love as its opposite (see HOLINESS). It has, however, been most important in relation to theories of the atonement. On the one band, justice has been defined as "general" or "rectoral" and "distributive", where "general" justice refers to the wellbeing and "distributive" to what is due the individual. In the atonement the latter was conceived as suspended in favor of the former (cf. E. A. Park, The Atonement, Discourses, etc., Boston, 1859). On the other hand, it has been maintained that justice (righteousness) must be satisfied before love could offer pardon to the sinner (see SATISFACTION). The word has been employed also to designate the original state of man as one of integrity, obedience to God, and harmony of all personal powers. Moreover, it represents that renewed condition in which man as forgiven stands toward God and his law--a putative position to the unmerited favor of God. In its deepest sense justice and love in God are identical, while in man justice pertains to character and voluntary actions.



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