The Virtue of Justice

Bill D.

Justice is the virtue that inclines us to well-ordered and harmonious relations, giving others their due in each situation. We practice it through the discipline of restitution in Steps 8 through 10, where we seek to make amends for the harms we have caused and to mend our relationships.

These Steps focus on the remedial form of justice (fair personal interchange), the other two forms being the commercial (fair exchange of goods) and the distributive (their fair distribution). And within the remedial, they stress the reparative, where we seek to repair and restore, rather than the retributive, which seeks to exact punishment.

As a personal virtue, justice is a character trait that we practice, not something that we demand from others. Where others have harmed us we seek to mend and repair by practicing another virtue, which is forgiveness.

In practicing justice, we make amends because we owe them to those we have harmed, not just to relieve our guilt, regret, or remorse. Though these emotions may initially move us to right action, and though we do wish to relieve them, that is not our primary purpose.

Justice is a cardinal virtue, and as such it is inherent in a number of other virtues, so that in giving thanks, telling the truth, being faithful, and showing courtesy and respect, for instance, we are being just and giving others what is rightly owed them in a particular situation or relationship.

[Image: Bill D., AA #3, also known as "The Man in the Bed." For iconic painting of Bill W. and Dr. Bob visiting him at the hospital, please click on link. His story, "Alcoholics Anonymous Number Three," was written by Bill W. For audio of and Q&A about it, please click on links.]

Big Book
"Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past." – Big Book   

"Courtesy, kindness, justice, and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony with practically anybody." – 12&12   

Life Recovery Bible"He has shown you, Oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8 / “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” – Matthew 7:12   

Marcus Aurelius
"Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just." – Marcus Aurelius   

"Knowledge which is divorced from justice should rather be called cunning than wisdom." – Cicero

Aquinas"Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him." – St. Thomas Aquinas  

"Justice is the firm and continuous desire to render to everyone that which is his due." – Justinian 

Blaise Pascal
"The self . . . is unjust in itself, since it makes itself the center of everything." – Blaise Pascal   

Francis Bacon
"If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us." – Francis Bacon    

Baruch Spinoza
"Justice consists in the habitual rendering to every man his lawful due." – Baruch Spinoza    

Kant"The universal law of justice is: act externally in such a way that the free use of your will is compatible with the freedom of everyone according to a universal law." – Immanuel Kant

Thomas Jefferson
"Everyone who asks justice should do justice." – Thomas Jefferson  

William E. Gladstone
"Justice delayed is justice denied." – William E. Gladstone   

Benjamin Disraeli
"Justice is truth in action." – Benjamin Disraeli   

Theodore Roosevelt"Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong." – Theodore Roosevelt

Mahatma Gandhi
"Justice that love gives is a surrender, justice that law gives is a punishment." – Mahatma Gandhi  

Albert Einstein"In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same." – Albert Einstein   

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." – Martin Luther King  

Francois Mauriac
"The most terrible thing in the world is justice without mercy." – François Mauriac  

Stephen R. Lawhead
If thou wouldst seek justice, thyself must be just." – Stephen R. Lawhead

Henry Fairlie"Wrath is the love of justice perverted into the desire for revenge and for the injury of someone else; justice is the proclaimed motive for every manifestation of it." – Henry Fairlie 

Nelson Mandela
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." – Nelson Mandela    

Ronald Reagan "We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is responsible for his actions." – Ronald Reagan    

Pope John Paul II
"Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create." – Pope John Paul II   

André Comte-Sponville"Justice is the virtue that leads each person to overcome the temptation to place himself above everything and consequently to sacrifice everything to his own desires and interests." – André Comte-Sponville   

PTP123"If I keep putting off those amends I need to make . . . I may also have a self-servingly myopic view of justice, still seeing the concept in legal or social but not in spiritual terms, the province of the courts and the concern of political movements. I may fail to see that justice is very much at the core of the very spiritual and very personal discipline of restitution, and that it always begins with me." – PTP123   

PTP4"Whence the great irony in anger: the greatest injustices are always committed in the name of justice. In seeking to redress a perceived wrong, anger often inflicts an even greater wrong. When our concern for the good of justice is warped, virtue turns to vice." – PTP4   

Practice These: Justice - Plato
Practice These: Justice - Aristotle

For more PTP123 passages on justice, see pp. 26, 29, 30, 31, 55. For more PTP4, see pp. 11, 105, 272, 285, 395, 412; and emotion, 129, 179, 197; and fairness, 104, 141, 230; and forgiveness, 427; and making amends, 197; and mercy, 143; and punishment, 144; as attribute of God, 197; as cardinal virtue, 6, 86, 264, 378; as God’s will for us, 113; concern for, 96, 104, 114, 127,131, 132, 144, 179, 180, 192,  315, 351, 400, 404, 405, 424; in relation to other virtues, 424; in relationships, 107; practicing, 411, 412, 263; vitiated, 390–39.  For more 12&12 passages, click on and search justice and its cognates. 

See also: In All Our Affairs: Practicing Justice

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