The Concept of Justice According to Socrates and Augustine


Justice can be described as a concept of moral correctness that is based on ethics, religion, law, rationality, and natural law, together with the punishment that follows the breach of said ethics (Lyons 10). Justice can simply imply the act of being fair and just. Indeed justice, as it is known in contemporary society, has taken a long time to develop. Several theories have been put forward to describe justice and are partly based on the works of the early philosophers and scholars.

This paper seeks to describe justice according to Socrates and Augustine, two of the most famous philosophers whose works have been used extensively in formulating contemporary theories of justice. The paper will be particularly interested in the different ways with which the two philosophers approach the concept of justice.

Justice according to Socrates

Socrates’ definition of justice is based on his understanding that the human soul is a state of virtues (Dockendorf 25). As stated in the Republic, each human soul consists of three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite (Dockendorf 26). Socrates explains that the human soul must at least have two parts to want to do opposite things at the same time. He gives three states to which a soul can be in opposing attitudes: first, the attitudes must be able to oppose each other in succession; secondly, the opposition can occur if the attitudes are related to different things such as a desire to drink coffee or desire to drink tea; thirdly, the opposition can occur if the attitudes oppose each other in different respects. The third condition is somehow not clear. Seemingly it implies the different manifestations of the three different parts of the soul. For instance, if a person desires to drink but then he feels that it’s not right to drink, then, according to Socrates, this distinguishes between appetite and reason. If one feels angry for desiring to do something then this can help establish a distinction between appetite and spirit. Socrates relies on this psychology to build his concept of justice. He states that a wise person is wise because his/her rational attitudes are functioning well in the sense he/she knows what is advantageous in the three parts of the soul (Dockendorf 38). Similarly, an unwise individual falsely conceives what is good for him or her. One is also courageous because her spirited attitudes do not change as a result of pain and pleasure and the opposite is true for a coward (Lyons 33).

A person is just because the three parts of the soul function as they should in a virtuous context. Therefore a just person is virtuous while the unjust fails to be moderate or wise and courageous (Dockendorf 45). Several scholars have argued against this thinking, stating that psychological justice does not necessarily transform into practical justice.

Socrates further insists that for one to be just he must not only refrain from herm but also be able to help others and care for the gods.

This can be supported by the observation that an ill person seeks medical attention from the caregivers. If this is compared with a person who never gets sick, then it becomes obvious that an ailment-free person is always happy than a treated man. Then based on this comparison, Socrates argues that the cure for crime (evil) is punishment and justice enforces that punishment. Similarly, the healthy person is happier than the treated person (Lyons 37). So the person, who does no wrong, will always be happy while the wrongdoer must be punished for his/her misdeeds. Then he describes a person who lives an evil life but does not recognize the punishment. This person is similar to a child who avoids medicine to cure his or her illness. Later on, the child may acquire blindness due to ignorance. This child can be compared to a person who commits evil and avoids being punished. He observes that this behavior may become chronic and result in prolonged punishment and suffering (Dockendorf 46). Socrates proposes that there is no need of living with unjust souls. He points out those just souls are more important than all the possessions of the earth.

According to Socrates, it is good to be just to other people, especially when they are good to us. Similarly, it’s right to harm enemies when they do evil to us. He points out that doing evil is worse than receiving evil or harm (Augustine 58). In conclusion, Socrates means that no person should harm another because it is more important to live a just life.

Justice According to St Augustine

Unlike Socrates, St. Augustine does not directly address justice as an independent subject in his works. His writings, especially the confessions have important aspects that are supposedly written to guide human existence with each other. The confessions consist of thirteen books that can be regarded as an extended prayer or an autobiography (Augustine 13). The teachings of these books encompass how Christians should live according to the wishes of God. Justice as defined by St. Augustine deeply concerns the realm of God and obedience to him alone (Augustine 25). According to Augustine, evil is anything that encompasses ignorance of God and his idea of justice. To him, God is the symbol of justice and innocence because he is the only one who is truly free from evil. Augustine splits evil into natural and moral evil. He defines natural evil as the evil that results when a person overrates material possessions and excessively focuses on his self-interests (Lyons 45). Moral evil is defined as the evil that results when one turns away from God and embraces inferior goods treating them as if they are higher.

In Augustine’s view, justice should be entrenched in the Christian life that is characterized by love. Justice can also be seen as the respect of God through following the rule of love from the Bible. The just individual (par excellence) is an individual whose faith results from the (Caritas) love of God and others (Lyons 47).

In the City of God’s people, the relationship to justice can be regarded as a secondary sense. In Augustine’s view justice is mainly about God as it has to start and end with Christian adoration, devotion, and the love of God. The main reason behind this thinking is about Jesus Christ who lived without sin, and he is truly the only just man who is a measure of justice. Augustine did not restrict himself to spiritual mediation alone; there are some instances where he performed the role of a magistrate by himself (Dockendorf 56). Whenever there was a conflict, he reasoned out by transforming much deeper wisdom from the Bible (Augustine 78). He applied a good example of the woman who committed adultery and Jesus told her to go and not sin anymore. This is to show that in Christian life justice should be left to God and everyone should strive to live according to his teachings.


This paper sought to identify how two philosophers, St Augustine and Socrates perceive justice. It’s been noted that the two philosophers describe justice from different perspectives but in the end, they seem to agree that justice should be all about fairness and good. According to Socrates justice can be defined in terms of good and evil as understood by a given person. He regards God as the necessary authority that should govern human societies for them to lead just lives. For Augustine, people should live according to God’s wishes and guidance. According to Socrates, knowledge is an important factor in the identification and differentiation between good and evil. He proposes that if one realizes that he has done evil he should run for justice and get it in form of punishment (Lyons 59). Socrates states that punishment should not wait; it should be done immediately for it to do justice (Augustine 75). St. Augustine, on the other hand, believes that God’s teachings are necessary for justice to exist and thus justice prevails when a society is guided by God’s teachings. The highest authority according to Saint Augustine is God. Justice can never prevail without God in the midst (Lyons 70).

Works Cited

Augustine, Saint. Confessons. New York : Long Horn Publishers, 2008.

Dockendorf, Luc. Socrates. Virginia: West Virginia University , 1996.

Lyons, David. Ethics and the Rule of Law. Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 1989.

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