Marta Jimenez talks justice, self-love and political thought

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The third speaker in the Annual Philosophy Speakers Series was Marta Jimenez, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. She focuses her research in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and her work on moral psychology, philosophy of action, theory of emotions, ethics and political thought in Aristotle.

Last Thursday, October 20, she gave a talk entitled “Aristotle’s Two Justices and the Proper Lover of Self” in the Everest Lounge. The event attracted nearly two dozen students and a dozen faculty members, who gathered to listen to Aristotle’s ideas about justice in relation to modern conceptions and to recent social justice movements.

Bridging the gap between ancient and modern thought, Jimenez explained that “Aristotle’s discussion of justice in his ethical and political treatises has often been a source of inspiration for modern authors. The notion of justice as equality, the distinction between distributive and corrective justice, the notion of equity, those are all concepts that we are grateful to Aristotle for and are very useful in contemporary thought.”

Professor Jimenez opened by stating that our modern tendency is to center discussions of justice on ideas about distributions and material exchanges. Theories of justice throughout the 20th century have been obsessed with “how to best cut the cake,” trying to reach equality or fairness through “distributions, reparations and exchanges” of material resources or political power. She takes this modern conception and juxtaposes it with Aristotle’s arguments about two different kinds of justice, which defend the view that “deliberations on how to best cut the cake must be inseparable from how we think about personal relationships between individuals and their community.” According to Aristotle, justice can only exist when there is consideration of others’ interests and the common good or the “advantage of the whole.”

The two different kinds of justice that Jimenez cited are “justice as lawfulness” and “justice as equality.” Lawfulness refers to the broad sense of justice, while equality refers to a more narrow sense. The former encompasses “temperance, courage and all the particular virtues insofar as they are exercised in our interactions with others,” and therefore is concerned with social interactions, while the latter is concerned with the “gain and loss of material goods” and how we distribute and exchange resources. For Aristotle, equality is “inseparable from the concern for the common advantage that is lawfulness and cannot be understood independently of it.”

Moving into Arisotle’s discussion of the different kinds of self-love, Jimenez defined and explained those concepts in terms of justice. According to Jimenez, the “distinction between vulgar self-love and proper self-love shed interesting light on the relationship between the equal and the lawful” because vulgar self-love, the kind of self-interest exclusively focused on one’s own gain, is the biggest obstacle against the virtue of justice. In contrast, proper self-love, the kind of self-interest that focuses on doing the best actions and being best, “is the result of complete virtue and the cause of lawfulness, equality and justice.”

Jimenez’s presentation highlighted the ways in which our modern conceptions of economy, our progressive culture and self-interest have transformed our understanding of justice. Aristotle’s ethical and political arguments about justice and self-love introduce us to an antiquated definition of justice, one which we might find helpful in understanding and relating to the major social justice movements of our time.

The next speaker in the series, Gabriel Richardson Lear of the University of Chicago, will give a talk entitled “Plato on Beauty” on November 3, at 4:30 p.m. in the Everest Lounge.

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