Volume 90, 2016
Justice: Then and Now
Justice and Nature in Early Greek Philosophy
This paper examines the relationship between justice and nature in key figures in early Greek philosophy in order to understand the idea of nature that grounds Plato’s account of justice. Tracing the idea of justice through Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, I show that each figure uses justice in unique and innovative ways to explain different concepts of nature. Among the Presocratics then, justice is a heuristic for grasping the newly emerging and evolving concept of nature. It is in turn this evolving concept of nature that ushers in the transformation of justice from the conventional Hesiodic notion of “legal settlement” or “paying one’s debts” to Plato’s philosophical account of justice based on nature. The transformation is marked by the development of several key epistemological criteria and teleological facets in the earliest concepts of nature. As such, Plato’s account of justice in the Republic is deeply indebted to Presocratic conceptions of justice and nature.