laws (books 7 - 12)
act under the idea that I am legislating for an involuntary injury.
But I should rather say that such a hurt, whether great or small, is
not an injury at all; and, on the other hand, if I am right, when a
benefit is wrongly conferred, the author of the benefit may often be
said to injure. For I maintain, O my friends, that the mere giving
or taking away of anything is not to be described either as just or
unjust; but the legislator has to consider whether mankind do good
or harm to one another out of a just principle and intention. On the
distinction between injustice and hurt he must fix his eye; and when
there is hurt, he must, as far as he can, make the hurt good by law,
and save that which is ruined, and raise up that which is fallen,
and make that which is dead or wounded whole. And when compensation
has been given for injustice, the law must always seek to win over the
doers and sufferers of the several hurts from feelings of enmity to
those of friendship.
Cle. Very good.
Ath. Then as to unjust hurts (and gains also, supposing the
injustice to bring gain), of these we may heal as many as are
capable of being healed, regarding them as diseases of the soul; and
the cure of injustice will take the following direction.
Cle. What direction?
Ath. When any one commits any injustice, small or great, the law
will admonish and compel him either never at all to do the like again,
or never voluntarily, or at any rate in a far less degree; and he must
in addition pay for the hurt. Whether the end is to be attained by
word or action, with pleasure or pain, by giving or taking away
privileges, by means of fines or gifts, or in whatsoever way the law
shall proceed to make a man hate injustice, and love or not hate the
nature of the just-this is quite the noblest work of law. But if the
legislator sees any one who is incurable, for him he will appoint a
law and a penalty. He knows quite well that to such men themselves
there is no profit in the continuance of their lives, and that they
would do a double good to the rest of mankind if they would take their
departure, inasmuch as they would be an example to other men not to
offend, and they would relieve the city of bad citizens. In such
cases, and in such cases only, the legislator ought to inflict death
as the punishment of offences.
Cle. What you have said appears to me to be very reasonable, but
will you favour me by stating a little more clearly the difference
between hurt and injustice, and the various complications of the
voluntary and involuntary which enter into them?
Ath. I will endeavour to do as you wish:-Concerning the soul,
thus much would be generally said and allowed, that one element in her
nature is passion, which may be described either as a state or a
part of her, and is hard to be striven against and contended with, and
by irrational force overturns many things.
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And pleasure is not the same with passion, but has an
opposite power, working her will by persuasion and by the force of
deceit in all things.
Cle. Quite true.
Ath. A man may truly say that ignorance is a third cause of
crimes. Ignorance, however, may be conveniently divided by the
legislator into two sorts: there is simple ignorance, which is the
source of lighter offences, and double ignorance, which is accompanied
by a conceit of wisdom; and he who is under the influence of the
latter fancies that he knows all about matters of which he knows
nothing. This second kind of ignorance, when possessed of power and
strength, will be held by the legislator to be the source of great and
monstrous times, but when attended with weakness, will only result
in the errors of children and old men; and these he will treat as
errors, and will make laws accordingly for those who commit them,
which will be the mildest and most merciful of all laws.
Cle. You are perfectly right.