Overview of the concept of Justice in different time periods; Ancient, medieval and modern times.

Whether it is ethical, legislative, or political grounds, the concept of Justice holds a central and vital position. It is applied to acts of an individual, laws, and state policies with a common perspective that if any of them fails to be just, then there is a rational reason to reject them in society. Social institutions, law, and political bodies all claim to have justice as their base of ideology, yet they all possess a relative understanding of the term and its applications. Over thousands of years, Justice is defined and redefined by different institutions of society in different eras and is given the status of a religious norm by almost all of them (Pomerleau). From the time of Plato’s Crito to the modern world, justice has evolved and established in various forms. Although, something that might be termed as justice for one could be considered an injustice to another. To better understand the difference between the concept of justice in the past and justice in today’s world, I’ll be comparing different philosophies and mindsets of each time.

The Period of Ancient Greece

According to ancient Greece philosophy, justice was considered a virtue closely related to the concept of order and harmony in society. In his book, ‘The Republic,’ Plato depicts that understanding justice as harmony can bring remarkably interesting theories about restricting human behavior and the organizational matters of state (Plato, 1943). This philosophy of justice in ancient Greece required an individual to harmonize the three parts of its soul i.e., reason, spirit, and desire. A just person would perform his duties in the right way and be fair in all his matters. They might act differently depending on time and place, but a knowledgeable person was expected to know the right and wrong based on his experience (Hsu, 2016).

At that time, social philosophy was based on a totalitarian system where kings and rulers controlled the lives of individuals and ensured that they were in their proper assigned place so that harmony might prevail in the order. The interest of the society was above all, and the individual’s concerns were least important. Aristotle established that there is justice in whatever is lawful and fair and agreed that not everyone is the same, so different individuals should be considered accordingly (Aristotle, 1991).

The period of Medieval

Coming to the medieval justice philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned for the proportional reciprocity-based system of justice. An individual is just if he gives others their due part in the measure based on social and moral laws. He believed that each individual should consider himself part of the community and be concerned about everyone’s benefit rather than merely ourselves. He suggested that justice can be understood with reason and not just by religious grounds.

He also had strong views about the distribution of wealth and stated that making a profit is considered justice, but increase the price of highly demanded goods for the sake of extra benefits is injustice.

Modern Times

One of the significant differences between justice in the past and in the modern world philosophy, is the concept of egalitarianism, where everyone is considered equal in the eyes of laws (Miller, 2017). As Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of justice holds that people should be treated as ends in themselves rather than as our tools of desires. However, this concept of equality was limited to men in the society at first, but later, slowly and gradually accepted all genders under its bounds and continued to expand today. Adam smith’s theory of distribution of wealth in his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ was a breakthrough in the modern philosophy of justice, where he explains justice in the distribution of wealth and goods. Over time, laws have been refined to encompass further rights of individuals and societies. Yet the presence of law and its implementation are two sides of one picture. Today, we see incidents of injustice by the very lawmakers, and it’s protectors. Hundreds of people gathering to protest for justice and their rights. So, the definition of justice might have advanced to incorporate broader perspectives, yet its implementation everywhere and for everyone is somehow still under question.


With the evolution of time, the definition of justice has also been changing respective of that time. However, today, laws and legislation exist to protect individuals, political and social rights in almost all aspects of life, which is unprecedented. Yet, the same view was held by ancient Greece and medieval philosophers as well and later was rejected by most of the modern law bodies. Hence, in the future, current justice laws might be considered as inappropriate and vague. Though the basics remain the same, it can be said that the broader perspective of Justice may change with the changing times. Regardless of the time, Justice will only be complete when presence of appropriate law and its implementation will be ensured for everyone.

[ Disclaimer: This article was originally posted on blossom reads. ]


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