Criminology | Section 2.2

Fundamentals of Criminology by Adam J. McKee

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The Greeks and Romans

Aristotle and the Ancient Greeks

In the classical Greek school of thought as described by Aristotle, there is little difference between Justice and the law.  He reasoned that justice is the sum of all virtues, and further reasoned that the business of the law was to compel men to virtuous acts, and forbid vice.  The keystone of Aristotelian justice was equity, albeit within one’s own social sphere.  Thus, equity was required between those of equal station within society, but lesser persons were not deserving of equal treatment.

With all acts of injustice, the unjust man is thought to gain while the victim is thought to suffer a loss.  It is the duty of the judiciary (the courts) to rectify this inequality by taking away the wrongful gain by penalty.  Thus, justice can be defined by a zero-sum equation where neither party gains or loses.

Aristotle also points out that legal justice and absolute justice are two different things.  Legal justice is subject to flaw because the law is created to deal with the general case and is thus phrased as general statements.  There are times when a particular case does not fall under the generalized rule.  In such cases, absolute justice may not be served.

It is taken as self-evident by Aristotle that the human race cannot survive in a state of unhindered individuality.  Therefore, unions among people must be formed.  The first and most basic union is between man and woman, driven by the natural instinct to reproduce.

The second union is between a “natural ruler” and his subjects.  The suggested dichotomy is rule by the intelligent and slavery for those better suited for labor.  These basic associations follow an evolutionary track to the development of the political state.

First, families united for mutual aid and protection, thus forming villages.  These first villages were usually composed of extended families.  As the extended family structure developed, the eldest was chosen as king.  When several villages unite for the sake of “continuing existence” and “a good life,” the state comes into existence.

Since this progression began with the family, a part of nature, and the state grew up from families, it follows that the state is a creation of nature.  Aristotle held that a man without a state was “either above humanity or below it.”  For only beasts or gods have the ability to survive without association.

In either case, Aristotle suggests that society make war on those that will not be ruled.  They are a danger to the existence of the state, because the principle order in political society is the administration of justice.  That is, the determination of what is just.


While the philosophy of Aristotle seemed to take natural law for granted, the philosophy of Cicero firmly entrenched it in the Western legal tradition.  For his explanation of justice, Cicero turns to the nature of man and the state.  For Cicero, law was simply the “highest reason” which commands “what ought to be done and forbids the opposite.”

This highest reason enters the minds of men through Nature.  That is, we as humans are born with an innate knowledge of right and wrong.  If we apply reason to the concept of right, we ascertain the law.

Cicero also held that right was to be desired for its own sake.  Cicero believed that pleasure was the mother of all evil.  Pleasure is a distraction from the primal mind of God.

Modification History

File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  08/04/2018

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