On Trying to be Just
TO DO justice and to receive it is an elemental aspiration of man. It is as elemental as the aspiration to live on after death, to be free from the power of other men, to exert power over man and nature, to love and to be loved. Justice, immortality, freedom, power, and love-those are the poles which attract and thereby shape the thoughts and actions of men. They have one quality in common that involves the distinction of men from beasts and gods alike: achievement falls short of aspiration. A beast does not seek to be more than it is by nature; while a god, being perfection by definition, cannot seek to be more than he is by nature.
Man alone is, as it were, suspended between heaven and earth: an ambitious beast and a frustrated god. For he alone is endowed with the faculty of rational imagination, which outpaces his ability to achieve. His desire to live forever must be satisfied by an act of faith which, insofar as it has an empirical basis at all, rests upon the tenuous foundation of things preserved and deeds remembered. His freedom is marred by the power of others, as his power is by their freedom. His capacity to love and to be loved falls short of his desire. And so it is with justice, but in a peculiar way. Freedom, power, and love, man can have; what he cannot have is the kind and quantity of freedom, power, and love he would like to have. But with justice, as with immortality, it is different: the question here is whether he can have it at all.
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