Many of you who grew up in a western country that is heavily Christian will be very familiar with the idea that Justice is an innate part of humanity, Justice is one of the characteristics of God and we are made in his image therefore we have Justice innately inside us.
The Epicurean view is that there is no divine Justice and instead it is simply a contract among one another.
I will primarily use the Principal Doctrines for now to illustrate this, when I become more versed in the Vatican Sayings and fragments, I will add more.
Quotes which support these from Epicurus
What is natural justice
"Natural justice is a covenant for mutual benefit, to not harm one another or be harmed. " - 31
Natural Justice is a "covenant" which comes from the Greek word "σύμβολον " which can also be translated as "contract or mutual agreement". Natural Justice is simply an agreement not to do harm to another and in turn not to be harmed by another.
Does Justice actually "exist"
"Justice does not exist in itself; instead, it is always a compact to not harm one another or be harmed, which is agreed upon by those who gather together at some time and place. " - 33"Justice does not exist in itself" What is meant by this is that Justice isn't an actual part of reality, it is an abstraction or an idea which is created for convenience, Justice does not exist outside of the minds of humanity, there is no ideal/perfect/absolute/divine justice.
Is injustice "bad"
"Injustice is not bad in itself, but only because of the fear caused by a suspicion that you will not avoid those who are appointed to punish wrongdoing." - 34"Injustice is not bad in itself" I imagine this is jarring to a lot of you, as it was to me but it makes sense. How can committing a crime in itself be a bad thing? Outside of divine decree (God) how can injustice be bad other than the consequences which follow from it? If a person did not feel guilt or regret then why is it bad? If a person was never caught in doing a crime, outside of their own paranoia (if that individual person it) how is it bad? Epicurus says instead that injustice is only deemed bad because of what follows from it, nothing more.
Can you be confident in your escape from detection during a crime?
"It is impossible to be confident that you will escape detection when secretly doing something contrary to an agreement to not harm one another or be harmed, even if currently you do so countless times; for until your death you will be uncertain that you have escaped detection." -35This goes back to the previous point about paranoia, if you were to commit a crime it is more or less impossible that you can know for certain that you will never be caught, you will always being looking over your shoulder. This in itself isn't a reason not commit a crime, many many people accept this burden for the benefits which injustice brings if they are not caught.
That Justice is mostly the same among all humans, but the particulars are different.
"In general, justice is the same for all: what is mutually advantageous among companions. But with respect to the particulars of a place or other causes, it does not follow that the same thing is just for all." -36In general, Justice wishes to maximize the benefits for it's citizens and minimize the pain, the particulars are very different however. The particulars can be a great many things, economic system, environment and even religious beliefs. ( if a particular place believes in such things that is)
The characteristic of Justice
"Among things that are thought to be just, that which has been witnessed to bring mutual advantage among companions has the nature of justice, whether or not it is the same for everyone. But if someone legislates something whose results are not in accord with what brings mutual advantage among companions, then it does not have the nature of justice. And if what brings advantage according to justice changes, but for some time fits our basic grasp of justice, then for that time it is just, at least to the person who is not confused by empty prattle but instead looks to the facts. " -37Firstly, many things are thought to be just, the only thing that is truly just for us is that which brings mutual advantage among all citizens/people/members of the Garden, however an extremely important point is that Epicurus is NOT saying that there is one sole form of Justice that brings mutual benefit instead he is describing a characteristic of natural justice which is "mutual advantage among all", what is mutually advantage one group of companions may be different than another.
Secondly, if a law is passed that goes against the characteristic of "mutual benefit" than it is not just to us.
Lastly, as long as the law brings mutual advantage to all it does not matter if the law changes. Epicurus gives wonderful advice here: which is look at the facts (consequences) not the empty prattling among philosophers and legislators.
That Justice is based on mutual benefit
"When circumstances have not changed and things that were thought to be just are shown to not be in accord with our basic grasp of justice, then those things were not just. But when circumstances do change and things that were just are no longer useful, then those things were just while they brought mutual advantage among companions sharing the same community; but when later they did not bring advantage, then they were not just." - 38
If no external circumstances have changed and the society decides to look at some laws and it shows that these laws were not in accord to the basic grasp of justice i.e. mutual benefit then it follows that these laws were never just.
Legislation which once brought mutual benefit for all but no longer do were just while they did but when they no longer brought mutual benefit they were just no longer.
Comments from peers/other Epicureans
"one other way to say this is that justice emanates from people (is immanent), not from gods (is not transcendent). That's why it's natural, and not supernatural." -A very good point and clarification, Justice comes from people and agreements among them (immanent) not gods (transcendent)
"On defining good and bad according to nature, true. Also remember that in L Herodotus, Epicurus starts by saying that words must be clearly defined and aligned with how things appear to us in nature, which denotes the importance of accordance between words and signs presented to our faculties, and in that letter he also explains that bodies have primary (inherent) and secondary (relational properties).
Later, our third scholark polystratus makes the case that “the vile” and “the noble”, like beautiful and ugly and other good and bad categories, are relational properties in nature that sentient beings can apprehend according to their faculties so that they are experientially real and true. This is a complex subject but in the future if you want to study and deepen this, we can revisit this. The key thing to remember is that good and bad things only exist as relational, as they relate to us or someone when they encounter some other thing, experience or body in nature."Instead of trying to explain this myself poorly, I will link to Hiram's blog in which he explains the concept coherently. Click here for link
"Eoghan this seems to me to be a subset of the wider issue, which might be good to include, which is that "good" and "bad" have no definite meaning either, outside of a particular set of facts, and that pleasure and pain are the ultimate foundation of them. Whether it's Good and bad, or good and evil, or similar names, there is no standard of absoluteness that can be used to define what those words mean other than the pleasure and pain of the people involved."
Cassius makes an excellent point to remind us that "Good and Bad or Good and Evil" are simply names we give to things. They are founded on whether the experience is pleasurable or painful, not abstract ideas.
My hope is that the reader gets a basic grasp of the Epicurean idea of Justice and to realize that we do not believe in some floating or divine justice, it is simply a contract among one another and there is nothing wrong with that, the declaration of independence of the USA says similar things as Epicurus did and one of it's authors, Thomas Jefferson, was an Epicurean.