873. Is the sense of justice natural or is it the product of acquired ideas?
“It is so natural that you are immediately appalled by the idea of an injustice. Moral progress definitely inspires this feeling, but it does not create it. God has placed it in the heart of all human beings and this is why you often find more stringent notions of justice in simple, primitive nations than others that are more educated.”
874. If justice is a law of nature, why do people understand it so differently? How can the same thing be just to one person, yet unjust to another?
“It is because your passions often mingle with this sentiment and corrupt it, as they do with most natural sentiments, causing you to see things from a false point of view.”
875. How should we define justice?
“Justice is respect for the rights of each and every individual.”
a) What determines these rights?
“Two things: human law and natural law. As human beings have created laws in harmony with their values and character, those laws have established rights that have varied with the progress of enlightenment. Your laws, although still far from perfect, no longer include what were considered rights in the Middle Ages. Those rights, while horrific to you now, appeared fair and natural at that time. Therefore, the rights established by humans are not always compliant with justice. In addition, they only govern certain social relations, while there are an infinite number of actions that are only tried privately by our conscience.”
876. Apart from the rights established by human law, what is the basis of justice according to natural law?
“Christ told you, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ God has placed in each of you the desire to see your own rights respected as the rule of true justice. When uncertain as to what we should do in regard to others at any given moment, we should ask ourselves what we would want others to do to us under the same circumstances. God could not give us a safer guide than our own conscience.”
The true measure of justice is, in fact, wanting for others what you would want for yourself. Merely wanting for yourself what you would want for others is not exactly the same thing. As it is unnatural to wish harm upon yourself, if we use our personal desires as the guide for our behavior towards our neighbors, we would never wish anything but good upon them. Universally, human beings have always sought to enforce their personal rights, while the unique factor of Christianity is the application of personal rights as the basis of our neighbors’ rights.
877. Does our need to live in a society impose any special obligations?
“Yes and the first of these is to respect the rights of others, as those who respect those rights will always be fair. In your world, where so many neglect to practice the law of justice, people turn to retaliation, and this causes trouble and confusion in your society. Social life gives rights and imposes corresponding duties.”
878. It is possible for human beings to be deluded with respect to the boundaries of their rights? How do they know their true limits?
“They can know their own limits by matching them to the limits of the rights that they recognize for others undergoing similar circumstances, and vice versa.”
a) If individuals attribute the rights of others to themselves, what happens to subordination beneath superiors? Would this not result in complete anarchy of all power?
“Natural rights are the same for everyone, from the smallest to the greatest. God has not sculpted some human beings from a better quality clay than others, and all are equals in God’s eyes. These rights are eternal, while societal rights die with its institutions. Furthermore, people distinctly know their strength or weakness, and will always be conscious of feeling a sort of deference to those individuals whose wisdom or virtue deserve respect. This is important so that those who think that they are superior know what duties give them a right to be admired. There will be no defiance when authority is only granted to superior wisdom.”
879. What would be the character of those who practice justice in all its purity?
“That of true justice, following the example of Jesus, because they would love their neighbor and practice charity. Without these virtues, there can be no real justice.”