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New Left Review 74, March-April 2012

nancy fraser


Lessons from Plato, Rawls and Ishiguro

Justice occupies a special place in the pantheon of virtues. For the ancients, it was often conceived as the master virtue, the one that orders all the others. For Plato, justice had exactly this overarching status. A just individual, he tells us in The Republic, is one in whom the three parts of the soul—reason, spirit, appetite—and the three virtues associated with them—wisdom, courage, moderation—stand in the right relation to one another. Justice in the city is precisely analogous. In the just city, each class exercises its own distinctive virtue by performing the task suitable for its nature, and none interferes with the others. The wise and rational part does the ruling, the brave and spirited part does the soldiering, and the rest, those lacking special spirit or intelligence but capable of moderation, do the farming and the manual labouring. Justice is the harmonious balance among these constituent elements. [1] This essay was delivered as a lecture in a series on ‘the virtues’ at the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona, 13 February 2012.

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