Portrait of the Artist as a Man
February 16, 2015


In the previous weeks, I have routinely asked myself the coming virtues were to better gauge my adherence to them leading to their specific weeks. I admit that the latter half of Franklin’s virtues are tricky to keep in mind for two reasons.

  1. The first half of them provide noise to remember the remaining.
  2. The definitions for the second half of the virtues were not as obvious or concrete for me.

Aristotle describes justice in a hierarchical fashion: general (or external) justice above all, special (internal) justice below and which is subdivided further into distributive justice (equity) and rectification justice (equality). General justice concerns the overall welfare, or well-being of people or persons as a whole while special justice of the concerns particular virtuous acts between people.

It’s a little confusing.

Moreover, I feel like I am a just individual, it is a particular trait that we discuss amongst managers at work regularly, though indirectly (1). But I don’t really have a consistent concept for it. It’s only fairly recently that I feel as if I’ve gotten a better grasp of it in light of numerous discussions online and with friends regarding race relations in America after Ferguson and GamerGate.

This image summarizes it well:

When one has more and that more detracts from another having any; that is injustice. Franklin was more concerned with this sort of equity than justice, I think. He desired to do no wrong to people nor deny them their due. In the practice of justice, one must understand the differences between people in each situation and do what is fair for it.

Equal is not always fair. The easiest example I have is work - my team has people tenured between 6 months and 17 years. It is not fair to assign work equally between them for a deadline. My longer-tenured people are faster, more efficient, and more knowledgable. They can get more done in a day compared to the less tenured people and, if the goal is to test everything properly before the deadline while keeping levels of effort consistent for all, assigning work numerically equally makes little sense. It would drive up the less tenured members time up, increase their stress much more, than the tenured folks and that would be unjust.

So, in light of that, being just requires a greater situational awareness. Justice doesn’t need to exist without other people. If one lives alone on an island, there’s little sense in divvying up resources as if others were depending on it (2).

  1. Understand that equality is not necessarily justice.
  2. Recognize the abilities and contributions of people to a given situation.
  3. Act justly according to circumstance and try to help others understand.

This rules are a little vague but it’s hard to pin down a system for acting justly when justice depends heavily on the situation. At work, this is certainly something top of mind, especially as we head into a deadline, but I think the difficulty for me is applying this outside of work when I it harder to have all the details.

1. Most regularly, we discus justice as recognizing the contributions of our teams. When a person does something good, you must give them credit for it or be failing in your duties as a manager. The other side of that coin is recognizing poor performance and addressing it in a similar manner. It is unjust to recognize only the one or neither or recognize them inconsistently.↩︎

2. Unless you want to argue either that you should plan as if others may appear or also be stranded. Or divvying up resources in some capacity would extend their utility for you. The former is an artificial construct that requires other people before justice/injustice exists and the latter isn’t about justice as much as rationing for survival. It wouldn’t be unjust to eat all the food quickly, just stupid.↩︎

Wrestling with Franklin

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