“Justice does not mean equality, even among men. It means treating unequals unequally — giving an A to a student who answered 95 out of 100 questions correctly and an F to a student who answered only 45.
“Many traditional societies, like those of classical Greece and Confucian China, saw justice as essentially an inequality, a harmony among different things: organs in the body, members in a family, heavenly bodies in the cosmos, musical notes in a song, classes in the state, faculties in the soul. The President is not necessarily a superior person to his military chief of stati but his office is. Justice demands the chief of staff obey his “superior”, even if the latter has shortcomings.
“Fourth, resentment against some kind of superiority is one of the seven deadly sins. It is called envy, and it is the only sin that never gave anyone any kind of pleasure at all.
“In the Divine Comedy, Dante discovers that there are many unequal levels even in heaven. He asks Piccarda, who is on heaven’s lowest level, whether she is not discontented with her lowly place and whether she longs to move up closer to God, to see more of God and receive more joy. Her answer is that no one in heaven is dissatisfied with his place or envious of anyone else: “From seat to seat throughout this realm, to all the realm is pleasing. [That is, each citizen is pleased with the kingdom as a whole; the whole is present to each individual.] For in his will, our hearts have found their peace. T. S. Eliot called this the profoundest line in all human literature.”
From Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them? by Dr. Peter Kreeft; Ignatius Press 1995. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and also at the King’s College (Empire State Building), in New York City.