Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Historically, civilizations, governments, religions, and cultures normally define “justice” from their own, self-serving points of view. Justice is obedience, injustice disobedience. Despots have defined it as obeying their will. More democratic societies define it as conformity to the laws they make up, religions as following their rules, and—in the Eastern traditions—the law of Karma, natural cause and effect. The central theme in both the Republic and the Goegias of Plato, the discussion has gone down through the ages permeating much of philosophical discussion. Plato pits those who believe “might makes right” against those proposing a higher, intrinsic quality of the right, the “just.” One side says, “the stronger do whatever they can and the weaker suffer whatever they must.” Opposing views define justice as the “fair,” and Aristotle discussed it in terms of equality saying, “Awards should be given according to merit” and Mill extended this idea to an “equality under the law” for all. The view of Karma characterizes justice as an inevitable, natural process where both the good/just/appropriate and the evil/unjust/wrong both result in more of the same.

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Quotes (76)

“I am justice: clear, impartial, favoring no one, hating no one. But in those who have cured themselves of selfishness, I shine with brilliance.”

Vyasa व्यास 1 via Bhagavadgita (tr: Stephen Mitchell)
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

Themes: Justice

“demonstrate justice within the land, destroy evil and wickedness, stop the mighty from exploiting the weak”

Hammurabi 1
Father to his people and example of good government to us all

“The blessed gods have no love for crime. They honor justice, honor the decent acts of men.”

Homer 1 via Robert Fagles
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

Themes: Justice Crime

“Fishes and wild beasts and winged birds should devour one another, since there is no justice in them; but to mankind he gave justice which proves for the best.”

Hesiod 846 – 777 BCE
“History’s first economist”
from Works and Days

Themes: Justice

“Justice, even if slow, is sure.”

Solon 638 – 558 BCE via Plutarch
Founder of Athenian democracy

“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth

13. Honor and Disgrace

“When a student asked Confucius about returning good for evil, he replied: 'With what then will you recompense kindness? Return good for good, and for evil, justice.'”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Brian Brown
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

“The governments of latter-day society have not stored up the necessities of life, they have not diluted the purity of the world, destroyed the simplicity of the world, and made the people confused and hungry... law and justice are at odds”

Wenzi 文子 1
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”
from The Wenzi, Wénzǐ 文子

“We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

Themes: Conflict Justice

“In a really just cause, the week conquer the strong.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Oediplus at Colonus, 406 BCE

Themes: Justice Paradox

“Keep alive the light of justice,
And much that men say in blame will pass you by.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from The Suppliant Women (421 BCE)

“One who is injured ought not to return the injury, for on no account can it be right to do an injustice; and it is not right to return an injury, or to do evil to any man, however much we have suffered from him.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

79. No Demands

“The man who is wronged suffers injury in body or in external things, while the man who does wrong injures his own soul.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE via Mortimer J. Adler
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

“If thou sustain injustice, console thyself; the true unhappiness is in doing it”

Democritus Dēmókritos 460 – 370 BCE
Father of modern science and greatest of ancient philosophers

Themes: Justice

69. No Enemy

“It was the principle of this Court that deterrent laws, however strict, are useless without positive moral discipline; that the happiness of citizens depends, not on having the walls of their porticoes covered with laws, but on having justice in their hearts.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“Everywhere there is one principle of justice: the interest of the stronger.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE via Jowett
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Justice

“What we have in us of the image of God is the love of truth and justice.”

Demosthenes Δημοσθένης 384 – 322 BCE

Themes: God Truth Justice

“Justice is not a part of virtue, but virtue entire.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Justice Virtue

“Destruction of Tao and character in order to strive for humanity and justice—this is the error of the sages.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang

from Zhuangzi

“There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE via Geer
Western Buddha
from Principle Doctrines

“Where you find the laws most numerous, there you will find also the greatest injustice. Virtue is its own reward.”

Zeno Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς 334 – 262 BCE
(of Citium)

“Where you find the laws most numerous, there you will find also the greatest injustice.”

Arcesilaus Ἀρκεσίλαος 316 – 241 BCE

57. Wu Wei

“When the country is at peace, no one thinks about kindness and the people are free from desire. When the Tao prevails, kindness and justice vanish like the stars fading when the sun appears.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

18. The Sick Society

“Extreme justice is extreme injustice.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE

Themes: Justice

“The more laws, the less justice.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from De Officiis, 44 BCE

Themes: Justice

“Everyone loves justice in the affairs of others.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Italian proverb

Themes: Justice

“If you study the history and records of the world, you must admit that the source of justice is the fear of injustice.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE
from Satires (35 BCE)

Themes: Justice Fear

“A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)
from De Brevitate Vitae

Themes: Justice Poverty

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Saint John
from New Testament Διαθήκη

“Justice is an unassailable fortress, built on the bow of a mountain which cannot be overthrown by the violence of torrents, nor demolished by the force of armies.”

Muhammad محمد‎; محمد‎; 570 – 632 CE via George Seldes
from Koran

Themes: Justice

“Confucius relied on kindness and justice, ritual and music to order the kingdom. Lao-tzu’s only concern was to open people’s minds”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“God considers not the action, but the spirit of the action.”

Peter Abelard Pierre Abélard 1079 – 1142 CE
from Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian

Themes: God Justice

“Justice removes the obstacles to peace.”

Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274 CE

Themes: Peace Justice

“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature—opposition to it, is his love of justice.”

Poggio Bracciolini 1380 – 1459 CE
from Nel VI Centenario della Nascita

“Personal prejudice and financial greed are the two great evils that threaten courts of law, and once they get the upper hand they immediately hamstring society, by destroying all justice.”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

Themes: Justice Greed

“It is due to Justice that man is a God to man not a wolf.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE
from Advancement of Learning, 1605

Themes: Justice

“Earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Merchant of Venice

Themes: Justice Kindness

“The nature of justice consists in the keeping of valid covenants… Where there is no Commonwealth, there is nothing unjust.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE

“Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

Themes: Justice Power

“Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

30. No War

“In a natural state, there is nothing which can be called just or unjust, only in a civil state”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

“War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not color his crime with the pretext of justice.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from The Ignorant Philosopher

Themes: War Crime Justice

“Avarice and injustice are always shortsighted, and they did not foresee how much this regulation must obstruct improvement, and thereby hurt in the long-run the real interest of the landlord.”

Adam Smith 1723 – 1790 CE
''The Father of Economic Capitalism"
from Wealth of Nations

“Justice, humanity, or political wisdom, are qualities they are too little acquainted with in themselves, to appreciate them in others.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“It would have cost me more trouble to escape from injustice, than it does to submit to it.”

Madame Roland 1754 – 1793 CE via Mémoires de Madame Roland (1795)
(Marie-Jeanne Phlippon)
Revolutionary heroine

Themes: Justice

“The cause of justice is the cause of humanity. Its advocates should overflow with universal good will. We should love this cause, for it conduces to the general happiness of mankind.”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

Themes: Justice Happiness

“It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist

Themes: Justice

“Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator
from Funeral oration for Justice Story, 1845

Themes: Justice

“Slavery is the daughter of darkness: an ignorant people is a blind instrument of its own destruction… they take license for liberty, treachery for patriotism, and vengeance for justice.”

Simon Bolivar Simón Bolívar 1783 – 1830 CE
El Libertador
from Speech, 1819

Themes: Slavery Justice

“by nature and from the first, it is not justice that rules on earth but force... Justice is in itself powerless. To draw this over to the side of justice, so that by means of force justice rules—that is the problem of statecraft.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Essays and Aphorisms

“If justice ruled on earth it would be sufficient to have built one's house: it would require not further protection than this manifest right of possession. But because injustice is the order of the day, whoever bult the house must also be in a position to protect it”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

Themes: Justice Control

“Foolish men imagine that because judgment for an evil thing is delayed, there is no justice... Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death.”

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator

Themes: Karma Justice

“Justice is truth in action.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

from Commons, 1849

Themes: Justice

“As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

“Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

53. Shameless Thieves

“Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no one can judge a criminal until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Laws are the product of selfishness, deception, and party prejudice. Trust justice is not in them and cannot be in them.”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE
from The Kingdom of God is Within You (1893)

“['God' is] but the expression for man's highest conception of goodness, wisdom, and power; that in order to generate a more vivid conception of so great and glorious a thought, man has personified it and called it by a name... people should no more cease to love God on ceasing to believe in His objective personality than they cease to love justice on discovering that she was not really personal; they will never truly know Him until they see Him thus.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

“Human rights and wrongs are not determined by Justice, but by Might. Disguise it as you may, the naked sword is still king-maker and king-breaker, as of yore. All other theories are lies and — lures.

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: War Justice

“Today the two hundred million men in our country are entering into a civilized new world...but we, the two hundred million women, are still kept down in the dungeon... With all my heart I beseech and beg my two hundred million female compatriots to assume their responsibility as citizens. Arise! Arise! Chinese women, arise!”

Qiu Jin 秋瑾 1
"China’s Joan of Arc"

“The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Ideas and Opinions

Themes: Judaism Justice

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

Franklin Roosevelt 1882 – 1945 CE
Champion and creator of a more just and equitable society

“Be just before you are generous.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Ulysses

Themes: Justice

“"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

Themes: Democracy Justice

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Where there are too many policemen, there is no liberty. Where there are too many soldiers, there is no peace. Where there are too many lawyers, there is no justice.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

53. Shameless Thieves

“When young people are asked, ‘What are you interested in?’ they answer that they are interested in justice: they want justice for the Negro, they want justice for the Third World. If you say, ‘Well, what is justice?’ they haven't any idea.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)
from The Great Conversation

“those who believe with certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

Themes: Opinion Justice

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

Themes: Equality Justice

“The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from A People's History of the United States​

Themes: Justice

“Hell is when you don't have justice.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

Themes: Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

“The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and the courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 – 2020 CE
Fierce and influential voice for justice, equality, and women's rights

Themes: Justice Judaism

“From the beginning, men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”

Salman Rushdie 1947 CE –
Fearless antagonist of Islamic fundamentalism

Themes: God Justice

“A people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn their back decisively against extremism.”

Benazir Bhutto بينظير ڀُٽو‎; 1953 – 2007 CE

“In this shrinking world, it is futile to seek safety behind geographical barriers. Real security will be found only in law and in justice.”

Harry S. Truman 1884 – 1972 CE

Themes: Justice

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