Law & the Common Good

For so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.

—John Milton, Lycidas

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics


Friendship seems to hold cities together. Lawgivers are more attentive to friendship than to justice because their central aim is concord (which is not unlike friendship), and they are keen to do away with discord (enmity, that is).

ἔοικε δὲ καὶ τὰς πόλεις συνέχειν ἡ φιλία, καὶ οἱ νομοθέται μᾶλλον περὶ αὐτὴν σπουδάζειν ἢ τὴν δικαιοσύνην: ἡ γὰρ ὁμόνοια ὅμοιόν τι τῇ φιλίᾳ ἔοικεν εἶναι, ταύτης δὲ μάλιστ᾽ ἐφίενται καὶ τὴν στάσιν ἔχθραν οὖσαν μάλιστα ἐξελαύνουσιν . . .


It seems the political community is a beneficial resource: it brings people together in the first instance, and then it keeps them together. This is what lawgivers aim to achieve, and justice is said to be that which confers universal benefits.

καὶ ἡ πολιτικὴ δὲ κοινωνία τοῦ συμφέροντος χάριν δοκεῖ καὶ ἐξ ἀρχῆς συνελθεῖν καὶ διαμένειν: τούτου γὰρ καὶ οἱ νομοθέται στοχάζονται, καὶ δίκαιόν φασιν εἶναι τὸ κοινῇ συμφέρον.

color photograph of supreme court justice john roberts smiling

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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