Epicurus saw justice as a contract among society members neither to harm others nor be harmed themselves. For the philosopher, justice was like any other virtue, which meant that its value was determined by its practical benefits for the community (Erler, 2019). For this reason, any rule or regulation that does not contribute to the common good is not just and, therefore, should be abolished. Epicurus makes it a point to show that justice is universal. A just law applies to all: it controls people’s behavior and prevents them from harming themselves and others. Disobedience was also in conflict with Epicurus’s central idea that is personal happiness. Disobeying a just law would lead to the fear of punishment and the punishment itself, negatively affecting a person’s mental and physical health.
It is easy to see that Epicurus tries to tie together individualism and collectivism in his ethical views. On the one hand, justice should be common for all, as its end goal is to better the community. On the other hand, Epicurus gives a high priority to pleasure and happiness that are sought individually. Because of these two conflicting tendencies, Epicurean justice, may vary depending on the situation. As mentioned before, any law or rule that stops providing benefits can be rendered unnecessary. Therefore, it would not be a reach to say that any action’s morality is then contingent on its practical implications in an individual situation. Tying justice to benefit makes it flexible as what the community needs today may be different from what it will need tomorrow. Similarly, the pursuit of happiness and pleasure may take many forms, shaping the definition of justice in various ways.
Erler, M. (2019). Epicurus: An introduction to his practical ethics and politics. mbassador GmbH.