A WORD IN FOUR HUNDRED WORDS – JUSTICE

JUSTICE

Ius, properly ‘right’, is derived from a Proto-Indo-European name meaning ‘life force, eternity’. There is a link with Sanskrit yoh (health), yos (of life) and ayus (lifetime). The latters indicate a temporary expression of energy and existence destined to decay and destruction, in short something that is necessarily finite. Ius also carries the same suggestion of finiteness as in Sanskrit: it expresses the idea of a set of rules (and therefore limitations) for life and the rewards and punishments for those following or breaking them. 

“Justice” comes from the Latin iustitia, a word formed from the adjective iustus and the suffix -itia expressing “the condition of being”: iustitia means “the quality of being iustus”. Iustus is derived from ius in combination with the suffix –tus and it expresses “being endowed with”, in this case ius. Justice therefore means ‘the condition of being provided with ius‘; it is something given that once received determines a different state or condition from before in the recipient.

The traditional Western iconography of Justice is a blindfolded woman with scales and a sword. Her artificial blindness and the use of the measuring instrument related to equilibrium (aequus “equal” and libra “weight, scale”) and measurement suggest a weighted and disinterested (and therefore non-discriminating) connotation of the principle depicted. In order to have a fair application of justice, it is necessary to equilibrate (literally, give the right balance) the rules to the object in question.

Take the case of vaccinations: when the doses have been made available, in the impossibility of vaccinating the entire Italian population at the same time, it is right that a priority list should be drawn up in such a way as to reduce the danger of death or serious illness for the groups most at risk. These actions can be seen as an example of justice, as an action imposed by ius that changes people’s state of being. Ius, in fact, is presented as the application of rules that act on (and for) life. However, attention must be paid to how priorities are set: the blindfold of justice does not provide for a blind and random choice; on the contrary, its juxtaposition with the scales suggests an objective assessment of individual situations. If the aim is to save as many lives as possible, the criterion of priority, therefore, should be none other than the risk of physical fragility of the individual categories.

Please leave us a word for your ‘feeling of justice’.

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