Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The Defense of Injustice”

Table of Content

            In this piece, the Roman writer Cicero, uses a dialogue between Laulius and Philus to examine not only injustice, as the title implies, but also to show the true meaning of justice.  Justice is revealed as being not a law of nature but instead something created and propagated but not always followed by man. Injustice too is the product of man.

            The ideas of justice and injustice Cicero discusses, from the individual to the political, still apply today. While civilizations have risen and fallen man seems to have continued this vicious cycle. In some ways it is really no different, except that people now put forth a political conscience  about the imbalance of justice while continuing to live in a world that is anything but just. While Laulius’s final statement on the need for universal justice, it seems a naive idea in some ways. Now with the world even bigger and more people who are affected it’s seems even more unlikely.

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Frederick Douglass, from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave

            Douglass’s Narrative is the real-life example of the concept of injustice that Cicero details in his text, that of American slavery. This section looks at his life between the time of his arrival in Baltimore from the plantation he’d been born on to developing of his resolve to runaway. In encountering the Hughs, Douglass also learns to read and comes to better understand the injustice of the abuse and financial valuations of slaves as property truly is. It’s this realization that prompts him to continue to learn and plan his escape.

            Since Douglass concentrates on the injustices of slavery, in many ways what he addresses is no longer valid. Slavery is long over in the U.S. At the same time though, it brings to light the value people place on the lives of others, whether they live in the U.S. or elsewhere, and how even today it can still be an issue. People are more aware of the injustices in the world and the oppression of one group of people over another but this awareness doesn’t stop it from continuing.

Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

            In this text, Thoreau examines the concept of the individual’s right to protest and refuse to participate in their government through peaceful and civil acts of disobedience. For Thoreau, such injustices as slavery and the Mexican American War were reason enough to declare himself a minority of one again the power of the so-called majority. By refusing to pay his taxes, he is undercutting one part of the government in an attempt to affect the system as a whole.

            Thoreau’s examination of the problems and sometimes injustices that are created not only individual men but democratic system of majority rule made me think of the problems of that system. While the U.S. isn’t a pure democracy, there is still that idealistic view of majority rule being the most just. Thoreau pokes holes in that view, showing that the majority and those it has brought to power have sometimes created the most injustice. This is still true, particularly in newer democracies and even still the U.S.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions”

            In her speech at the Seneca Falls Convention, Stanton demanded that women, as natural equals to man should be given the same rights as men. Explaining how, whether married or single, all women experienced the inequalities of society through the social and political oppression of their rights.

            Stanton was both of her time and ahead of her time. Some of the ideas expressed at the Seneca Falls conference were not just addressing the evidence of female oppression but also the attitudes that created them. Calling for complete equality, stating clearly the common worth of man and woman, she points out how many problems are created by such separations, whether it be gender or race or religion While the right to vote is now something women take for granted and that part of her speech is no valid, our society does still struggle with living up to the idea of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

            Addressing a group of black ministers from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, King’s letter shows his message of non-violence while also revealing his frustrations with the ministers’ own inaction. Though some blacks, like Elijah Muhammad, were turning to more extreme methods, King expresses the necessity of the movement at that time and the need to confront violence with resolve and not more violence. Non-violence is a humane but powerful tool to fight that injustice since it doesn’t continue that relationship of the powerful over the weak.

            King’s message still has relevance today, in that non-violence is a way to a more permanent solution that violent opposition. When justice is created through violent retaliation it stops being truly just. Like Stanton or even Douglass, the exact condition that caused King to begin his work isn’t as large of an issue, his ideas of protest do still carry weight because certain truths of decency and justice do not change.

John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”

            In this selection, Rawls examines his theories on justice. In particular, he looks at the concept of “justice as fairness.” Through this he establishes the idea of a society that bases the idea of justice on not the well-fair of the many but the well-fair of the individual. He also looks at the concepts of the “veil of ignorance” that says that those in charge of deciding the rules of justice should be prevented from knowing their own place in society so that they can make impartial decisions on the distribution of powers and benefits.

            While I found much of Rawls’ philosophy to be interesting and can see it in the present way people view social justice, there are practical problems with his position. While the veil of ignorance and justice as a contract are compelling they seem difficult to realize in real-life situations. We’re born into our places in society and taught from birth how to fill that place.


Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”

            Emerson’s examination of non-conformity shows how the struggle for individuality is not always a simple choice. Society teaches people to conform to a certain model of behavior and the social and political acceptance of people is tied to that model. By choosing to be a non-conformist, the individual is choosing to live by his own nature.

            The beliefs Emerson expresses in this text are still very relevant to how we look at individuality and the idea of conformity. Conforming to society’s expectations, and to an extent our own expectations of society, is still common. I agree especially with Emerson’s belief that the individual’s inclination for conformity is based both on nature and social expectations.

Emile Durkheim, “Individualism and the Intellectuals”

            Like philosophers on justice, Durkheim places a strong importance on the power of the individual. While it has remained a central tenet to social philosophy individuality has equally been influenced and itself has influenced political and social conditions. Most important to Durkeim’s own philosophy is the idea that individuality doesn’t separate members of society but instead draws society together.

            Durkheim’s argument is important in its ability to fuse together different concepts of individualism, which he notes can at first glance be seen as contradictory. I think that the idea of the individual as integral to the overall concept of society is probably the most important. I found his belief, however, that religion is individualistic to be harder to accept. Organized religion seems more to be based on a collective understanding of man as part of humankind rather than as an individual.

W.E.B DuBois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”

            DuBois examines how ideas of difference, in particular race, strip a person of their individuality by highlighting their differences and treating the group based on these differences. As a black man, he is vulnerable to assumptions of character that are assigned based not on individual behavior but instead on prejudices and preconceived notions. This strips man of his individuality and ability to operate outside of social and racial categories.

            While the way minorities are treated has changed drastically, in many respects, since DuBois time, his point on the price paid to the individual when he is categorized is still very important. Whenever people are grouped together under the heading of a particular race, gender, religion, etc. than they are vulnerable to being assigned certain attributes that ignore their individuality.

Benedict, “The Individual and the Patterns of Culture”

            Writing the relationship between society and the individual, Benedict believed that rather than the individual always conforming to society, society itself is a manifestation of the ideas and needs of the individual. Culture functions at the demands and needs of the individual rather than the other way around.

            Though Benedict’s point is interesting and contains some truth, the idea that the individual controls culture and not the other way around doesn’t provide a full understanding of the relationship. While initially culture may be a reflection of the individual, as the culture becomes established man does become forced to conform to certain social and political beliefs that are seen as befitting the whole.

Erich Fromm, “The Individual in Chains of Illusion”

            For Fromm, having lived through the political upheavals of the 20th century and seeing the continued growth of the consumerist mindset, the idea of individuality has become an illusion. Man believes himself to be following his own path in seeking more material advantages but because of industrialization and a growing consumerist culture individuality becomes more a concept than a reality. It is an idealized way for man to view himself but has little base in realty, when his actions are based on a desire to accumulate rather than to be happy or to live beyond what is known.

            I found Fromm’s writing to be interesting in the contradictions of how modern society understands itself. If anything, with globalization and the easy communication between people of different countries, his views have become more relevant. What people in the U.S. and Europe experienced fifty years ago, newly developing nations face today. They present themselves as free of the conformity of past oppressive governments but are now becoming slaves to the same consumerism Fromm talks about. While there should be more a possibility of Fromm’s  “One Man” idea, it has still yet to be realized.


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Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The Defense of Injustice”. (2016, Aug 07). Retrieved from

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