On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12

Benjamin Franklin said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Today we begin Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, and we will examine the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Ben Franklin’s remark is a perfect starter, for as Karen wrote

Justice is the morality of the community. The morality of a community shapes individual thinking, values, and behavior. Aristotle calls justice “anything just that tends to produce or preserve happiness and its constituents for the community of a city.” In The Republic, Plato says that virtue in an individual is “a certain health, beauty, and good condition of a soul.” Justice, therefore, can be understood as the virtue of a community, the harmony of all the souls that form it.

But although justice is enacted in community, each community is made up of individuals who together make a society just or unjust. The just society is the one that frees people to do good. In other words, a just society allows all of its members to cultivate the virtue of justice, for even individual ethics “are much affected by the ethos” of the community in which one lives.

In what ways does justice depend on both communities and individuals?  How does this make the virtue of justice different from the other virtues?

On Reading Well


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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life