Durant 1926: The Ethical Solution

Reference: The Story of Philosophy 

This paper presents Chapter I, Section 9 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.



And now our political digression is ended, and we are ready at last to answer the question with which we began—What is justice? There are only three things worth while in this world—justice, beauty and truth; and perhaps none of them can be defined. Four hundred years after Plato a Roman procurator of Judea asked, helplessly, ”What is truth?”—and philosophers have not yet answered, nor told us what is beauty. But for justice Plato ventures a definition. “Justice,” he says, “is the having and doing what is one’s own.” (433). 

Plato says, “Justice is the having and doing what is one’s own.” What is one’s own, in total honesty, would simply be one’s inherent nature.

This has a disappointing sound; after so much delay we expected an infallible revelation. What does the definition mean? Simply that each man shall receive the equivalent of what he produces, and shall perform the function for which he is best fit. A just man is a man in just the right place, doing his best, and giving the full equivalent of what he receives. A society of just men would be therefore a highly harmonious and efficient group; for every element would be in its place, fulfilling its appropriate function like the pieces in a perfect orchestra. Justice in a society would be like that harmony of relationships whereby the planets are held together in their orderly (or, as Pythagoras would have said, their musical) movement. So organized, a society is fit for survival; and justice receives a kind of Darwinian sanction. Where men are out of their natural places, where the business man subordinates the statesman, or the soldier usurps the position of the king—there the coordination, of parts is destroyed, the joints decay, the society disintegrates and dissolves. Justice is effective coordination. 

Plato’s dream for justice requires that man be totally natural and without any aberrations.

And in the individual too, justice is effective coordination, the harmonious functioning of the elements in a man, each in its fit place and each making its cooperative contribution to behavior. Every individual is a cosmos or a chaos of desires, emotions and ideas; let these fall into harmony, and the individual survives and succeeds; let them lose their proper place and function, let emotion try to become the light of action as well as its heat (as in the fanatic), or let thought try to become the heat of action as well as its light, (as in the intellectual)—and disintegration of personality begins, failure advances like the inevitable night. Justice is a taxis ki cosmos—anorder and beauty—of the parts of the soul; it is to the soul as health is to the body. All evil is disharmony: between man and nature, or man and men, or man and himself.

It is true that that basis for justice, beauty and truth is harmony, continuity and consistency, but how does one achieve that?

So Plato replies to Thrasymachus and Callicles, and to all Nietzscheans forever: Justice is not mere strength, but harmonious strength—desires and men falling into that order which constitutes intelligence and organization; justice is not the right of the stronger, but the effective harmony of the whole. It is true that the individual who gets out of the place to which his nature and talents adapt him may for a time seize some profit and advantage; but an inescapable Nemesis pursues him—as Anaxagoras spoke of the Furies pursuing any planet that should wander out of its orbit; the terrible baton of the Nature of Things drives the refractory instrument back to its place and its pitch and its natural note. The Corsican lieutenant may try to rule Europe with a ceremonious despotism fitted better to an ancient monarchy than to a dynasty born overnight; but he ends on a prison-rock in the sea, ruefully recognizing that he is “the slave of the Nature of Things.” Injustice will out. 

According to Plato, justice is not the right of the stronger, but the effective harmony of the whole. Injustice will out. But this is theoretical and, generally, not practical.

There is nothing bizarrely new in this conception; and indeed we shall do well to suspect, in philosophy, any doctrine which plumes itself on novelty. Truth changes her garments frequently (like every seemly lady), but under the new habit she remains always the same. In morals we need not expect startling innovations: despite the interesting adventures of Sophists and Nietzscheans, all moral conceptions revolve about the good of the whole. Morality begins with association and interdependence and organization; life in society requires the concession of some part of the individual’s sovereignty to the common order; and ultimately the norm of conduct becomes the welfare of the group. Nature will have it so, and her judgment is always final; a group survives, in competition or conflict with another group, according to its unity and power, according to the ability of its members to cooperate for common ends. And what better cooperation could there be than that each should be doing that which he can do best? This is the goal of organization which every society must seek, if it would have life. Morality, said Jesus, is kindness to the weak; morality, said Nietzsche, is the bravery of the strong; morality, says Plato, is the effective harmony of the whole. Probably all three doctrines must be combined to find a perfect ethic; but can we doubt which of the elements is fundamental? 

The ethical solution depends on sorting out the aberrated nature of man. So we are back at square one. But at least we have “the effective harmony of the whole” as Plato’s idea of morality.


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  • Chris Thompson  On March 27, 2021 at 7:25 AM

    “. . . ‘Injustice will out.’ But this is theoretical and, generally, not practical.”

    Please say more about this because I think Durant meant that Plato was being literal when he wrote this. This is the natural order which cannot be disturbed for long.

    Both how do you mean that this is theoretical and how do you mean this is not practical?

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 8:53 AM

      I agree with Plato as to the truth of his statement. But it is difficult to achieve the effective harmony of the whole until we find an effective solution to handling the downside of human nature. We do not have that solution yet. But I am trying to compile it here.

      Course on Human Nature

      • Isaiah R. Christo  On April 7, 2021 at 1:55 PM

        Anything we would abstract as the “downside of human nature,” to mindful me, is just human nature.

        If we are discussing effective solutions as in techniques, I do think that Man has spent millenia on this and has perfectly plausible solutions for harmonizing one’s attitudes and thoughts.

        Discussions of Man’s nature should include chapters on his fractal nature. By this I mean his recursive self-similarity both as himself and as his fellows.

        I may no longer believe in mistakes when discussing human nature. Like Bob Ross, rather than mistakes, I think there are only happy (and not as happy) accidents. Both the gene pool and man’s experiences are greater than adequate to include it all.

        • vinaire  On April 7, 2021 at 6:18 PM

          How come we don’t have a harmonized society? If there are solutions, why are they not being implemented?

        • Chris Thompson  On April 8, 2021 at 12:01 PM

          Regarding, “What would be natural self-reflection?” You’ve used the pivotal word natural” as though you have named an easily identifiable category. That is not so for me. That is just begging for more tautology.

          Truly, if we use the bigger statement of “naturally occurring in Nature” can we ever name a process that is truly unnatural?

        • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 5:58 PM

          To me natural is not something absolute. Something is as natural as it is consistent, continuous and harmonious, or free of anomalies.

  • Chris Thompson  On March 27, 2021 at 7:44 AM

    “The ethical solution depends on sorting out the aberrated nature of man. So we are back at square one. But at least we have ‘the effective harmony of the whole’ as Plato’s idea of morality.”

    The aberrated nature of man is relative to the center-mass of the morality of the society in which he lives. Therefore, evolutionary.

    Durant proposes that the greatest inertia of a society is not the fashionable morality of the day, but rather upon a deeper idea of justice — a natural order based upon a kind of permanent physics of social interaction.

    I find this tautological. The closer we look, the more we turn in circles. We say more and more while understanding does not seem to improve.

    Or possibly rather, “do as thou wilt, be the whole of the law” (Crowley), and “Survive!” (Hubbard), become the subatomic undercut (most basic basis) to this type of discussion?

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 9:12 AM

      I compare the aberrated nature of man to the following ideal scene:

      A cleared individual is not absolutely free of flaws, but he is very close to being completely rational. He has a mind in which perceptions continually break down into fine discriminative elements, and get freely associated and assimilated into an orderly mental matrix providing rational solutions.

      The cleared individual does not avoid, resist, suppress or deny any thoughts, emotions, and sensations when thinking; and so he perceives things objectively with clarity. He is able to examine and overcome all prejudices, biases and fixations. He is keenly perceptive and knowledgeable and continues to explore new areas of knowledge.

      The cleared individual is universal in his outlook. He rises above any idea of self or individuality. He is not subjective, self-centric, or human-centric. There are no conflicts within him. He would not hesitate to sacrifice himself if need be.

      The cleared individual can look from the viewpoint of others as well as objectively from the viewpoint of all life and the environment. He continues to expand his understanding of the physical and spiritual aspects of the universe without resorting to superstitions.

      The cleared individual is the first to realize his error and correct himself. Whenever he senses resistance or observes some oddity, he follows it up until it is cleared. If he suffers a painful experience, heavy loss, or confusion he is able to sort it out quietly in his mind.

      The cleared individual is in good health and has no psychosomatic illnesses. He is purposeful in his demeanor, and graceful in his movements. He is strong and calm even in adversity. In no way is he trying to win or dominate, but he is passionately engaged in bringing order to his environment.

      Above all, he is compassionate.

      • Chris Thompson  On April 7, 2021 at 2:24 PM

        Once when endeavoring to understand one of my children, a friend told me, “Our dreams are not their dreams.” This was something that I knew, but had not been applying.

        When discussing things like Ideal Scenes, it is good to remember that our own ideal scene will almost surely not be another’s ideal scene.

        Ideal scenes are abstractions which encompass all our best thoughts and goals toward the subject being discussed.

        For instance, as you’ve written above, a very nice listing of positive attributes for Clears, etc., this is how you see it, and it is laudable. Others may not and probably do not agree. Picking at what you wrote would be picayunish, unfruitful, and only express my own opinion about your opinion. I consider what you wrote to be what you wrote and it is fine but it is not everyone’s ideal scene.

        Ants and bees may conform to an ideal scene but people cannot and will not do this. Hubbard envisioned an ideal scene, Mao did, Hitler did, Stalin did, Pol Pot did, Helena Blavatsky did, Mary Baker Eddy did. Some have used destructive force to replace what they perceived as bad with something they perceived as good. Some tried with peaceful demeanor but all failed to create what they envisioned except as a momentary iteration.

        • vinaire  On April 7, 2021 at 6:26 PM

          Is there such a thing as aberration? If so, how do you define aberration?

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 9:33 AM

      Justice comes naturally when people are not aberrated.

      • Chris Thompson  On April 7, 2021 at 2:39 PM

        This reasoning has the filter of “no true Scotsman.” Like Hubbard, there would naturally be justice if people were not aberrated, but because there is injustice, that is proof that people are aberrated.

        Much of our reasoning on the subject of man’s nature includes this fallacy. I do not blame you. Rather, I think the fact of this fallacy occurring points to the flaw in our tautological reasoning.

        There is a held down 7 and its name is Tautology.

        • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 6:02 PM

          To me injustice is an anomaly and so is aberration, which needs to be resolved rather than accepted.

  • Chris Thompson  On March 27, 2021 at 8:27 AM

    To me, the randomness of free will in a society seems a detriment to that society. I base this upon the long term successes of insect societies whose individuals possess free will of a very much narrower scope than do homo sapiens.

    At least, that is the appearance to me. But what do I know of the mind of the roving bee or ant? Because I cannot know their thoughts, possibly they are choosing to do their bit and they literally feel adequately compensated for their efforts?

    But then I wonder if ethics and self reflection are mental conditions which only homo sapiens possess to the degree that it becomes a problem that needs a solution?

    But then I wonder, “Is ethics is an evolutionary dead-end?”

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 10:01 AM

      You raise a very interesting question. I think that insects are quite harmonized in their society and they are not aberrated. Plato would have liked to see humans that way too despite their much higher intelligence.

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 10:07 AM

      I believe that insects simply follow their nature. If man were to follow his unaberrated nature he would be harmonized too. That certainly puts ethics and self-reflection in a suspicious category. Maybe self-reflection is somehow unnatural. Or, what is unnatural is the way people go about self-reflecting.

      What would be natural self-reflection?

  • Chris Thompson  On March 27, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    “The Ethical Solution” assumes there is something unnatural about the so-called aberrated state of Man.

    This is a big assumption. Consider the aberrated state of space-time. Would we say that gravity or that curved space-time needs a correction?

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 10:13 AM

      I agree with Plato that there is something unnatural with the current state of man.

      Space-time is what it is. Newton and Einstein have provided their interpretation that may still need some improvement.

      • Anonymous  On April 7, 2021 at 2:35 PM

        Thank you and welcome to my Tautological Universe!

        If you were to try to enumerate, in what ways have our discussions moved mankind along toward a goal, any goal?

        • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 6:05 PM

          Each time an anomaly is resolved, no matter how small, mankind moves closer to its goal of harmony.

  • Chris Thompson  On March 27, 2021 at 12:19 PM

    Because Plato or anyone says that there is something unnatural with the current state of man, I could challenge with, “How can that possibly be?”

    Should the worker bees rise up and demand royal jelly? Would the soldier ant be better off if he was self-reflecting (not that he is not) and that self-reflection resulted in his challenging the politics of the colony?

    Hubbard, of course, explained the unnatural state of Man, with the Xenu myth.
    St. Augustine explained Man’s natural (since Adam) nature to be original sin,
    The Tora explains Man’s natural state is Life, but dates body death to Adam’s Fall.
    Hindu explains sin as one of “Man’s dual nature.”
    Islam teaches that sin is an act but not a state of being. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors.
    All Abrahamic religions teach both that man does and does not have free will. But really, there is only live according to rules or to suffer punishment. Choose freely!

    It is my observation that religion of every ilk is political. How can Man ever find himself in an unnatural state?

    • vinaire  On March 27, 2021 at 12:42 PM

      It is unnatural to have filters and not see things as they are.

      • Chris Thompson  On April 7, 2021 at 2:29 PM

        I would like to say that one man’s filter is another man’s dream. I do not see a reasoned way out of this except to not-is the “filter” (as you write) of it all.

        • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 3:48 PM

          How do you define “dream” and “filter”? Are they determined arbitrarily?

  • Chris Thompson  On April 7, 2021 at 2:45 PM

    Children are born selfish. We do not chide them for it, we rather furnish what they need. It is their nature.

    We teach our children what it means to share and to be selfless. Some children take to this more than others.

    Who is to define what their natural state is?

    • Isaiah R. Christo  On April 7, 2021 at 2:55 PM

      I think that Man naturally loves the “no True Scotsman” line of reasoning.

      It allows him to take any idea or conclusion and to discount wholesale any supporting evidence of its flaws.

  • Isaiah R. Christo  On April 7, 2021 at 2:56 PM

    I think that Man naturally loves the “no True Scotsman” line of reasoning.

    It allows him to take any idea or conclusion and to discount wholesale any supporting evidence of its flaws.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 8, 2021 at 10:37 AM

    You introduced me to Alfred Korzybski and his GENERAL SEMANTICS. He says that what is going on in the world are processes and that what we say about those processes are abstractions. I find that useful when discussing seeing the world as it is, and filters and such.

    Filter, as you use it, means a mental reason why one’s abstractions of the world are inconsistent with the processes going on. When referring to mental filters, there are many synonyms that describe a spectrum from mild such as bias to severe such as delusion and paranoia.

    Abstraction, as I am using it, means words used to describe what one makes of the processes going on around them. These can be forever polished and improved, or completely discarded and replaced such as in science when the abstraction of observing the Sun revolving around the Earth becomes discarded in favor of the Earth revolving around the Sun.

    The overarching principle and possibly the root of my observation of a tautological universe is that because the word is not the thing, we never ever get closer to seeing things as they are than as an abstract mapping.

    Here is the original Korzybyski video example from 1944 that you showed me.

    One can meditate, one can fumigate. One can solo audit but one never ever gets beyond the abstract (tautological) world that is our experience.

    • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 7:28 PM

      Tautology means “redundancy”. It is same as the outpoint of “ADDED DATA” as described by Hubbard in his Data Series.

      Filter is also “ADDED DATA” because it adds distortion to what is actually there.

      Abstraction is the opposite of concrete. It is getting the general broad idea underlying a certain reality. For example, general the idea of of a human by looking at the multitudes of people out there.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 8, 2021 at 12:44 PM

    1. If a person tries to fight or change others into whatever he has envisioned, he must give up his own peace in the cause of fighting to change others.
    2. If a person tries to simply maintain his own peace and refuses to fight others who want another future for him, he either goes peacefully to his grave, and if he does has he kept his peace or does he experience cognitive dissonance? Does he gives up his peace in the cause of fighting for his peace?

    What other choices does this person have?

    We live in a universe of mass and motion. Momentum naturally conflicts with other momentum and deviated vectors result. Do we say that these events are natural or unnatural?

    Are the physical laws not natural?

    When regressed, does Man ever, can Man ever deviate from natural law?

    Is freewill real, or is freewill an abstraction? To borrow and to deviate from Korzybyski; Do we see a disc (freewill) where there is no freewill?

    • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 7:55 PM

      To me natural is that which is free of anomaly (disharmony, discontinuity and inconsistency). As long as there is some anomaly, improvement is possible in the degree of naturalness.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 8, 2021 at 1:55 PM

    To respond to your question of why, if there are successful improvement techniques, why do we not apply them?

    There are a few reasons. We should admit that these reasons are both for and against the application of any modification techniques. Some of these are as follows:
    1. Education. A person is modified by his education, upbringing, anything under the heading of programming, both exterior and interior.
    2. Preference. A person is modified by their preferences, their predilections and proclivities. I suppose that this must also include their natural goals and purposes and must also include any adopted goals and purposes. Each person’s preferences are different — naturally.
    3. Environment. Pressures from one’s environment modify one’s thinking. If food is scarce or expensive, an ordinarily honest and compliant person may steal. If money is abundant, a person not normally thinking about charity, might yet feel gratitude for their abundance and seek to share this.
    4. Can you think of other reasons? There are of course versions of original sin and Xenu. Hindu admits the dual nature of Man. All religions pose Man’s dual inclination to both sin and to follow God’s law. Man’s consciousness leads to his ego. More even than any selfishness, Man’s ego is very complicated. His mirroring of his environment seems fractal as though he mirrors the world, his mirroring of the world seems to alter his idea of the world (your filters) the world mirrors back in its altered image whereupon he views and mirrors the world yet again. Man seems to be in spiritual warfare with himself and this seems to go on without ceasing. With regard to morality, Mankind seems very confused.

    • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 7:58 PM

      So there are anomalies that need to be resolved. That is the bottom line.

    • vinaire  On April 9, 2021 at 5:11 AM

      What is the most fundamental anomaly?

  • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 2:41 PM

    There are no absolutes. We may approach the absolutes only by resolving anomalies. Your tautological universe poses an absolute. And that is an anomaly.

  • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 3:01 PM

    Tautology refers to redundancy. By calling the universe tautological you are saying that this universe is redundant. That does not make sense to me. It is an anomaly.

  • vinaire  On April 8, 2021 at 3:06 PM

    If personal ideal scenes are in conflict with each other then we are looking at narrow viewpoints low on the Know-to-Mystery scale. That certainly poses anomalies.

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