Fourth Set of Readings by St. Thomas Aquinas
Second Part of the Second Part (Secunda Secundæ Partis)
Question 57. Right
Article 1. Whether right is the object of justice?
I answer that,
It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his
relations with others: because it denotes a kind of equality, as its very name implies; indeed we
are wont to say that things are adjusted when they are made equal, for equality is in reference of
one thing to some other. On the other hand the other virtues perfect man in those matters only
which befit him in relation to himself. Accordingly that which is right in the works of the other
virtues, and to which the intention of the virtue tends as to its proper object, depends on its
relation to the agent only, whereas the right in a work of justice, besides its relation to the agent,
is set up by its relation to others. Because a man's work is said to be just when it is related to
some other by way of some kind of equality, for instance the payment of thewage due for a
service rendered. And so a thing is said to be just, as having the rectitude of justice, when it is the
term of an act of justice, without taking into account the way in which it is done by the agent:
whereas in the other virtues nothing is declared to be right unless it is done in a certain way by
the agent. For this reason justice has its own special proper object over and above the other
virtues, and this object is called the just, which is the same as "right." Hence it is evident that
right is the object of justice.
Article 2. Whether right is fittingly divided into natural right and positive right?
I answer that,
As stated above (Article 1) the "right" or the "just" is a work that is adjusted to
another person according to some kind of equality. Now a thing can be adjusted to a man in two
ways: first by its very nature, as when a man gives so much that he may receive equal value in
return, and this is called "natural right." On another way a thing is adjusted or commensurated to
another person, by agreement, or by common consent, when, to wit, a man deems himself
satisfied, if he receive so much. …this is called "positive right."
Article 3. Whether the right of nations is the same as the natural right?
I answer that,
As stated above (Article 2), the natural right or just is that which by its very
nature is adjusted to or commensurate with another person. Now this may happen in two ways;
first, according as it is considered absolutely: thus a male by its very nature is commensurate
with the female to beget offspring by her, and a parent is commensurate with the offspring to
nourish it. Secondly a thing is naturally commensurate with another person, not according as it is
considered absolutely, but according to something resultant from it, for instance the possession
of property. For if a particular piece of land be considered absolutely, it contains no reason why
it should belong to one man more than to another, but if it be considered in respect of its