Heraclitus, Fragment 87 (D 28B)


“Justice will catch up with those who invent lies and those who swear to them.” (Cp. S, R 28B)

This is surely one of the great hopes of the just. And sometimes, in fact, we do see that those who invent and perpetuate lies eventually pay for them. It is not clear whether Heraclitus believes that justice will catch up with people in this life or the next. His view that death will provide things neither expected nor imagined might hint at another world solution to the question of whether there is ultimate justice. But this is not clear. His focus throughout most of his writing is not on some other world, but on the workings of this one.

The idea that happiness should accord with one’s moral suitability for it — the summum bonum, as understood by Kant — motivated Kant’s own beliefs in the afterlife. It occurred clear to him that in fact there is no such justice in the world. Yet it offended a basic (and he argues a universal) sense of justice that there should be no final justice. This moved him to offer his own famously shaky moral proofs for the existence of God and the immorality of the soul. For Kant, we don’t know that God exists and that there is a soul which will be rewarded or punished according to its moral desert. But it is rational to believe in these things as these beliefs alone make sense of our innate sense of justice and provide a unified sense of our world. A similar sense of justice (or desire for it) to that which motivated Kant has led others to posit a belief in reincarnation. But the reasons for belief in ultimate justice have hardly gained consensus. Here Heraclitus here does not tell us why we should believe that¬† justice will ultimately prevail. He offers no grounds for the plausibility of the belief, but merely asserts it as true. What’s more, Heraclitus is all but consistent on the question of whether there is every any real injustice at all. This is perhaps clearest in Fragment 68: “For god all things are fail and good and just, but men have taken some things as unjust, others as just.”

Generally, we see Heraclitus expressing a view of the need for upholding moral law and following a view of justice. He is often enough condemning of those who he thinks have strayed from the moral path and the path of truth. But it is dissatisfying not to see an attempt to resolve such views with those we also see, such as the one just noted from Fragment 68.

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