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Imam ‘Ali’s Theory of Justice Revisited

From: Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies
Volume 6, Issue 1, Winter 2013
pp. 5-30 | 10.1353/isl.2013.0001



Justice is a topic which many thinkers in the East as well as the West have expressed diverse opinions about since antiquity. The differences between these views, as far as their belonging to the old or modern worlds are concerned, are such that subjecting them to even a cursory examination would suffice to reveal whether their authors are among the inhabitants of the modern world or the old world. The central thesis of this paper is that Imam ‘Ali’s views on justice have interesting conceptual capacities which liken them to modern doctrines of justice despite the fact that the author of those views was living in a pre-modern world and therefore his views should, of necessity, reflect his own time and place. The paper tries to show that the essence of Imam ‘Ali’s views on justice resembles the core of the ideas of some modern realist and rationalist philosophers. The importance of this point lies in the fact that it would provide, among other things, a strong argument for the objectivity of justice and against the views of those who regard it as a social construct and relative to differing social norms. In order to substantiate the main claim of the paper, the views of four prominent philosophers from antiquity and modern times are compared with each other and with Imam ‘Ali’s views. The four philosophers in question are Plato, Aristotle, Popper, and Rawls. It will be argued, without falling into the trap of anachronism, that the views of Imam ‘Ali on justice are closer to the two modern thinkers than the two philosophers of antiquity whose ideas were dominant in ancient era.

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