The Ideal of Justice

The Ideal of Justice

by David A. Beardsley

This work is copyrighted © 2012 under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 

Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being. Essence, or God, is not a relation, or a part, but the whole. Being is the vast affirmative, excluding negation, self-balanced, and swallowing up all relations, parts, and times within itself.   

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation

The prominence of the subject of justice in the Ideal tradition, or at least up through Plato, is one that I think frankly baffles most people in modern democracies.  Well, of course, justice is important, and we have a system for that.  When someone is wronged or harmed, things need to be set right.  We even acknowledge our debt to the ancient Athenians: equal justice before the law, trial by jury, preponderance of evidence, presumption of innocence.  And perhaps just because the Athenians were so passionate about implementing justice, and really so successful at it (with the glaring exception of Socrates), it can be hard for us to understand why it still played such a big part in their thinking and writing.  It is, after all, the nominal subject of Plato’s Republic, which goes on about for 10 books.  It’s also central to other dialogues such as the Gorgias which also draws the analogy between soul and state.

The answer lies in the fact that for the Greeks, the word Justice, diké or dikaiosyné, had a much broader meaning than it does for us today, the key difference being that they saw it as an internal virtue of the soul, not just a means for rectifying disputes within the polis.  For Socrates and Plato, justice is not just a way of putting out little fires within the state; they mean to show that the whole of the state and the individuals within it are being consumed by fire, and justice is the way to extinguish it.

In the traditional Greek pantheon, Justice was represented by not one but two Goddesses: Themis and Diké, mother and daughter, who when represented in sculptures were often shown with the scales we associate with our image of Justice, and the idea of balance as indicated in the Emerson quote above.  But they filled subtly different roles.  According to Hesiod, Themis was a first-born Titaness, who was a wife of Zeus and was charged with bringing together gods or men for assemblies, at which questions affecting them would be addressed and decided upon.  By extension, and with a small “t”, the word has the connotation of what has become customary.  Jaeger says,

Themis is the epitome of the judicial supremacy of the early kings and nobles.  Etymologically, the word means “institution.”  The feudal judge gives his decisions in accordance with the institutions set up by Zeus, and derives the rules from his knowledge of  customary law and his own intuition.  (p. 103)

It is of course easy to imagine how this kind of “judicial supremacy” could be abused, and as the Greek city-states in general and Athens in particular moved toward democracy, equality, and written laws, the goddess Diké and the sense of “due share” associated with her became more prominent.  Jaeger again:

Laws which are written down mean the same law for all, high and low alike.  After the laws are written, the judges may still be noblemen and not commoners; but they are now bound to administer justice in accordance with the established standards of diké.  (p. 102)

In the political sphere these two different approaches have almost always been in conflict.  Themis is the basis for the “divine right” of kings and other unelected leaders, and is fine as long as those who administer it are unbiased and in tune with the good of the community, but it can easily become corrupted in the hands of a tyrant (as does anything).  It becomes a way for the ruling class to perpetuate its own self-interest, and paves the way for revolution–a continual process from which the ruling classes never seem to learn anything.  Diké, while possessing some safeguards against this kind of abuse, is itself open to exploitation and various forms of profiteering and barretry (you could look it up).  I think it’s safe to say, though, that anyone who has experienced the latter would not willingly revert to the former.

In both these senses though, the idea of justice was closely aligned with the idea of an overall orderliness and beauty in the world.  The difference had more to do with how this orderliness was implemented.  In The Ideal of Beauty we noted that:

As Emerson reminds us, ‘The ancient Greeks called the world κόσμος, (cosmos), Beauty;…’  This idea lives on today, much diminished, in our word ‘cosmetic,’ and even in Emerson’s time he lamented its devaluation, where beauty was ‘…a name which, in our artificial state of society, sounds fanciful and impertinent.’  But to the Greeks and others of the time, beauty, orderliness, was an inherent part of the universe; in a sense, the universe was a beauty-producing machine.

 The universe was lawful, and man was in the unique position of being able to discern those laws and participate in that beauty, but he could also attempt to break them.  There was a way things were supposed to be; man in his hubris could attempt to disobey, but diké would bring about some nemesis to counteract it and enforce the law again.

The attempt to discern and articulate those laws, both physical and political, predates Plato by centuries, and is one of the defining characteristics of Western civilization.  It went against the prevailing accepted belief in the gods as superhuman powers whose whims and infighting controlled the fates of humans.  Which is not to say that it was anti-religious; indeed most of the “Pre-Socratics” articulated a transcendent source for the laws they observed.  But this source was eternal, unchanging, and did not possess the human characteristics ascribed to the sometimes petulant and vengeful gods.  The lawfulness of the universe perceived through the senses is a manifestation of this Being, but it itself can be known only through the intellect.

This relationship is perhaps first noted in the school founded by Pythagoras in the 6th century BC, with its emphasis on mathematics, geometry and musical theory.  The realization that the laws of the cosmos  could be expressed mathematically was a major watershed between East and West (which is not to denigrate Eastern ways of knowing).  But in The Greeks, H. D. F. Kitto says:

To the completely unmathematical mind it still seems a miracle of coincidence that what the ear accepts as the same note an octave higher is produced by a string exactly half as long–the simplest case of a whole series of ratios which are also musical intervals.  In this the Greek mind saw much more that a coincidence, and much more than an interesting fact in physics.  The Greek mind (as we should put it) was given to arguing from analogy, to leaping across chasms, the real reason for this being his assumption the the whole universe, or Nature, is a unity–the physical, the moral and the religious universe together.  (p. 192)

As far as I can tell, the first person to bring the idea of justice into this search for wisdom was Anaximander, ca. 610-ca. 540 BC.  of whom Jaeger says:

Anaximander is striving to find the key to the hidden structure of reality by studying the way in which it has come to be what it is; we can trace this effort in the zeal with which he seeks to discover mathematical proportion and harmony in the relationships of the whole-world and its parts.  …it is an overwhelming expression of the conviction with which he approaches the world as a whole, and of the demand that the universe shall have a rational meaning.  This world-view marks the first clear emergence of philosophy in the mind of man.  (p. 23)

The central tenet of Anaximander’s world-view is that of one Being, which he describes as apeiron, “without limit,” or “the Boundless.”  The one phrase we have of Anaximander’s that seems to be more or less in his own words is one that was quoted by Simplicius of Cilicia (c. 490–c. 560) nearly a thousand years later.  It introduces the idea of justice–injustice, actually–as a philosophical principle.  It is rather dense and somewhat baffling, but I think it is worth spending some time with it, since it offers a clue to Anaximander’s (hence the early physicists’) idea about how time and creation came to be.  As I say, it’s dense, so I offer a couple of different translations, the first by Jaeger:

But from whatever things is the genesis of the things that are, into these they must pass away according to necessity; for they must pay the penalty and make atonement to one another for their injustice according to Time’s decree.  (p. 34)

And this from Barnes:

    And the things from which existing things come into being are also the things into which they are destroyed, in accordance with what must be.  For they give justice and reparation to one another for their injustice in accordance with the ordering of time.  (p. 21)

       So you’ll have to read that through a few times, but what I think is being said is that “things” (including us) came into being as the result of some injustice to the Boundless.  And since we came into being, we have a beginning; hence we will have an end.  This creates the existence of Time, which according to Jaeger’s analysis is in effect the judge of this injustice.  We must atone and pay the penalty for it over time, and as long as the debt is not settled, we will continue to “exist” in time.  I don’t think it is far off to say that Anaximander considered this kind of existence to be analogous to that of Achilles in the underworld–if we have seen the Boundless, anything bounded is unbearable.  This image of “injustice” invokes the Eastern idea of karma or sanskara–a debt which we carry over many lifetimes until we finally realize our unity with the Brahman and it is absolved.  This is very different from the normal idea of sin and punishment perpetuated by our egos in order to feel sorry for themselves.

    Jaeger says:

    Not only in the world of politics but in the whole realm of Being there is just such an immanent justice; whatever happens, this justice will still prevail, and coming-to-be and passing-away take place in accordance with it.  In the life of politics the Greek language refers to the reign of justice by the term kosmos; but the life of nature is a kosmos too, and indeed this cosmic view of the universe really begins with Anaximander’s dictum.  (p. 35-36)

    How this initial injustice–this Fall–occurred, we don’t know, we can’t know, and we don’t really have to know.  We need only return to justice, to balance the scales, to remember our immortality, and we will be free from time and its bondage.  But if we don’t–well, we are still immortal, we will not perish, but we will continue with coming-to-be and passing-away until the debt is settled.  This sounds rather bleak, and in a way it is, but implicit in it is the possibility of knowing the Good while still in the world, having the debt cancelled while still associated with a body; realizing immortality while living in the eternal present.

       Since this injustice is judged over time, and since one lifetime is generally not sufficient, a word here is in order about what is usually called “reincarnation,” or “palingenesis” (“again birth”), or the transmigration of souls.  (Or “metempsychosis,” which unfortunately carries the connotation of a disordered soul.)  This concept of an immortal soul (ψυχή, “psyche”) which passes from one body to another–not necessarily human–goes back at least to Pythagoras and no doubt beyond him.  It is evident in the work of Empedocles (c. 490–430 BC) (quoted by Barnes) who says:

    For already I have become a boy and a girl

    And a bush and a bird and a silent fish in the sea.  (p. 157)

       But the purpose of these different incarnations is to learn to “live in a holy and just fashion,” as quoted by Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215), in his Miscellanies:

    Empedocles too says that the souls of the wise become gods.  This is what he writes:  

    Finally they are the seers and hymnodists and doctors

    And princes among earth-dwelling men;

    And then they arise as gods, highest in honor.  (p. 157)

Of course when most people think of reincarnation, they want to know “Who was I in my past life?”  That’s easy: you were the Good in your past life, just as you are the Good in this life.

Justice in The Republic

Past life is an interesting tangent off on which to get, but let us return to our main theme, and to that of Plato’s treatment of it in the Republic.  We cannot of course summarize the whole work here, but as we’ve said, its nominal subject is that of justice–both in the state, and more importantly I believe, in the individual.  (Although I generally prefer the translation by Benjamin Jowett, I’ve provided links to the online Perseus version, translated by Paul Shorey, due to its wealth of annotations and additional resources.)

The general background: Socrates has been to the Piraeus (the port of Athens) in the company of  Plato’s brother Glaucon, and is invited to the house of Cephalus (hard C), a wealthy metic, (non-citizen resident).  Socrates falls into conversation with Cephalus, who is getting old, about what it is like to age.  Cephalus replies that it is beneficial in that it relieves a man of many of the passions that tyrannized him when young, but he also introduces the idea of justice, albeit in a backhanded way.  Facing the prospect of death, “he is filled with doubt, surmises, and alarms and begins to reckon up and consider whether he has ever wronged anyone.”  Socrates then poses a theoretical question about justice (δικαιοσύνην, dikaiosynen), and they’re off and running.  Polemarchus, his main interlocutor at this point puts forth the conventional idea that justice is doing good to one’s friends and harm to one’s enemies; Socrates counters that the truly just man would harm no one, and Polemarchus concedes.  The argument is taken up by others until Socrates has silenced them as well.

At the start of Book 2, Socrates thinks that they’ve depleted the subject, “but it all turned out to be only a prelude.”  The argument continues and turns more to a discussion of the qualities of the just man, the just state, how the state must be ordered to achieve justice, and how the man must be educated to the same end.  For me, the work reaches its high point in Books 6 and 7, where Plato gives his most thorough and clear descriptions of the Ideal.

After describing the outlines of his ideal state (and individual), Plato has Socrates make the statement that neither will really be just until “lovers of wisdom” rule, because they have special knowledge of “The Good” in the same way that a good ship’s captain has special knowledge of sailing.  He goes on to give his three famous analogies for the Good: The Child of the Good, The Divided Line, and The Cave.  (I’ve already written about these in more detail on my blog, so I won’t go into detail here.  You can read them here: Child, Line, Cave.)  But the conclusion is that the Good is that Being, that One, without the knowledge of which people are lost and wandering in the darkness of illusions and shadows.  With knowledge of it, however, as being the source of all truth and happiness, people of necessity become just; that is, they will not lie or cheat or harm another knowingly.  There is no “other.”  They will not need to rely on the rule of law or the fear of punishment to guide their thoughts and actions–their love of the Good will awaken their own inner philosopher.  As Jaeger says:

By conscious, deliberate obedience to the law of the state within himself, the individual at last finds true freedom.  Thus Greek political thought attained its climax in creating the idea of free human personality, based not on any man-made law, but on knowledge of the eternal standards.  In the image of the cave, Plato had shown that the eternal “measure” was the knowledge of God.  It is now clear that the laborious ascent towards knowledge of that “measure–ascent which Plato in his metaphor describes as the purpose of paideia (education)–is to find “the state within us,” in the “imitation of God.”  (p. 357)

This is a description of justice that transcends both themis and diké.  It is a force that brings the entire soul into alignment, into righteousness.  Not only will this soul now not lie to or harm another, it will not lie to or harm itself.  It will not be subject to anger, or greed, or envy, or fear–the common causes of wrong thoughts and actions.  Even if accused of wrongdoing by the criminal justice apparatus, as Socrates was, this soul will face it with equanimity, as he did.

After the descriptions of the Ideal, Plato takes us on a tour, in Book 8, of the various forms of government in the state and “the state within,” (Yes, he said, the States are as the men are; they grow out of human characters. Jowett translation).  I think it’s safe to say that Plato did not regard these as “pure,” in either manifestation: the seeds of all forms are always there, and the emerging form uses the soil of the current one for nourishment.  These are presented in descending order of desirability, beginning with the Ideal state that Socrates has been describing up to this point.

This is the “aristocratic” (ἀριστοκρατέομαι, government “by the best”) form, in which the philosopher is the king, “whom we aver to be the truly good and just man.”  (We are agreed then, Glaucon, that the state which is to achieve the height of good government must have community of wives and children and all education, and also that the pursuits of men and women must be the same in peace and war, and that the rulers or kings over them are to be those who have approved themselves the best in both war and philosophy. VIII, 543a).  This is, of course, another instance where the Greek word has been corrupted so that it is now associated with a rigid hereditary caste system that may or may not have anything to do with “the best.”

There are a number of examples of this form in history, but one that comes to mind is the “rule” of the Medici in Renaissance Florence: Cosimo and his grandson Lorenzo.  They were certainly oligarchs in terms of their wealth, and had a strong sense of duty to the city, but they were guided by philosophy in the writings of Plato, through the translations and “accademmia” of Marsilio Ficino.  They had a way of recognizing the best the city had to offer and commissioning works from them: Brunelleschi’s dome for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, among others.  They used their money (actually Cosimo, mostly–by Lorenzo’s time the fortune had shrunk considerably) for the public good by creating a sense of beauty throughout.  One could say of course that they were just enhancing their own family name the same way that modern corporations slap their names on sports arenas.  But they also supported a number of projects out of the public eye, such as Ficino’s translations, that still had an overall elevating effect on the population.  The beneficial effects of this “flowering” are still available to anyone visiting Florence, or reading Ficino.

The true effects of aristocracy are seen in the governing by the Ideal in the individual soul; in one who is awakened to the philosopher within.  Here we will find righteousness without self-righteousness.  We will find a love of Unity and an avoidance of duplicity in all its forms: double-dealing, double talk, being two-faced, two-timing, insincere.  We will find a love of beauty and the beauty of love.  These are people in whose presence we just want to Be.

Plato moves through the other “aberrations” in some detail: timarchy, with its emphasis on duty and honor; oligarchy, with an emphasis on wealth and materialism, democracy, with the emphasis on freedom and novelty, and finally tyranny, which is the subjugation of the state to the wishes of one individual.  I can only commend you to read the original and see if any of these descriptions strike home.  Since most people reading this will live in a democracy, however, and since Plato takes a lot of heat for supposedly being “anti-democratic,” I thought it would be worth some time looking at his treatment of it.

Democracy, it will be noted, appears when the poor of the state, tired of the unequal distribution of wealth–and perhaps the view of the world in totally monetary terms–rise up and defeat the oligarchs.  The democratic state is described by Plato as one of total license, without the compulsion to serve the polis, but one in which individual freedom may be pursued above all other considerations.  It is, however, the most likely to have a constitution to define the balance between freedom and responsibility, and that anyone wishing to establish this kind of state would have a variety of constitutions as models.  Among the benefits of the democratic model for the state, as we’ve noted, are the principles of equal justice before the law written by the people, by a jury of one’s peers.

The democratic individual, however, Plato sees as one primarily concerned with an almost adolescent fixation on his or her own freedom and desires, and he digresses to make the distinction between necessary and unnecessary desires.  The democratic character, especially in the young, does not make a distinction, and pursues all desires equally, consequently not developing the faculty of discrimination.  So that later in life, if presented with the idea “that some pleasures arise from honorable and good desires, and others from those that are base, and that we ought to practise and esteem the one and control and subdue the others; but he shakes his head at all such admonitions and avers that they are all alike and to be equally esteemed.” Over time, the whole purpose of life comes to be about creating dissatisfaction and desires (called marketing) and then fulfilling them.  It creates the institutionalization of change known as fashion.  (Good taste never goes out of style, which is why fashion designers tend to avoid it.)  It breeds the soul-killing desires of envy and greed.  Hell is all desire with no possibility of fulfillment; heaven is all fulfillment with no possibility of desire.

Also, the “democrat,” (don’t read anything in here about the relative merits of current American political parties) fascinated by novelty, will be characterized by inconstancy, taking up and putting down interests (including philosophy) without seeing them through to mastery.  Philosophy is no longer “a way of life;” it becomes just another item in the great “bazaar of democracy,” and loses its ability to teach about the Good, and to instill justice in the soul.  This soul is like the prisoner in the cave who sees his fellow who has escaped and returned as having gone mad, and will gladly kill him.

    So this desire for the ever-changing, which began as an expression of freedom, has become a limitation, a form of tyranny.  I think it’s no accident that Plato begins the Republic with the image of Cephalus, who as we’ve seen, recognizes the tyranny of the desires that obsessed him when he was younger; “For in very truth there comes to old age a great tranquillity in such matters and a blessed release.”  He is now concerned with the subject of justice, “the ledger of his life,” as he faces death.  Facing that prospect of death, which according to Socrates is the practice of the philosopher, can provide the impetus to bring about the ordering of the soul “in the imitation of God.”

This proper ordering is vividly expressed in Plato’s image of the three-part soul: monster, lion and man.  As Jaeger describes it:

The monster, surrounded by all sorts of heads, wild and tame, is man as a creature of desire.  It is the desirous part of the soul which Plato distinguishes from the courageous and the reasoning parts.  Lion is man as an emotional being, feeling anger, shame, courage, excitement.  The true man, the ‘man in man,’ as Plato beautifully expresses the new idea, is the intellectual part of the soul.  (p. 352-3)

It is this intellectual, reasoning part that is needed to rule over the desires and emotions; it is the philosopher-king.  As Plato says:

And shall we not agree that all things that come from the gods work together for the best for him that is dear to the gods, apart from the inevitable evil caused by sin in a former life?

By all means.

This, then, must be our conviction about the just man, that whether he fall into poverty or disease or any other supposed evil, for him all these things will finally prove good, both in life and in death. For by the gods assuredly that man will never be neglected who is willing and eager to be righteous, and by the practice of virtue to be likened unto god so far as that is possible for man.  (Book X, 612e-613b)

    This passage serves as a lead-in to the famous Myth of Er, Plato’s description of the “between-lives” period of judgment, with which he closes the Republic, and which offers further insight into his view of justice.  I’ve written about this myth also on The Ideal in the West blog, so I won’t go into detail here, except to repeat its conclusion.  The myth recounts that Er, a soldier, is given a view of the afterworld and the judgment that souls face there.  Each soul chooses its own next life, and a “genius” as a guide.  Then:

“…after the souls have cho­sen they are tied to their new lives and genii by the Fates and sent off through the plain of For­get­ful­ness and to drink the water of the river of Unmind­ful­ness, ‘and those that were not saved by wis­dom drank more than was nec­es­sary; and as each one as he drank for­got all things.’”

Each one except Er, who com­pletes his hero’s quest by return­ing to life and giv­ing mankind this boon of his knowl­edge.  We do not choose our lives in this after­world once every thou­sand years; we choose them at each moment.  The real­ity of The Good is avail­able to us at each moment.  So now you know.

“(Socrates:)  And thus, Glau­con, the tale has been saved and has not per­ished, and will save us if we are obe­di­ent to the word spo­ken; and we shall pass safely over the river of For­get­ful­ness and our soul will not be defiled.  Where­fore my coun­sel is that we hold fast ever to the heav­enly way and fol­low after jus­tice and virtue always, con­sid­er­ing that the soul is immor­tal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remain­ing here and when, like con­querors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pil­grim­age of a thou­sand years which we have been describing.”  (Book X, 621b-d)

We “sin” ourselves, we judge ourselves, and we punish ourselves.  But justice is ever available to us to allow us to overcome this cycle.

Justice as a Way of Life

As mentioned, the theme of justice plays a lesser part in the thinking of the later Platonists, so I won’t really include any of them here.  But there are still many questions of right action, and right thinking and feeling that can be examined in the light of what Plato has taught about justice, both on the scale of the society and that of the individual.

If we consider Themis (what is customary) as a model of justice we can see how it is wide open to abuse both by rulers and the ruled.  When people think that the system is stacked against them, they tend to take things into their own hands and seek revenge rather than justice.  It results in the kind of almost continuous low-level warfare seen among the Greek city-states as well is the internecine battles that characterized much of Europe’s (and the world’s) history since.  A family perceives a slight and is offended.  They retaliate in some way to “settle the score,” but the “offenders” do also, and then some.  Before long you have the Montagues and Capulets with their “ancient grudge,” or the Five Families, and no one is really sure what started the feud; just that one’s honor must be preserved even if it means committing the most horrible actions.  Take that away and you lose the basic plotline for 90% of the movies out there.  Take away our fascination with people behaving badly, and most memoirs would be a lot shorter.

An example of this (I hesitate to say “good” example) is that of the Pazzi conspiracy in Florence in 1478.  Of course we like to think of that period as one continuous feast of beauty and reason, but rivalries and feuds dominated much of the political landscape.  It was an era also of Guelphs and Ghibillines, Blacks and Whites.  The Pazzi family was a rival of the Medici and wished to take over its dominance in the banking industry.  They hatched a plot to do so with other enemies of the Medici, including Pope Sixtus IV, and the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro.  On a Sunday in April, as mass was being celebrated in the Basilica, Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano were attacked and stabbed.  Giuliano died on the spot, but Lorenzo escaped with serious wounds and had for a time to leave Florence for his safety, although the citizens wreaked a terrible revenge on the Pazzi family and its sympathizers.  This is an extreme example, but it shows how all reason and decency can disappear even in people who should know better and open the door to acts of unimaginable cruelty.

But, as Plato has shown us, the state, the family, are just extensions of the individuals in them.  And if we look at our own customary “state,” we may see that while we don’t go as far as the Pazzi, we are quite capable of waging our own low-level “war” against the world and the people in it every day.  We want things to be a certain way, and when they aren’t, we feel wronged.  We criticize, make judgments, and carry grudges for years, allowing us to feel self-righteous anger and superiority.   In our desire to teach someone a lesson, we make ourselves miserable in the process.  We don’t assassinate, but we can withhold friendship and love, which are equally as deadly to the soul.

The remedy to this self-inflicted injustice is forgiveness.  Sorry, but you can’t have both.  Now I will admit that forgiveness is not something that is talked about much in the Ideal tradition–it is much more evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  But I think it is implied in the alignment we’ve been speaking of between the individual soul and that of the Good.  The Good cannot experience injustice or be hurt or offended; can never be other than “the universal author of all things beautiful and right.”

We think of forgiveness as something done after the fact: someone offends us, and we in our magnanimity absolve them of it.  But “forgive,” like other “fore” words–forbear, foretell–means “before.”  We “give before,” because we know that in unconsciousness people do things that are thoughtless or selfish.  We may even acknowledge that we do too.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Our first day in heaven will be an orgy of forgiveness.  That day can be this day.

John Vyvyan’s term for this is “creative mercy.”  In the second book of his Shakespeare trilogy, Shakespeare and the Rose of Love, he says:

In what may be called the dynamics of Shakespearean tragedy, the “ancient grudge” works like a monstrous pendulum of which the powerful swing does diminish with the passage of time.  It is not difficult to set this going, but it requires a superhuman exertion to bring it to a stop.  Lacking this higher intervention, the revenge-seeking will continue in perpetuity, although it is frequently dignified with the names of law and justice.  Shakespeare sees no hope whatever in retributive justice and the law that derives from it; and therefore repudiates the old law in favor of the new.  One thing only will bring the tragic pendulum to a standstill–an act of creative mercy.  This is not at all the same thing as condoning the offence.  It is an outflow of divine power which changes the offender, kills the enmity and leaves the enemy a living friend.

It would be well for us to cultivate the attitude expressed by the Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius from his Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, “Ta eis heauton” (“Thoughts to himself”), usually translated as  Meditations:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. (II. 1  Hays translation)

We are forgiven our debts to the degree that we forgive our debtors.  If we really live in a state of “giving before,” we never incur a debt.  If we can learn to see others as “ha(ving) a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine,” we will realize our Oneness with them.   And if we reside with the One, there is no one to offend and no one to be offended.  Injustice cannot exist, and there is no need for forgiveness.