Be impartial- meditations on the 32° Delphic Law


32) Be impartial (Κοινος γινου)

“Koinos” has many meanings but the only one that makes sense here is “impartial, righteous”. Impartiality is probably best characterized in a negative rather than positive manner: an impartial choice is simply one in which a certain sort of consideration (i.e. some property of the individuals being chosen between) has no influence. We have to make fairly fine-grained distinctions between various sorts of impartiality, this is necessary, since one and the same agent might manifest various sorts of partiality and impartiality towards various groups of persons. To say, for instance, that an impartial choice is one that is free of bias or prejudice is to presuppose that we are dealing with a certain sort of impartiality, that which is required or recommended by morality, or at least worthy of moral approbation. ‘Bias’ and ‘prejudice’ are terms, suggesting not only that some consideration is being excluded, but also that the exclusion is appropriate and warranted. Similarly, the idea that impartiality requires that we give equal and/or adequate consideration to the interests of all concerned parties goes well beyond the requirements of the merely formal notion. It is really interesting to see what Plato states on this matter, as he was termed as son of Apollo and perfect in declaring ethical truths: as there exist Forms for all things present in life, so it is the same for values and virtues, and all these are integrated into the form of Justice and, as we have already seen, to Plato virtue is simply the knowledge of these Ideals. The nature of value is thus set independently and prior to any particular goals, projects, relationships or interests that a person might have: this is to say that reason itself is impartial and how a person should live, and what he/she should aim at, is set externally to the particular agent. As for example, a person wise enough to know what is just will love philosophy, but is also expected to run the society for the benefit of everyone, and has also to be limited in respect of personal attachments and properties, as such things may be distracting, that is to say: the wise and virtuous are ruled by what is impartially good- that is why the rulers are from Zeus. Only those incapable of something better can be self-interested, and only to the extent that their rulers allow; while those who know the impartial good get to do precisely what they want, i.e. philosophical life and pursue/realize the good- this is highly in accordance with the demands of impartial justice. The best recognition of this state of impartiality is evident in his use of the painting of a statue as an analogy, when he concludes that one’s principle in painting should not be to give ‘the most beautiful pigments to the most beautiful parts, but rather to give each part what is proper to each part’.

“Socrates has, in a becoming manner, epitomized every form of polity, recurring to intellectual impartiality in order that he might imitate the Deity who adorns the celestial order intelligibly and paternally.” We see this clearly in the Iliad for example: while the Gods picked whom They would favor for different reasons, Zeus never acts as such: as the symbol of supreme authority and justice, He makes judgment calls as to the other Gods’ involvement in the war, remains impartial, and doesn’t get caught up in picking favorites. The impartiality of his judgements is represented in the image of Zeus holding golden scales in his hand; as Achilles and Hector fight, the fall of a pan indicates that Hector is doomed. Zeus has the power, if He wishes, to save Hector whom He loves, as He might have saved his own son Sarpedon, but it is men’s moira to die, and Zeus does not overrule the apportionment-

“Kindred to both in blood, Zeus surveys both sides alike in this dispute with an impartial scale, apportioning, as is due, to the wicked their wrongdoing and to the godly their works of righteousness. When these things are thus equally balanced, why do you fear to act justly?”

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