According to the Roman Virtues, having a sense of justice means having a sense of moral worth toward your actions. If your goal is just to be more of a good person, then this would be your holy grail. In fact, the road to being good would seem to have two steps: one) having a sense of moral worth toward your actions, and two) using that motivations to perform good actions regularly. You can see that if you follow this understanding then this would be an essential step. I think this virtue might be a little misleading as there are many different steps and avenues you can take toward reaching this goal, but in the spirit of self-reflection there is nothing wrong with focusing on this virtue—no matter how large of an umbrella it might be.

If you don't show enough concern or care toward how your behavior affects others, or for doing good just for the sake because it is right to do so, then it is time to engage in careful self-reflection to see where the problem lies. Even if you do care in general about your behavior you could probably use some improvement—or at least verify with yourself that this isn't a difficulty for you; the problem with judging your own "goodness" is that most people assume that they are good without any forethought. This is true for you too (even if you do happen to be okay in this area), so when using self-reflection in you have to try to think outside of yourself and be open to the idea that you might need more help than you thought.

So how do we find this sense of worth? Traditionally humankind has found this in religion, and this may be true for you too. Even if you use religion, however, you should make sure your motivations also rise from a sense of human empathy toward those around you (often called "you neighbors" or "your brothers and sisters" in Western Religions). Human empathy is a strong motivator for Roman justice, that is, the desire that your behavior improves the lives of others and doesn't cause them pain or inconvenience. In fact, the desire to make this world better than it would be if you weren't in it might be all the motivation you need. You could focus on love and compassion to help you develop this sense (you might want to look at the virtue of Humanity in the Universal Values).

Another motivation might be a more traditional look at justice, meaning that you want your behavior to be "right" just for the sake of being right. This may not seem as lofty a value as human empathy, but often this is what we need when empathy fails. Sometimes we simply do the right thing because we know we're supposed to and we're in the habit of doing it. For instance, often times when a stoplight fails and it is stuck on a red light, many people will have a hard time going through that light even if they know that it is broken and sometimes even if a police officer is motioning them to move on! Whether we want to face it or not, some of our good behavior, especially legal behavior, is based on habit (and fear of retribution) and not solely by our ideals. In some cases, not all the human empathy in the world will make you go to jury duty, but the sense that you owe it to your country or the feeling that you are supposed to go will often be the motivators to get you down to that court house.

To end, I will summarize a plan of attack: first, work on your sense of empathy and compassion so you care more of how your behavior affects others, and next, work on the habitual behavior that makes you do the small things that will make you a safer and better citizen of your country.


  • Work on Mercy and Humor, or Humanity from the Universal Values: The virtues of Mercy and Humor will help you develop a sense of responsibility in your behavior toward others, but you might need more than that—and the Roman Virtues aren't best suited for the skills and values associated with love and empathy (although their version of Mercy will definitely help). You might also want to skip over to the Humanity section of the Universal Values and hop back here.
  • Make a Concentrated Effort to Obey Laws: Most people break laws or small rules pretty frequently and changing this is going to be a matter a habit rather than a matter of changing your vision of right and wrong (although that can help as well in some cases). For a defined period of time, keep and obey every little rule you can think of. Go the speed limit, wait until the pedestrians reach the far end of the crosswalk before you go, do all those little bureaucratic things at the office you usually get away with ignoring, etc. Assuming you are not a master criminal, this will be a list of small, piddly things. This goal is to help you realize how many little rules you break everyday, and hopefully, give you the insight you need to make new goals. After you are done with the experiment make new, permanent goals based on what you learned and keep at it until it is a habit.
  • Look Outside of Yourself: Whenever you are about to act in a way that benefits yourself and hurts anyone else, have a moment of self-reflection first before your go ahead—no matter how justified you are. Think about those affected by your decision and what are thinking and going through, and then compare them with you and your situation. Even if you need to or simply should act for your benefit, this activity will get you in the habit of thinking outside of yourself and hopefully put you on the road toward having a better sense of moral worth toward your actions.
  • Judge Your Worth Everyday: Make a list of all the important and fairly important people in your life. If you improved a person's life more than you detracted from it then put a check by that name. If you made someone's day a little worse by your presence then put an 'X' by that name. If you were not in significant contact with someone then you can put the letters "N/A" (not applicable) by their name instead—unless of course your absence markedly detracted from their day!

Your Record

Whenever you act selfishly with no thought toward the moral correctness of your actions then mark yourself at "fault". If you did something that hurt someone else more than it helped you and you are struggling to justify it, then mark yourself at fault. If you intentionally break a law or guideline that really wasn't necessary (I will leave this to your judgment), then mark yourself at fault. Make goals based on the activities and ideas above. Mark yourself at fault if you let yourself down by not going through with your plans or by failing to achieve your goals.


Tsze-Kung asked, 'Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?' The Master said, 'Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.'

Confucius, Renown Chinese Philosopher and Teacher

Behavior is a mirror in which every one displays his own image.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German Playwright, Novelist, and Poet

Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., American Writer

Golden Mean

Obsessive justice

Recommended Reading

A Field Guide to Good Decisions: Values in Action — by Mark D. Bennett, Joan McIver Gibson

This book is intended as a general guidebook to making good decisions at home and in the business world that reflect good values and include the values and consequences of those around us.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. — by Martin Luther King

The life and times, along with the philosophical and theological underpinnings of one of the most influential people whose very existence echoes with advocacy and justice. A wonderful read.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom. Aristotle