"Suum cuique". A statement of democratic society or Nazi slogan?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical part
2.1. Socrates / Plato
2.2. Aristotle
2.3. Immanuel Kant
2.4. Rawls
2.5. “suum cuique” during the National Socialism in Germany

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

For more than 2500 years the slogan “suum cuique” is a phrase which is used by different people, in different times and in different context. On an abstract level this slogan is concerning the principal of justice. The proposition is what should be allocated to the members of a social system to establish justice. The expression “suum cuique” was firstly mentioned in Ulpians the Corpus Iuris Civilis. For him justice was the more constant volition to give everyone his rights.1

In the following essay I will present some selected theories to give an overview, what we have learned in our lectures about justice. After presenting the core aspects of these theories, I figure out deductively how “suum cuique” is used in this context. The historical description of this slogan will show the meaningful usage in the ancient world as well as the abuse during the time of the National Socialism in Germany. During the past years companies like Burger King, Microsoft, Nokia, Rewe or Tchibo used the slogan in their advertisement campaigns and caused public attention. This shows that the phrase provoked different reactions because there is no clear position if you can use it, or not. The key question is, if we can use “suum cuique” in our time regarding the events of the last century? In the end I will give an advice if you can use the slogan in our times.

2. Theoretical part

2.1. Socrates / Plato

The phrase “suum cuique” can be found in the deliverances of Plato (427 B.C. - 347 B.C.). Plato was a student of the Greek philosopher Socrates (469 B.C. - 399 B.C.) in Athens. Socrates did not leave behind any written documents. His statements about justice are written in Plato’s “Republic” (Politeia). The book is concerning philosophical sciences with a main focus on ethics and politics.2 Socrates was talking about how to act fairly in a society. And how this is a requirement for the desirable good. One of the main statements is that you can reach happiness only if you act fairly. The self realizing human will avoid the wrong. According to this, every free citizen should come to the insight to find salvation and become fortune in a society. In Plato’s core work “Republic” he describes that ethics are absolute and describe justice and how to use it.

If you want to measure how fair a society is you have to concentrate on the people and how they act in the normal life. This conclusion and the ideas of justice in a state were the main topics in the discussion about justice between Plato and Socrates.3 For them the ideal state depends on four main virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation and justice.4 In an ideal state every citizen should have the first three virtues in mind. The last one justice is the implication of the other three virtues.5

The Italian Dominican priest Thomas of Aquin called these virtues “principal” or “cardinal” virtues.”6 These four virtues are not the only ones but have a special position regarding the ideal state.7

Plato gave a lot of examples in his work how the people have to act in an ideal state where everything is just and equal. The citizens have to follow their roles correctly with wisdom, courage and moderation. The result will be a fair society. Plato pointed out that justice will occur when everybody cares about his own business and do not come into conflict with others.8 Everyone should do according to his abilities and capabilities to serve the country and society as a whole.9 One good example is that philosophers should rule, guards should protect the citizens and everyone else should do a job according to his abilities. What we can learn from it is that every citizen should do the work which is appropriate according to his status. For Plato the righteous reaches a higher level of happiness than the inequitable citizen. Plato’s “Idiopragie-Prinzip” is a definition of justice. He would define “suum cuique” probably as “everyone should do this his or her abilities” and not “to each his own”.10 For him justice is an eternal, constant and transcendent idea.11 Plato goes along with the idea of „suum cuique“, but does not accept it as an absolute attribute of definition.12


1 cf. Behrend o., et al. (1993): p. 1.

2 cf. Höffe, O. (1995): p. 3.

3 cf. Plato (427 BC - 347 BC): Book I, 327 ff., Online: http://www.opera-platonis.de/Politeia1.html.

4 cf. Plato (427 BC - 347 BC): Book IV, 433 ff., Online: http://www.opera-platonis.de/Politeia1.html.

5 cf. Hülser,K. (2005): p. 52 f.

6 Irwin, T. H. in Höffe, O. (1997): p. 119.

7 cf. Irwin, T. H. in Höffe, O. (1997): p. 119.

8 cf. Hülser,K. (2005): p. 55.

9 cf. Plato (427 BC - 347 BC): Book IV, 433 ff., Online: http://www.opera-platonis.de/Politeia1.html.

10 cf. Höffe, O. (1997): p. 76 f.

11 cf. Schäfer, C. (2007), p. 132 f.

12 cf. Schäfer, C. (2007), p. 132 f.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


"Suum cuique". A statement of democratic society or Nazi slogan?
University of Lüneburg
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Jannes Kraft (Author), 2012, "Suum cuique". A statement of democratic society or Nazi slogan?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/195551


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