Aristotle Beyond the Academy

Aristotle on Equality in the Irish Supreme Court

In July 2000, Denis Riordan, a lecturer from Limerick, lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court of Ireland claiming that his right to equal treatment under Article 40 of the Constitution had been infringed by the Government's failure to advertise publicly a job paying £147,00 at the European Investment Bank. The government nominated Hugh O’Flaherty, a former Supreme Court Justice for the role but Riordan insisted that "If I knew this job was available, I would have applied for it. The salary is such, the pension is such, the period of service is such, that I would have wanted that job."

Riordan told the court that Aristotle defined equality as “things alike should be treated alike, while things unalike should be treated unalike in proportion to their unalikeness.”

His Aristotelian evidence held little sway with the state counsel or justices: Treating everybody equally to this extent "would be a form of inequality", Mr James O'Reilly SC said. To which Ms Justice McGuinness replied that "however Aristotelian we may be", she didn't see how relevant this was to the question of whether the Government should have advertised the £147,000-a-year job. Two women at the back of the court fell asleep as the afternoon wore on.

Riordan got his way, though. In August 2000, Hugh O’Flaherty withdrew from the process, thanking those who had favoured him for the position and who had treated him with courtesy and consideration. Perhaps O’Flaherty had re-read Aristotle’s virtue ethics?

Durham UniversityDurham University Centre for Classical ReceptionLeverhulme Trust