Review of Plato’s Work

Following hundreds of years of various political frameworks such as democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies, a new era was built on the pillars of questioning the moral laws of ancient Greece. In books one and two of Plato’s Republic, Socrates among Cephalus, Polemarchus, Plato, and Thrasymachus discuss the many contradictions of justice in four concluding arguments. Cephalus’ credo is that justice is no more than 1: abide by the law, and 2: pay back the debt you owe to others within the community.

Polemarchus agrees with Cephalus at a fundamental level but further believes that individuals be just to their friends and unjust to their enemies. As for Thrasymachus, his belief is that justice is determined by the personal interests of the stronger individuals. Socrates, however, contradicts the three maxims by providing scenarios that expose the potential immorality of these beliefs. Glaucon’s postulation in book two that man is inherently unjust until given consequences apply to a slew of current and past civilizations which revolve around legal, social, and/or political frameworks. Nevertheless, Polemarchus’ compelling interjection proposes a more suited theory of justice concerning individuals, hate groups, and organizations that disregard these frameworks and instead show deference to their friends and harm those who don’t.

In book one, Cephalus adheres to a sense of traditional morality in which he believes every individual no matter the case must pay back their debts and abide by the law. For example, someone living in a society where murder is illegal must abide by this law to be considered just. If the same individual then witnesses an act of murder, he is obliged to intervene with the help of legal authorities to ensure the accused faces the repercussions of being unjust. If the authorities also promised a reward to anyone who could help capture the murderer, they too have the obligation to pay that reward in order to be just under Cephalus’ proposition. However, Socrates objects to the theory by providing the example of consciously giving your friend, a madman, ‘the sword which you borrowed of him.'(Republic, Book 1, pg 7)

To give back your friend’s sword maybe just in of itself, but the future harm you create providing a man with a dangerous weapon has much greater repercussions than to keep or dispose of the weapon yourself. Socrates describes that the strict notion in Chephalus’ argument clearly cannot apply to a scenario in which the agreed just decision is to not pay back the debt in the first place. After listening to both propositions it is Polemarchus’ turn to weigh in the conversation of justice. He says, ‘If the answer has to be consistent with what preceded, Socrates,’ then, ‘the one that gives benefits and harms to friends and enemies’ (Republic, Book 1, pg 7).

Polemarchus agrees with Cephalus that justice consists in giving what is proper, but Polemarchus believes what Socrates later describes as ‘doing good to friends and harm to enemies.'(Republic, Book 1, pg 7) For example, you score a touchdown in a game of football and as a result, win the game for your team. By helping your team win and enemies lose, you are acting just. Socrates begins to test this theory by asking Polemarchus how a man is most able to help his friends and harm his enemies. Polemarchus explains how helping your allies in war and making partnerships with others are of the two most applicable scenarios.

Socrates argues until Polmarchus decides to narrow the definition of friend and enemy, to ‘The man who seems to be, and is, good, is a friend…and we’ll take the same position about the enemy.'(Republic, Book 1, pg 11) Or, he concludes that we define friends as those who do “good” and enemies as those who don’t. Still, Socrates points out the problem that, ‘If someone asserts that it’s just to give what is owed to each man—and he understands by this that harm is owed to enemies by the just man and help to friends—the man who said it was not wise. For he wasn’t telling the truth. For it has become apparent to us that it is never just to harm anyone.'(Republic, Book 1, pg 13)

Polemarchus isn’t necessarily wrong to believe the necessity in harming others as a means to achieve justice, but Socrates will never be able to agree because he would consider himself unjust to harm others in the first place. Although Thrasymachus appears to be forced to provide his own theory, Plato knows he will speak, “so that he could win a good reputation, since he believed he had a very fine answer.” Thrasymachus says simply that, “the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”(Republic, Book 1, pg 15) In other words, justice and injustice are at the whim of those in power, or “might is right.” In many cases justice can be determined by the victors of a war; however, this idea on its own could point to an endless number of possibilities whether on an individual, group, or societal level.

Thrasymachus makes his point more clear by stating, “And each ruling group sets down laws for its own advantage; a democracy sets down democratic laws; a tyranny, tyrannic laws; and the others do the same. And they declare that what they have set dovrai—their own advantage—is just for the ruled, and the man who departs from it they punish as a breaker of the law and a doer of unjust 339 a deed. This, best of men is what I mean: in every city, the same thing is just, the advantage of the established ruling body. It surely is master; so the man who reasons rightly concludes that everywhere justice is the same thing, the advantage of the stronger.'(Republic, Book 1, pg 16)

The will of the stronger individual may get what he wants, but he points out that in the context of any given state it’s the will of the domineering power or government that determines rules and regulations in its best interest. Thrasymachus then points out that “injustice, when it comes into being on a sufficient scale, is mightier freer, and more masterful than justice,” and that “the just is the advantage of the stronger, and the unjust is what is profitable and advantageous for oneself.”(Republic, Book 1, pg 22) Socrates first refutes the idea saying, “let there be an unjust man, and let him be able to do injustice, either by stealth or by fighting out in the open; nevertheless, he does not persuade me that this is more profitable than justice.”(Republic, Book 1, pg 22) Socrates cannot regard justice as being more virtuous than injustice even if you won’t face consequences.

They both end up agreeing that justice is of interest to everyone, but Socrates believes it is not reserved for the stronger. One ideally becomes a king not to fulfill self-interest but to fulfill the interests of its citizens. Similarly, one becomes a doctor not out of self-interest but in the interest of their patients. Despite both having the power to rule over others, neither the ruler or doctor uses their power solely for themselves. Thus, Justice to Socrates is not the interest of the stronger but instead is of interest of all. Opening Book two of Plato’s Republic, Glaucon seems to struggle to find the benefit of being just if one has the freedom to act unjustly. In hopes of determining otherwise, Glaucon categorizes the goodness of being into 3 categories. First, “a kind of good that we would choose not to have because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake – such as enjoyment and all the pleasures which are harmless.” (Republic, Book 2, pg 35) The second, a good “we like both for its own sake and for what comes out of it, such as thinking and seeing and being healthy.” (Republic, Book 2, pg 35)

The last good Glaucon says, are “the rest of the activities from which money is made. We would say that they are drudgery but beneficial to us; and we would not hose to have them for ourselves but for the sake of the wages.” (Republic, Book 2, pg 35-36) Socrates concurs with all three definitions of good, so Glaucon asks which he thinks fits with the concept of justice. Socrates chooses the second, but Glaucon suggests the third is most apt because it applies to most working class citizens. He argues that those who act justly are in fear of (legal or social) consequence, or do so ‘unwillingly, as necessary but not good.’ (Republic, Book 2, pg, 35) He further argues his point using the fairy-tale of The Ring of Gyges; an invisible ring giving someone the ability to never face consequences of being unjust in a society built on the necessity of being just.(abiding by laws)

The story ends with a poor man using the ring to kill the king, marry the queen, and rule the state. Glaucon describes how 1. the just man will remain poor and be viewed as unjust by society and 2. the unjust man will be revered and viewed by others as just. The unjust will do what it takes to attain power, thus will always have the advantage over the unjust. Between two people, Glaucon points that “if there were two such rings, and the just man would put one on, and the unjust man the other, not one, as it would seem, would be so adamant as to stick by justice.” (Republic, Book 2, pg 38) With Glaucon in mind, I believe those who live by unjust and just values become one in the same if the consequences no longer apply to the just, hence the necessity for consequences(laws) in a society.

Secondly, The Ring of Gyges conveys how a poor, but just man does not succeed until given the opportunity to live unjustly without fear. I believe those who lose the fear of repercussions do anything to achieve power, thus reaping the most benefits and advantages from society. Polemarchus’ definition applies to people and groups that believe only in helping their friends and harming their enemies. For example, gangs throughout the United States are built upon treating their members as family, but other gangs as the mortal enemy.

I believe Glaucon’s central theory that man is just because they fear consequences and would act unjustly if there were none to be administered. I also believe Polemarchus’ point that there are those in society who view justice as aiding friends and punishing enemies, but this not the case for the overwhelming majority in today’s society.