Being all deep and stuff: Plato’s Republic Book I

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 28, 2010

In this dialogue, Socrates converses with many people about what constitutes justice. The last person to put forward a definition of justice is the hot-headed Thrasymachus. Thrasymachus is a likable character insofar as he doesn’t roll over but presses Socrates creating a more engaging discussion and some entertaining heated exchanges of words. Thrasymachus asserts that the advantage of the stronger is just. Elaborating on this, he asserts that it is just to obey what a ruler orders. However, rulers can be fallible, and they can demand something that is in fact harmful to them. Therefore, the advantage of the stronger is no more just than what is not to his advantage. To avoid embarrassment, Thrasymachus claims that Socrates has born false witness to his arguments. This move is clever because it avoids having to respond to Socrates’ claims. Instead, the arguments are like two ships passing in the night. Socrates, however, is not easily dissuaded from argument, so the discussion continues. This time, Thrasymachus argues that injustice is “stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice” (344d). An argument that comes to mind that Socrates could use is from a Kantian, more universal perspective: If everyone is unjust than no one will have someone to rely on in his/her time of need. Additionally, if everyone is unjust then people will be constantly harming each other; whereas, if everyone is just to others people will be working for the benefit of each other. This argument would need to be further developed and does run into problems of its own (which may be why Socrates does not use it), but Socrates provides his own arsenal. Through questioning that leads Thrasymachus to make further claims. Socrates uses tautologies combined with the transitive property based on Thrasymachus’ previous claims to demonstrate that “a just person is like a clever and good one, and an unjust is like an ignorant and bad one” (350c).  This causes Thrasymachus to be thoroughly embarrassed, and it drives the discussion in many directions. However, after it all, Socrates asserts that he knows nothing because he did not fully define justice before he explored his implications. Needless to say, this is not a convincing argumentative move, but that does not seem to be Socrates’ concern.

Works Cited
Cohen, S. Marc., Patricia Curd, and C. Reeve. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: from Thales to Aristotle. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.

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