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Justice in Plato’s Republic

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Plato Republic presents the concepts of psychic justice and psychic virtue. This is different from what in normally observed as justice and virtue. Thus, when apparently good deeds are ostensibly rewarded, and, correspondingly, evils deeds are punished, that is considered to be justice. But Plato is suggesting that appearances are deceptive, and that true justice and virtue are not so easily recognizable. The matter needs to be considered by essences, not appearances. In this way is derived psychic justice and virtue.

And when we arrive at the latter understanding we overcome the contradictions found in the first view. For in the apparent view evil seems to be rewarded, while virtue is punished, in the normal course of life. The object of Plato is thus to convince that the just life in preferable to the unjust. As in all the dialogues of Plato, the argument is presented as that of Socrates, and in which the Athenian philosopher systematically overcomes all possible objections to the proposed thesis. Republic is possibly the most elaborately presented argument of Plato, and is also the longest.

This essay argues that all the objections raised, by the friends and acquaintances of Socrates, regarding the principle proposition stated above, are answered comprehensively. Evidence seems to contradict the claim of Socrates that the just life is always to be preferred, and this is the principle objection raised by all detractors. In Book I the objection is raised by the rich host Cephalus, and by the cynical Thrasymachus. Cephalus is not confrontational, but merely smug in his conviction that wealth has allowed him to practice virtue.

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Socrates confounds him by asking whether he would return a lethal weapon to its rightful owner when it is certain that he is not in the right frame of mind and will commit mischief with it. Thrasymachus is intolerant of the dialectical method of Socrates, and demands a positive answer to the question of what justice is. He himself volunteers the positive opinion that justice is the interest of the powerful. Socrates makes the argument that no act is in the interest of the powerful, but is necessarily in the interest of the weaker.

For example, the potter makes pots for those who have no inkling of the art of pottery, but would nevertheless like to use one. The potter (the strong) is successful if he can satisfy the non-potter (the weak). Since justice must be equated with success, the just act is committed in the interest of the weak. By a similar argument, the just act cannot inflict harm, neither to the just subject, nor to the recipient of justice, and in this way Socrates refutes the other claim of Thrasymachus that the unjust are happy, while the just suffer.

This is the substance of the argument the Glaucon and Adeimantus have so far absorbed, and are only partially convinced by. They remain in the company after Thrasymachus and Cephalus have departed, and are the principal agents to take the argument forward. They proceed to raise the same challenge of Thrasymachus, but in a less confrontational way, and with an earnest inclination to find out. Socrates’ conclusion that the just are rewarded while the unjust destroy themselves seems to them to utterly contradict plain evidence.

Glaucon cannot accept that acts of justice are desired “both for their own sake and for the sake of their results” (Plato 45). Everyone knows, he suggests, that the virtuous act is undertaken with a dread of unpleasant consequences. He puts forward a picture of two extremes; on the one hand there is the rich hypocrite who the world recognizes as virtuous, and on the other the poor and virtuous man who is also castigated by society as evil. This is not far removed from reality, and Glaucon pleads where the benefits of justice and virtue are in view here.

Adeimantus stresses the same point, going further to quote the poets who maintain “that honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty; and they are quite ready to call wicked men happy…” (Ibid 53). Socrates at this point brings forward the crux of his argument – it is a ploy to consider the macrocosm before the microcosm. Justice and virtue must prevail in the Republic before it is possible at the atomic level of the individual. If the Republic is just, then its virtues will be far more visible than it would be in the case of the individual, and this due to its size.

The workings of the state are more open to examination then the workings of the soul. In this wise Socrates is prepared to embark on an epic reconstruction of the Republic. Much of this discussion in phrased in terms of “should be”, but it is important that we remember that it is not political science which Plato is attempting. The Republic is put forward only as a mirror to the soul. It is phrased in terms of “should be” because justice is the quest, and the just Republic is necessarily constructed on what ought to be. Once justice is located here, and recognized, it throws invaluable light on the corresponding map of the soul.

In the end Glaucon and Adeimantus are convinced that there is justice in the Republic. Each step in Socrates’ argument is built on the idea that the unjust, as a league, are incapable of any constructive effort. Even while refuting Thrasymachus, Socrates has argued that the unjust are against both their own kind, and their opposite kind (the just), while the just, at the very least, are in favor of the just. Therefore, all that is constructive and beneficial stems from the virtue of the just. On this crucial argument Socrates bases his reconstruction, and therefore justice is seen to prevail in every facer of the Republic.

What exactly this justice is Socrates confesses not to know, yet there are three other qualities that must precede it – wisdom, courage and temperance. Each member of society has a requisite knowledge which answers a calling in life, and which is necessary for survival. The sum of such atomized knowledge is the wisdom of the state. The highest calling of all is that of the guardians of the state, and in them is the greatest wisdom, for they guide all others and thereby secure the greatest good. In particular, they determine the education, and they censor the arts, knowing what is conducive to the whole.

Courage is in the defenders of the state. Temperance in distributed throughout society, for everyone must know the right measure of things. Socrates argues that both wealth and poverty are detrimental to the artisan. Wealth makes him inattentive to his art, while in poverty he cannot afford the means to practice. Therefore, the circumstances that prevail in a healthy Republic forces temperance on one and all. If this is a just Republic, argues Socrates, where justice, wisdom, courage and temperance prevail, than justice must be that which is left after wisdom, courage and temperance have been extracted from the whole.

Having identified justice in the macrocosm, Socrates goes on to find its correspondence in the microcosm, which is in the soul of man. He distinguishes two types of knowledge, one guided by the rational principle, the other following the appetites, or the gratification of the five senses. Just as the higher wisdom of the guardians in the state guide the knowledge of all others, so the rational principle of the soul controls the appetites, and this makes for the wisdom of the soul.

In the case of the Republic it has been shown that if each individual is allowed to function properly in his own calling then this constitutes justice in the wider body politic. Similarly, when the rational principle of the soul guides every facet of the human to function properly, then not only has the individual attained to justice, but also to health, for then each part is in harmony with the other and there is no discord. In this state justice, wisdom, courage and temperance prevail together, and as in the case of the Republic, justice is that which remains after the other three.

We call this psychic justice, because we do not see it for itself, but only discover its existence after examination of the human psyche. It is not possible to refute the existence of psychic justice, and all the objections raised against it have been answered completely by Socrates. It is only a question of how worthy one considers it to be. It is not only a question of following the argument, but also of perceiving the inner import of it. Socrates therefore provides three answers to the same question, suited to the attitudes of the questioners. Cephalus must only be disturbed from his smug righteousness.

The confrontational Thrasymachus can only be refuted with hard logic, for he cannot be made to comprehend. In Glaucon and Adeimantus, however, Socrates senses a desperate willingness to learn. “[T]here is something truly divine in being able to argue as you have done for the superiority of injustice,” he tells them, “and remaining unconvinced by your own arguments” (Ibid 58). The analogy of the Republic is introduced only to answer this honest query. In effect it is the same answer arrived at as the previous two, but nevertheless is special because it allows scope for inner comprehension.

This is what Glaucon and Adeimantus come to in the end, and it is far more worth while to them then to merely follow logic. Of course appearances will continue to deceive, and Socrates maintains throughout that he still does not know what justice is. But if the only acquisition is a strengthening of faith in the higher justice, then the gain is substantial. To conclude, Plato introduces the concept of psychic justice, the purpose of which it to contradict the popular notion that the wicked and unjust reap the fruits of the world, while the just are easy prey for the evildoers.

He introduces the analogy of the Republic, which is presented as the macrocosm that mirrors the microcosm that is the soul of man. In this way he identifies the justice that prevails in the Republic, and then finds the counterpart justice in the soul of man. In my opinion, psychic justice is to be considered above the apparent notions of justice, because appearances deceive. Plato raises his argument on the essential considerations of the human soul, and it is thus irrefutable.

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Justice in Plato’s Republic. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/justice-platos-republic/

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