Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

The Republic by Plato: Is It Worth It to Be a Good Person? Arguments for and Rebuttals

Category Plato, Rebuttal, Socrates
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Plato is one of the world’s most well-known ancient Greek philosophers. Plato became a philosopher to “bring true justice to human beings and put an end to civil eat and political upheaval.” (Reeve, IX). As a philosopher, Plato wrote many works but perhaps The Republic is his most famous. It is a dialogue, featuring Plato’s idol Socrates, talking with philosophers about broad topics within the human conditions. In The Republic, Socrates tries to define justice and wonders if it is worth it to be a good person.

In the beginning of The Republic, we see many people trying to challenge Plato on what justice is exactly and whether it is “intrinsically good”. Throughout the rest of The Republic, Plato attempts to define and justify why justice is the better option over injustice, in order to refute the points made by others in the dialogue, specifically Thrasymachus and Glaucon. Thrasymachus believes that justice only benefits the people that are in power and Glaucon believes the justice does not have any benefit for those practicing it.

In The Republic, Socrates does not provide enough evidence to successfully refute Thrasymachus; but argues well to defend his position against the challenges of Glaucon. Book 1 begins in the home of one Socrates friends, where Socrates is discussing the true definition of justice. A few characters try to give a definition but no one is able to give a straight answer without Socrates being able to refute it (Reeve (Plato), book 1). Ultimately, Socrates is able to convince these few characters that justice is a good thing, but he admits that he is not able to truly define it (Reeve (Plato), book 1).

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Thrasymachus takes exception to this and says that he believes that justice is not a good thing (Reeve (Plato), book 1). Thrasymachus makes it a point to show that those who naturally behave unjustly are the ones in society that have power. He believes that the people in society, specifically the rulers, are the people who have acted unjustly, and they set up the rules so that everything goes in their favor (Reeve (Plato), book 1) He also makes it point to say that being unjust is wiser.

Following the lead of Thrasymachus, in Book Two Glaucon continues the discussion by saying that he too does not believe that justice is all that great. He first states that there are three types of goods, intrinsic, instrumental and a mix of both (Reeve (Plato), book 2) He explains that intrinsic is a good that is valuable for its own sake, while instrumental is a good that is only desirable for the good it generates. Glaucon continues saying that the only reason people practice justice is that it’s convenient. He says that if people had the choice of being unjust without suffering a penalty or receiving judgment from the society they would, because there is no true benefit to acting in a just manner (Reeve (Plato), book 2).

To start off his rebuttal, Socrates must explain what justice would look like in a city before he can describe what a just individual would be like. He starts by saying that a just city is broken down into three groups of people, which all need to do their job in order to keep the city running efficiently Is this a quote? (Reeve (Plato), book 2). At the top, we have the guardians, followed by then auxiliaries and lastly, we have citizens Quote? (Reeve (Plato), book 2)

The citizens are the ones that help provide what is needed, for instance, shoemakers, or craftsman (Reeve (Plato), book 2). The auxiliaries are the ones that protect the city from opposing cities. Lastly, the guardians are the ones that watch over the city and make sure that everyone does what they are supposed to (Reeve (Plato), book 2). Socrates also states that a just city must have been wise, courageous, and temperate. He explains that the guardians are the people that must be the part of the city that is wise, that is why they are taught to be mentally and physically strong. He explains that the courageous part of the city should lay on the auxiliaries because they need to be able to put fear aside and put the city first in order to defend all the citizens.

Temperance, he says should be found in all levels of the city, the guardians must be able to put up all the citizens, and the citizens must respect their roles in order to keep the city working efficiently (Reeve (Plato), book 2). Lastly, he says that justice is what keeps the society working. In other words, Socrates says that justice in a city is the ability to stay in harmony and have everyone perform the job that is best suited for them. After defining what justice in a city looks like, Socrates was able to define what justice in the induvial looks like. He starts by saying the individual can be thought of as the soul, which can be broken down into parts, just as the city can be broken down into parts (Reeve (Plato), book 4).

Socrates says that the individual soul can be divided into reason, appetite, and spirit that are very similar to the virtues of the auxiliaries, guardians, and citizens (Reeve (Plato), book 4) He says that an individual has the wisdom to keep them from doing things that their appetite would like them to, which is similar to the wisdom that guardians have that keeps them from caving to their appetites of corruption. The rational part of the individual can be seen as similar to the courage part which helps keep the auxiliaries going. Temperance can be seen in the individual because the different parts of the soul have to do with the parts suited for them in order to maintain balance within themselves and within the city (Reeve (Plato), book 4).

Clearly, Socrates is trying to show that he believes that justice within the individual would mean keeping order within the soul. Therefore, Socrates is saying that when the distinct parts of the soul are working well together, the induvial person can work or function well and an unjust person would not be able to function properly. This shows that justice is not only intrinsically good, but also instrumentally good because each part works together to promote proper function as well as, generating a good that is desirable. Regardless of Socrates’ well thought out argument, he has a hard time trying to refute the ideas of Thrasymachus. For Thrasymachus, the main point that Socrates needs to refute is that justice is in the favor of the ruler. He is somewhat able to argue against him when he talks about how the rulers of a city would be chosen, saying that they would be selected if they have the people’s best interest in mind (Reeve (Plato), book 3).

The rulers should be people who do not have the desire to be powerful, but are rather philosophers who have gone through special mental and physical training that will make them best suited for this role. He also goes into detail about how these people should be kept away from anything that would give them the idea of being corrupt (Reeve (Plato), book 3) If we were to solely look at the idea at hand, if the correct rulers were chosen and placed in a perfect environment, Socrates would have a good argument.

However, these ideas would not be plausible in a realistic setting. It would be very difficult to be able to get philosophers to be the rulers of our society. Likewise, it would also be just as difficult to prevent the rulers to be kept away from ideas of corruption. Although, Socrates does his best to refute the idea that justice would only benefit the ruler, when put into a true scenario it is very difficult to say that the rulers would not at some point cave to their appetites. Contrarily to struggling with Thrasymachus, Socrates successfully refuted the ideas of Glaucon.

Previously said, Glaucon argues that there is no real benefit of being a just person. Socrates is able to refute this by saying that the true benefit of being just is being a healthy person. He explains the true function of a person is to live purely, which Glaucon does not disagree to (Reeve (Plato), book 2). After this, he explains that justice is what keeps the part of the soul together, so without justice, the soul cannot work the way that it is supposed to. This is because justice is defined as every part of the soul doing what it is supposed to (Reeve (Plato), book 2).

In other words, Socrates is saying that justice is needed for the health of the soul which in turn is needed for the well-being of the individual, and without the well-being of an individual, the city can’t flourish. Hence, justice is beneficial for the person because it is what allows the person to be healthy, and injustice would cause the spirt to fall apart and make the human unhealthy, proving Glaucon’s point wrong. Through The Republic, Socrates is not able to provide enough evidence to successfully refute Thrasymachus; but successfully defends his position against the challenges of Glaucon.

The main reason that Socrates believes that it is intrinsically better to be unjust is that justice, defined as everyone or everything doing their designated functions, is required for the health of soul which is required for the better health of the induvial. Regarding the point made about the better health of the individual is what refutes Glaucon’s idea that there are no benefits to being just. However, Socrates is not able to refute the ideas of Thrasymachus as significantly, because he lacks the ability to put his theoretic ideas into the real world. All in all, The Republic explains what exactly Plato believes justice is and how it is beneficial to those who practice it or unbeneficial for those who do not.

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