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Plato's Republic T Irwin : Plato's Ethics CHAPTER 11-REPUBLIC I Book 1 illustrates how Socrates of the early dialogues would have tried to find a definition of justice. The goal of the book is to try to show the limits of a certain way of searching for definitions, and to subsequently dismiss it. Significance of Book 1 Book 1 presents a self contained dialogue which is then criticised in Book 2. It is arguably a dialogue that Plato writes in order to remind us of the Socratic dialogues - the Socratic features of Book 1 are the focus of Plato's criticism in the Republic perhaps. Book 1 sketches some of the conclusions that Plato means to defend. The rest of the Republic should show us how he means to defend them. To see what is unsatisfactory in Book I, we ought to notice its Socratic character. It seems to have more in common with the Laches and Charades than with the Protagoras / Meno. We have seen reasons for believing that in the Gorgias, and especially in the Meno and the middle dialogues, Plato seeks both to defend and to revise some of the claims and arguments presented in the early dialogues. If we are right to believe this, then we ought to ask whether the specifically Socratic features of Book I are the focus of Plato's criticism in the Republic. Cephalus Plato's presents Cephalus in a favourable light but also attributes some questionable moral views to him. He has views close to that of Socrates in the Gorgias. He praises the outlook of orderly and calm people. He implies that we achieve happiness by first forming desires that we can satisfy and then satisfying them - happiness does not depend on the number or the intensity of desires we satisfy. To this extent, it is up to us to be happy. He agrees with the Socratic views that justice and temperance promote peace of mind - temperate people are not tempted to cheat or lie, since they are not so greedy that they want the benefits from such practices. He thinks justice is not necessary for happiness - it is simply a way to secure peace of mind when facing the afterlife. Justice seems inferior to wealth for Cephalus - he believes that a just life without wealth is hard to bear, whereas injustice leading to wealth can be turned to our advantage. He has not explained, then, why we should endorse the unqualified commitment to justice that Socrates advocates in earlier dialogues. Mentions wealth and justice as two means of securing happiness ( but neither seemed to benefit his sons) Polemarchus Polemarchus defends the account of justice that Socrates has challenged - he argues that it fits Simonides view about justice - rendering to each person what is due to him is just. Socrates seeks to clarify Polemarchus' suggestion by asking what Simonides means by speaking of what is due / owed to each person. Socrates objects that it is difficult to describe a specific subject matter and benefit that are characteristic of justice since every subject matter that we suggest already seems to be taken up by some other specialised craft. Such an objection invites the reply that justice is not an ordinary craft but a super-ordinate craft of the sort described in the Euthydemus. Socrates suggests that if Polemarchus is right, the just person is someone who uses a craft - concerned with keeping and breaking his word in whatever way benefits his friends and harms his enemies. This is unacceptable because it implies that the just person uses both just and unjust means.
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ETHICS He rejects the conclusion that justice involves cheating people, but maintains nonetheless that it involves harming enemies. His view implies that if we wrongly believe that certain people are bad, we will wrongly be harming good people who do no injustice - Polemarchus recognises that such an action would be unjust. Polemarchus modifies his view further by suggesting that the just person is right to harm the bad people who are his enemies. Socrates claims that we ought not to retaliate against injustice by treating the offender badly - to harm other people is to make them more unjust and that this is not a proper exercise of justice.
- Such assumptions are controversial. The claim that harming people is to make them more unjust would be true if justice were necessary and sufficient for happiness - in that case, the only way to make people worse off would be to make them more unjust. If Polemarchus' different remarks about justice added up he becomes committed to saying that the just person is required to harm his enemy in whatever way he can - as long as the enemy is really a bad person and as long as the just person does not resort to cheating / deception. Justice requires the infliction of unprovoked harm that is disproportionate to any wrongdoing or vice by the bad person. Socrates concludes that we misrepresent Simonides if we take him to have believed justice to allows us to harm people - he suggests that this view of justice reflects the outlook of a manifestly unjust tyrant, not the sages. Simonides on Justice Simonides seems to suggest, then, that the Simonidean view should not be explained by appeal to the rule of helping friends and harming enemies. Should it be explained by some other rules of just behaviour?
We might seek first to define just actions and then to define the just person as simply one who does these just action. That is Cephalus' implicit view of justice as telling the truth and returning what we have received. Socrates examines this view throughout the argument with Polemarchus, pointing out the difficulty of stating clear and easily applicable necessary and sufficient conditions for just action independently of any further moral assumptions. The claim that justice consist both in telling the truth and in giving back what we have received raises two further questions :
1. Are those the only actions required of a just person
2. What do they have in common that explain why both are required of a just person?
In Book VII Plato suggests how the Simonideon view helps to reveal the truth in the initial description of justice as returning what one has received. Socrates argues that the philosophers in the ideal city can reasonably be expected to take their part in ruling. The city has educated them and developed their naturally gifts and as a service they are asked to return to the cave. These passages make it clear that the whole moral basis of the organisation of the ideal city vindicates the Simonidean view and displays the element of truth in Cephalus' original view connected justice with reciprocity. These later appeals suggests that Plato means us to notice that the Simonidean view about just action is not rejected in Book 1. Plato does not intend Book 1 simply to dismiss erroneous views about justice - on the contrary, he defends some of the views introduced, once he has completed the task of interpreting them properly. Thrasymachus' Account Thrasymachus is a Sophist. His account of justice is relativistic - what Justice is the democracy of the UK is different to that of the communism of China.
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ETHICS Socrates assume that justice benefits the just person and other people. Thrasymachus agrees that the just person benefits other people, but denies that it benefits the just person. He argues that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that the common feature of just actions is that they belong to a just order : They are prescribed by the laws enacted by some superior in the interest of the superior, and they actually promote the interest of the superior. In his view, domination by the stronger person is actually injustice if it is not prescribed by laws enacted by some ruling body. Nor does Thrasymachus mean that every law is just - there could be unjust laws, a law is only just if it actually promotes the interest of the stronger. The care that Plato devotes to the statement and defence of Thrasymachus' definition shows that he takes it seriously as an account. It accommodates the common belief that justice has to do with laws and that it promotes the stability of the community whose laws prescribe the just action. Thrasymachus is concerned with a law abiding state and with the behaviour of subjects not with that of rulers. In claiming that justice benefits the stronger, he must distinguish the immediate from the ultimate beneficiary of rules of justice. If I keep my promise to return to you what I borrowed, you are the immediate beneficiary, and me the immediate loser. According to Thrasymachus, however, the cumulative effect of the existence / observance of these rules is the greater stability of the community with its existing regime - that is is the ultimate beneficiary. Objections to Thrasymachus : Rulers and Crafts Crafts, in Socrates view, are properly concerned with the benefit of the object they work on : Medicine as such is concerned with the welfare of the patient. Similarly, ruling is concerned, insofar as it is the craft it is, with the interest of the subject rather than the ruler. This is what Socrates assumed in the Gorgias about the political craft and now he defends this assumption. Socrates seems to go too far in claiming that the ruling craft must be properly concerned with the interest of the subject. Thrasymachus points out that even if every craft is concerned with the perfection / improvement of its object, this does not show that every craft is designed for the benefit of the object over the practitioner. Shepherds fatten their sheep in the interest of their own hope to sell them. If we apply this analogy to the ruler, then we support Thrasymachus' original claim about ruling and justice, and we must reject Socrates' alternative. In reply, Socrates accuses Thrasymachus of violating his policy of considering the craft in itself. The shepherd's craft in itself is concerned solely with the improvement of the sheep - the fact that he hopes to make money additionally is irrelevant to the nature of the craft. Equally, the acquisitive aims of particular rulers are irrelevant to the nature of ruling; they do not affect the claim that ruling in itself is concerned with the improvement of the subjects. Socrates is right - Thrasymachus has not proved that it is essential to rulers that they rule subjects in the rulers' interest and not in the subjects' interest. Thrasymachus cannot rely on his general claim .
- Yet, the mere fact that rulers rule disinterestedly does not show that justice is not systematically directed towards the interest of the regime. Thrasymachus on Justice and Virtue Socrates then turns to consider Thrasymachus' claim that the unjust person is better off than the just person. Thrasymachus regards justice as foolish - not a virtue as it is harmful, injustice is good deliberation / virtue, since it is advantageous. Socrates comments that if Thrasymachus had said justice is a virtue, Socrates would have shown him 'in accordance with common beliefs' that justice promotes happiness better than injustice does. Since Thrasymachus denies that justice is a virtue, Socrates cannot use this argument against him.
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ETHICS In describing the argument 'in accordance with common beliefs' Socrates does not mean necessarily that everyone would immediately agree that justice must promote happiness. People might agree that if justice is a virtue, we ought always choose it. Socrates' first argument against Thrasymachus (349b-359c) beings from the claim that 'the person who is able to do great things overreaches'. Thrasymachus said this about the unjust person who uses his opportunities to gain advantages for himself and so to overreach or get the better of other people and unjust person takes this attitude to everyone. Socrates argues that the competent practitioners of craft do not try to overreach other competent practitioners they recognise it is foolish to try to prescribe more medicine than the right amount. Measured by this standard, the unjust person turns out to be foolish. Socrates' argument is a fair answer to Thrasymachus' raise of complete injustice as it has been described thus far. Socrates assumes that Thrasymachus regards the unjust person as the contrary of the just person. This argument is similar to that against ruling craft - it undermines the defence. It still remains to be shown that this is the most plausible way to conceive the unjust person. Psychic Order Socrates' seconds argument (349e) against Thrasymachus takes up the claim that injustice is stronger than justice. Socrates replies that injustice always produces division / conflict / incapacity for cooperative action in any group in which it is practiced. This still assumes that the unjust person is unreservedly committed to unjust action - an assumption which Thrasymachus accepts. If we accept this conception of complete injustice, it is difficult to see how it can always be preferable to justice. Socrates points out that if we always choose unjust action in preference to just action, we will be unable to cooperate to the minimum degree needed for effective joint action. After considering these interpersonal effects of complete injustice, Socrates turns to the effects of injustice in the soul. He argues that the unjust person will have a divided soul that is incapable of cooperative / rational action. Socrates does not explain why the intrapersonal injustice that causes psychic conflict is identical to or follows from the interpersonal injustice that creates conflict between different people. He perhaps means that if the completely unjust person practice unjust action whoever he can, he will practice it on his own soul, which offers the same opportunities for injustice that are offered by interpersonal relations. If this is what Socrates means, then he interprets Thrasymachus' advocacy of complete injustice as a rather extreme position. The Human Function The last argument replies to Thrasymachus claims that the unjust person is happier than the just person. Socrates appeals to the connexion between the virtue of F and the function, or essential activity, of F : A good knife is good at cutting, a good eye is good at seeing, and so on. he infers that the virtue of the soul depends on the soul's essential activity, which is ruling / deliberating / living. If follows, for Socrates, that the virtuous soul is one that lives well justice is agreed to be the virtue of the soul. Socrates assumes that if justice is a virtue, it must promote the agent's happiness. Thrasymachus, at any rate, is not entitled to complain, since he assumed this connexion between virtue and happiness in claim that justice is a virtue and justice is not. It is less clear, that Socrates is entitled to assume that justice is a human virtue. Although he has refuted Thrasymachus' claim that injustice is a virtue, this does not immediately show that justice is a virtue. The crucial premise of the argument from function lacks the support it needs.
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ETHICS If we agree with Socrates that the just person is better off than the unjust person, we apparently do not have to agree with the stronger conclusion that he draws. He asks 'Will the soul achieve its function well if it is deprived of its proper virtue, or is this impossible'. Thrasymachus agrees and thus concedes that virtue is necessary for happiness.
- Socrates infers 'it is necessary, then for a ad soul to rule and attend badly, and for a good one to do all these things well' - from this he infers that 'the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live badly', so that the just person will be happy and the unjust person wretched. Socrates gives no reason to accept his claim that justice guarantees happiness. This claim goes beyond what he seeks to prove against Thrasymachus - and beyond what the argument from function / virtue seems to prove.
- The argument from the human function begins legitimately from what Thrasymachus has already conceded, but it reaches a much stronger conclusion than anything that can be defended from the previous argument. The Results of Book I Republic I considers questions not raised in the early dialogues. It looks for a definition of justice, whereas the Crito/Gorgias take views about justice for granted without looking for a definition. At the end of Republic I Socrates stresses the importance of finding a definition of justice - he remarks that his argument against Thrasymachus on behalf of justice cannot be completely convincing unless they can first discover what justice is. Book I takes up some of the arguments about justice and happiness from Gorgias. Thrasymachus differs from Calicoes in denying that justice is a virtue - Callicles maintain that justice is a virtue - but had to revise ordinary views about the extension of 'justice'. Thrasymachus goes further than Callicles in denying that justice is a virtue at all. Socrates reply raises some reasonable objections to Thrasymachus' defence of his case. Socrates shows that the mere determination to violate principle of justice is not a reliable guide for life and that therefore Thrasymachus is wrong to advocate injustice in the way he does. He argues that if we take injustice as our supreme principle we eliminate psychic order and rational prudence altogether.
- If Socrates is right, the analogy between virtue and craft remains plausible - the unjust persons' commitment to injustice seems to imply ignorance of what we need know to achieve our own interests. This reply to Thrasymachus, however, is hardly enough for a defence of justice. Instead of conceiving the unjust person as someone who gives priority to injustice, we might conceive him as someone who simply does not give priority to justice, so that he is willing to act unjustly in cases where the just person would refuse.
- We might suggest that this more moderate attitude to injustice is more attractive than Thrasymachus' attitude and that therefore it is more dangerous to Socrates' case for justice. Plato takes up this suggestion in Book II.
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Plato's Republic J Annas : An Introduction to Plato's Republic BOOK ONE The characters in book one share an irritation with the reader that their confident beliefs have been removed when nothing is offered to replace them. Book 1 starts with a discussion with a rich man who believes that riches help one to be just - this sparks a discussion which exposes common beliefs about it as radically wrong, but concludes that we are still in the dark as to what it is. Many scholars have concluded from the contrast of style between Book I and the rest of the work that this Book was written earlier than the rest of the Republic. There is one piece of external evidence for this. In Book I a character called Cleitophon intervenes to make an unsuccessful attempt to help Thrasymachus. There exists a short dialogue called Cleitophon in which Cleitophon is given more of a say. There, he complains to Socrates that, although he would prefer to go to him for instruction, he is thrown back upon Thrasymachus, because at least the latter has definite and helpful views about what justice actually is, where as Socrates is merely negative - he knocks down others people's accounts of justice, and offers no help about the real justice. This makes no sense as a reaction to the complete Republic but it does make sense as a reaction to Book I on its own. Why should Plato re-use an earlier dialogue? We know that he took great pains over the literary shape of his work and could have written a new introduction if he wanted to. Surely he is aware of the contrast and thus it is meant to serve some purpose. Book I shows us from the beginning that philosophical investigation does not take place in abstraction from the real world but arises to explode inadequacies in the way we actually think. The Republic begins from the premise that philosophers should not ignore the problems of the imperfect world around them - they should be aware and do something to solve them. Cephalus and Polemarchus : Moral Complacency Socrates and Glaucon are visiting the Piraeus, the Port of Athens and are jokingly forced to visit the house of Cephalus and his sons Polemarchus and Lysias. Cephalus has dedicated his life to money making by living in a foreign city and renouncing all the rights / duties / activities of a citizen - things vitally important to the self-respect of most Greeks.
- By the end of the Republic we know just how low Plato places the life dedicated to moneymaking, but even in Book I we see his contempt for it and for the complacency it engenders. The Republic was written at a much later time than it depicts. Plato was writing for an audience that knew that the security based on wealth which Cephalus had spent his life building, was wholly illusory - only a few years later, when Athens fell, the family was ruined. Money, thus, cannot provide the kind of security it promises.
- There are enough malicious touches in Plato's picture of Cephalus to show that we are being presented with a limited and complacent man. Cephalus begins by saying that Socrates should visit more - that as he is in his old age, he enjoys discussion more, as he is less driven by bodily pleasures. Socrates probes his, is Cephalus able to achieve tranquility because of his temperament or because he is well-off? Cephalus' answer shows the limitations of his mind. Riches, he says, are not actually sufficient for a man to be just, but they help. It is hard for a poor man to be just throughout life.
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