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Plato’s The Republic

Plato’s notion of Justice in relation to the formation of the ideal state is reflected on the attempts of his mentor, Socrates, combating the persistent growth of social hegemony in the framework of Athenian society. This hegemony, in context with The Republic, Socrates criticizes the form of government that does not conform to his ideal structure of social strata. For him, the ideal state is a mix between democracy and tyranny, with a philosopher-king leading society through the realization of the common welfare and goals.

For the philosopher-king, he is not to be self-centered and selfish; rather his responsibility is to dedicate himself to the benefit of the state and not to specific to socio-political spheres. The Definition of Justice As narrated in The Republic, Plato’s Socrates argues on the definition of justice by employing the elenchus or the Socratic Method in the search for its true definition. It is necessary then, to first enumerate the arguments presented by Cephalus and Polemarchus on the notion of justice.

First, Cephalus argues, as a moneymaker or a businessman, that justice falls under the action of right conduct (paying debts, being truthful). Polemarchus also share the same view, but emphasizes that justice is merely ‘giving what is right’: “The possession of money contributes a great deal to not cheating or lying to any man against one’s will, and, moreover, to not departing for that one place frightened because one owes some sacrifices to a god or money to a human being” (Plato 7, 334c).

However, Socrates refutes both arguments with the assertion that right conduct fall under the behavior between friends who have the responsibility to act upon their friendship in order to do good: “Justice, then, seems, according to you, to be a certain art of stealing, for the benefit, to be sure, of friends and the harm of enemies” (Plato 11, 347c). The conversation between Socrates and Cephalus is the foremost example of Socrates’ method as well as the first notion of the self and desire as found in the first definition.

According to Cephalus and Polemarchus, justice entails bestowing acts upon other people who ultimately deserve it. Thus, a friend is to be treated as such through acts of goodness while enemies deserve harm. Concordantly, an enemy, immediately considered as unjust, if harmed, then becomes worse. Thus, a justice merely befits the rule of causality; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In addition, the definition of good is not clearly explicated as the good actions are based on the adherence to proper payment and speaking the truth.

The arguments against such is on the violation of personal right wherein, speaking the truth, may compromise a ‘friend’s’ right. The antithesis to the second argument of justice on giving what is proper that it is genuinely easy to act upon what is good or evil. But such ease in action takes away the fundamental value of human importance on the notion to give harm on enemies who ‘properly’ deserve such because of their unjust nature.

Another argument, presented by a Thrasymachus, argues that justice is the “advantage of the stronger: In every city, the same thing is just, the advantage of the established ruling body. It sure is master; so the man who reasons rightly concludes that everywhere justice is the same thing” (Plato 16, 352a). Thus, for Thrasymachus, justice falls under the right of a governing body, which represents the opinion of the whole as reinforcement for might or strength in realizing personal interests or desires.

The government, as a powerful governing body, will act upon any method in order to achieve its subjective needs. Just as an individual who acts upon himself, utilizing his strength in order to acquire his wants, surely will get what one desires. Thrasymachus’ definition of justice falls under the personal and subjective interest of a specific group that may be categorized as another form of good. The formation of a ruling body creates and enacts laws upon its own discretion and interest.

Violation against such impositions is a violation against Thrasymachus’ definition of justice: “Injustice, when it comes into being on a sufficient scale, is mightier, freer, and more masterful than justice; and as I have said from the beginning, the just is the advantage of the stronger, and the unjust is what is profitable and advantageous for oneself” (Plato 22, 353b). Plato’s Socrates again reexamines the argument and argues that Justice naturally implies a sense of superiority on character and the intellect while the opposite incurs deficiency in both.

Thus, just men are superior in terms of character and intelligence and therefore are suited for specific actions or function. On the other hand, injustice merely espouses ignorance and stupidity and cannot be considered superior to the first. “No one willingly chooses to rule and get mixed up in straightening out other people’s trouble; but he asks for wages, because the man who is to do anything fine by art never does what is best for himself nor does he command it, insofar as he is commanding by art, but rather what is best for the man who is ruled” (Plato 24, 357b).

Another addition to the justice definition is added by Glaucon, who maintains Thrasymachus arguments on justice as might. They say that doing injustice is naturally good, and suffering injustice bad, but that the bad in suffering injustice far exceeds the good in doing it; so that, when they do injustice to one another and suffer it and taste of both, it seems profitable – to those who are not able to escape the one and choose the other – to set down a compact among themselves neither to do injustice nor to suffer it. (Plato 36, 357d)

Justice is then a mean wherein it settles itself between the ‘good’ act of practicing injustice and the bad act of suffering from it. From such, the injustices suffered by the majority comport themselves to create ‘social contracts’ so as to prevent themselves from suffering injustice among themselves as well as the injustice practiced by the stronger few. Thus, the concept of justice, according to Glaucon is artificial since it is formed through an agreement out of necessity rather than a virtuous, rational, and natural impulse of man.

In synthesis, all prior definitions of justice are external rather than a virtue-centered notion as proposed by Plato. Justice, in the first sense, is more of a practical action wherein justice is something that can be performed or executed. For Plato however, justice is to be considered a natural virtue of the soul; justice is not considered a product of fear from the oppressed. As espoused in the aforementioned arguments, the ruled or the oppressed in which the governing party imposes its subjective justice, the oppressed in turn creates its own sense of justice, which is liberation from social captivity.

However, justice is not formed out of fear or contract but remains as a natural part of the human soul wherein it acts upon the dictates of reason in order to fulfill duty. Justice as natural and social virtue From the definition of justice, we now look into its nature and essence. As defined by Plato, justice is a natural part of the human soul which allows it to perform individual duty without consideration for personal gain or desire. The notion of justice is compared to that of the human body and the body of the state as a process in which he formulates the ideal state.

Individuals are all capable of reason, which provide intellect and wisdom; the spirit is subjugated under the will of reason and it is both the soul (reason) and spirit (body) to control the appetite or irrational tendencies caused by desire. The analogy is found through the beginnings of city composed of five men with specific duties toward the formation of the city: “each of us is naturally not quite anyone else, but rather differs in his nature; different men are apt for the accomplishment of different jobs. And what about this?

Who would do a finer job, one man practicing many arts, or one man one art? ” (Plato 46, 370a-b). The social organism or city, is then formed through the division of the following: the philosopher-king (reason), the auxiliaries or soldiers (spirit) and the commoners (appetites) such as farmers, weavers, fishermen, etc. The concept of the philosopher-king or guardian is contrary to that of a tyrannical ruler since its responsibility is to ensure that the aims and goals of all is achieved rather than personal ones – thus, acting as reason which controls the spirit and inhibits the irrational tendencies.

This, in relation to the formation of the city as a social organism presents the nature and definition of justice in Plato’s view. Justice then functions, as a natural virtue of the soul, enables the individual to become just and good while justice, as a social consciousness, enables the individual not to think for oneself but for the good of others. Plato’s notion of justice provides the natural will for the individual to perform duties that suits one’s nature. Justice encourages non-interference, wherein the lack of which would cause arguments and disagreements.

Justice then provides the individual to attend to his or her own responsibilities in society as beneficial to the whole. The Philosopher-king According to Plato, the formation of the ideal city-state may not be possible through the different forms of government wherein rule is specified through a powerful few. As mentioned before, the ideal state is governed by justice wherein it enables individuals to act according to their nature and prevent them from tampering with other people’s business.

There is also an ‘aesthetic sacrifice’ wherein education replaces art in order to teach the minds of the youth knowledge which would improve themselves and successively, their ‘good’ acts remain beneficial to the state. Ironically, the ideal city-state proposed by Plato does share the same characteristic as that of a tyrannical government but defends his argument through the existence of philosopher-kings, lovers of knowledge and wisdom, as the appropriate rulers of the ideal city-state.

In relation to the Platonic Theory of Forms mentioned in the book, the Allegory of the Cave functions as the reason behind the conception of the philosopher-king as an ideal ruler. Supposing two prisoners, chained to a cave since birth who see nothing but a great expanse of wall before them since their movement is limited by their chains. A great, roaring fire burns behind them while plants and animals pass behind the fire, producing shadows and figures on the wall in front of the two prisoners. The two prisoners become accustomed to the shadows and thereby accepting them to be the truth, not knowing the ‘real’ objects that pass by the fire.

The chains, the cave, and the shadows represent the material world – the world of the unreal wherein only shadows or illusions of the true forms exist. This, according to Plato, is the world in which we live, where what we suppose is reality is not the truest form of reality. The chains and darkness of the cave represent ignorance; a sense of contentment for what is already given and fear from what can be known beyond the realms of illusion. Plato then supposes one of the prisoners to break free from the bondage and sees the fire and the real objects that produce the shadows.

Then the prisoner ventures outside the cave, separated by the divided line, which separates the material world and the world of Forms, where he sees the sky, the stars, and ultimately the sun, which represent intellectual illumination and as the ultimate form of the good. The true philosopher-king, accepts the reality which he sees to be the true form of objects and ventures back to the cave to educate those who are still held ‘captive’ by the material world and provide illumination. The philosopher, man with love for wisdom, the only person who can reach the final stage of the line, is the one considered to rule society.

The creation of an ideal city-state is solely dependent on the presence of a philosopher-king, who has achieved intellectual illumination by embracing all kinds of truths: “therefore the man who is really a lover of learning must from youth on strive as intensely as possible for every kind of truth” (Plato 165, 485c) as well as an impersonal disregard for personal need and desire in order to benefit the ‘health’ of the city. However, the notion of the philosopher-king is dependent on the Allegory where the problem it poses is on the prisoner’s reliance and reluctance to know the realms beyond the material world.

Plato mentions: “What then? When he recalled his first home and the wisdom there, and his fellow prisoners in that time, don’t you suppose he would consider himself happy for the change and pity of others? ” (Plato 195, 516c). The choice whether to accept intellectual illumination or to adhere with blissful ignorance is the sole burden of the philosopher-king; to lead or not. Work Cited Plato. The Republic of Plato. trans. Allan Bloom. 2nd ed. United States. Basic Books, 1991.

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