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Topic #C28

Plato, Republic 347a-369a


12 November 2001

Scribes: Matt Stupar and Marcela Crowe


These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes



Thrasymachus’ characterization of justice - seen as that which is advantageous to the strong – was subsequently refuted by Plato when, Socrates pointed out that it is necessary to provide wages to craftsmen and rulers since by the very nature of their work they must serve their subject and not themselves. The rest of Thrasymachus’ argument – that to be unjust is more profitable and better than to be just – is further on in the reading refuted. This loss is met with a most embarrassed blush which is comparable to that of Alcibiades’ embarrassment in the Symposium.  Glaucon continues the dialogue by asking Socrates what is ment when he says that wages can takes the form of not only money and honour but also, penalty.


Glaucon and Adeimantus are the brothers of Plato. When Socrates praises their father as being a great man in 368a, Plato has himself discreetly praised as well. This subtle devise, which sows his own praises without having to use his own name directly, is also found in the Phaedo. In the beginning of that dialogue Plato is mentioned as not being present because he is said to be sick. Near the end of the dialogue Socrates has a vision and asks Crito to be sure to owe a cock to Asclepius (the God of healing) and explains that they Socratics owe great gratitude to this god.  Professor Hutchinson suggested that Socrates’ concern for those who are in need of the blessings of Asclepius, was a way in which the proverbial torch was handed over to Plato from Socrates.


Socrates responds to Glaucon’s question about wages by stating that since a good person could not be driven into becoming a ruler on the basis of monetary gain or for honour, the only wage, or benefit, that is worth while for that person, is alleviating the possible threat that someone worse than him would rule instead.


In trying to discern whether the just lead happier and better lives than those who are unjust, Plato argues that anything which is used for a purpose is good for its purpose. Therefore, it is important to know what it is we function as. The ultimate function of a soul in the Socratic Theory is to be an effective authority over another agent. The soul does not merely use the body, as Adeimantus suggests, but rather, the soul must be in control and able to manage and steer the body. Justice is the soul’s virtue since something which is unjust, by its very nature governs things badly. A discussion on the parts of the soul which need to be distinguished is found in Book II through IX.


This functional analysis of the soul – drawn from the proposition that the virtue of a thing is the proper function of a thing, such as sight and hearing – is also featured in Aristotle’s work. Aristotle also maintained that the ultimate good (eudemonia) was to serve our own function. He also divided the soul into parts. But where Plato divided the function of the soul into categories of ruling, Aristotle divided its function into categories pertaining to thought; thinking, knowing and reasoning. Professor Hutchinson expressed the view that this sort of comparison between Plato and Aristotle was both appropriate and fruitful.

If Socrates thought he could convince his interlocutors of the ultimate good in leading a just life up to this point, he was sadly mistaken. Glaucon and Socrates both agree that the good can be understood in three ways: as an end in itself, as both an end and a mean, and as merely a mean to something else. These three different ways of understanding the good is fundamental for Aristotle’s moral system and is found in Book I of his own Ethics. But Glaucon wishes Socrates to prove how the just is good in itself, and not as any mean – something which he feels intuitively, yet does not feel is proven in an actually persuasive manner.


The first argument Glaucon provides to justify his skepticism about the nature of justice is based the adaptation of the history of Herodotus – “The Ring of Gyges”. Give anyone the ability to commit unjust acts with the guarantee that he will not suffer any negative consequences and one will find that the benefits of being unjust far outweigh that of being just. With the power of the ring to become invisible a simple Shepard was able to profit from his crime in that he gained not only a throne but also a wife.


The argument Glaucon provides between 361e through to 362c, is what Plato must overcome if he is to prove that it is more advantageous to be just than unjust. Rapped up in Glaucon’s speech exists the three conceptions of justice which Plato had, earlier on in the dialogue, abandoned. They are: justice seen as advantageous for the strong, as benefiting friends and harming enemies, and also as taking care of the gods. Here Glaucon also represents the apex of self-interest – developing the reputation for justice while simultaneously plucking the advantages of the unjust.


Adeimantus presents further the problem of justice when he asks Socrates to address the widespread tendency to write off unjust acts by paying respect to the gods in the form of rituals. This problem of the nature of the gods is found in 364b-d. Plato had no patience for the primitive spirituality which Adeimantus described. According to Plato, the universe was designed with the good in mind. God punishes the bad and is not impressed by evil. Plato’s view of religion is lofty. His understanding of prayer is in line with that of Christianity, in that it is an act of re-orienting the self. Worship  is done with one’s own heart and moral value. In these two pairs of speeches, Plato brings together the divine and the human realm. This may have been surprising for his interlocutors however, we should not consider this out of character with Plato. In the Euthyphro, piety and justice are closely linked in that they are considered the same thing but placed in different context.


Adeimantus highlights the problem of justice further when he asks why it is we should be hiding from the gods if they don’t exist. A widespread view of the time in Athens was that the gods were the guarantors of justice. Much like during the 19th Century in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, the mainstream view was that one was not capable of being moral without first believing in God. Plato was of this belief. If one does not have the proper conception of the divine, one can not have a proper understanding Justice. All and all, because of this divine order, the good souls get the ultimate nice benefit in the end.