PLATO: The Republic [Book I]
• Polemarchus invites Glaucon and Socrates to his home to engage in discussion before the torch race on horseback later that evening. Glaucon and Socrates accept the invitation.
• Polemarchus’ father, Cephalus, greets Socrates and Glaucon when they arrive at the home. Several other men are present. Cephalus chides Socrates for not coming to see him as often as he should.
• Cephalus solemnly declares that the more the pleasures of the body fade with age, the greater the pleasure and charm of conversation. Socrates reverently replies that nothing is more pleasurable to him than conversing with aged man; for he regards them as travelers who have gone on a journey which Socrates may too have to go, and ought to enquire whether the way is smooth and easy or ragged and difficult. Accordingly, Socrates asks Cephalus whether life is easier towards the end.
• Cephalus answers that many of his acquaintances complain of how many evils their old age is the cause – pleasures of youth and love are fled away and life is no longer life. However, Cephalus disagrees that old age is the cause of their suffering; for Cephalus is old and does not feel as they do. Cephalus tells of how Sophocles, when asked how love suits with old age, responded that he is delighted to be rid of that folly; he feels as if he had escaped from a mad and furious master. Cephalus often thinks of Sophocles words, and agrees that old age has a sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, we are freed from the grasp of not only one master but several. Cephalus concludes that the complaints of old men are rightly attributed to a man’s disposition and temper, not old age; for an old man with a calm and happy disposition will hardly feel the pressure of old age.
• Socrates agrees but suspects that people in general are not convinced, but believe that old age sits lightly upon Cephalus because he is rich.
• Cephalus admits that there is something in what they say, but not as much as they think. He asserts that an ill-tempered rich man will never be at peace, and a good-tempered poor man will struggle with age.
• Socrates asks Cephalus if he acquired or inherited his wealth. Cephalus inherited it. Socrates remarks that he supposed Cephalus inherited money because Cephalus is indifferent towards it. The people who made their fortunes have a second love for money as a parent for a child or poet for a poem; and thus they are very poor company because they talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.
• Socrates inquires of Cephalus what the greatest blessing Cephalus reaped from his wealth. Cephalus answers that the greatest blessing of wealth is that he never had to intentionally or unintentionally deceive another man; for when a man nears the end of his life he considers his past transgressions, and fears what punishment might await him in the afterlife.
• Socrates asks Cephalus what justice is. To speak the truth and pay your debts? Suppose a friend requests you to hold onto his arms for a while, and then returns after losing his wits and demands them. Should you relinquish the arms to him while he is in this state. Furthermore, when a friend approaches you in a chaotic frenzy and demands to know where someone is so that he may kill him, we ought not to tell him the truth. Cephalus must prepare sacrifices and excuses himself, leaving his son, Polemarchus, to proceed with the discussion.
• Polemarchus propounds that justice is doing good to your friends and evil to your enemies. But should the just injure anyone at all? When a horse is injured, it deteriorates in the good quality of horses. When a man is injured, he will deteriorate in the good qualities, or proper virtue, of a man which is justice. Therefore, injured men deteriorate in justice and are made unjust. But can the musician by his art make men unmusical? No. Or the horseman by his art make men bad horsemen? No. And can the just by justice make men unjust? No. Then to injure a man is an act of the unjust man, not the just. Injuring another is never just; and thus “to do good to your friends and harm to your enemies” is not the correct definition of justice.
• Thrasymachus angrily criticizes Socrates and the others for asking questions, but never providing answers. Plato characterizes Thrasymachus as a boorish man. Thrasymachus asserts that justice is “the interest of the stronger.” There are different forms of government: tyrannies, democracies, and aristocracies. The different governments make laws with regard to their separate interests; and these laws, which are made for their own interests are the justice they deliver to their citizens. Anyone who breaks the law is unjust. The governments are supposed to have the power, and thus justice is the interest of the stronger (more powerful party) everywhere.
• Socrates states that rulers are liable to err. Then in making laws they may sometimes make laws not in their own interest. Thus, justice then commands the citizens to do what is for the injury of the stronger, not the interest. Thrasymachus retorts that the stronger are not the stronger when they make a law contrary to their own interest. For example, is a physician a physician when he makes a mistake about the sick, or a mathematician a mathematician when he makes an error in calculation? No. True, we say that the mathematician made a mistake, but this is only a way of speaking; for the mathematician does not make an error in so far as his name implies; he does not error unless his skill fails him and then he is not a mathematician at that point in time.
• Socrates states that every art has an interest. And that the art attempts to perfect that interest. The art of horsemanship considers the interests of the horse. The art of medicine cares for the interests of the body. None of the arts care for themselves, for they have no need; they only care for the interests of the subject of their art. No physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but only the good of his patient; for the true physician is not a money maker, but an improver of health. The art of ruling cares for the interest of the ruled. Thus, a true ruler makes laws in the interest of his subjects.
• Each art gives us a particular good; medicine gives us health, navigation gives us safety on the seas, and the art of payment gives us money, but we do not confuse this with other arts. The art of navigation is not confused with the art of medicine because a sailor may become well on a sea voyage. The art of payment is not medicine because a man is in good health when he is paid. Thus, the art of medicine is not the art of payment because the doctor is paid for his services. While the art of medicine gives health, and the art of building builds a house, another art attends them which is the art of pay.
• The true artist does not regard his own interest but always the interest of its subjects; therefore rulers and other profession must be paid in order for them to be willing to rule. There are three modes of payment: money, honor, or penalty for refusing. A good man who is not avaricious for money or ambitious for honor will rule because the penalty for refusing to rule is to be governed by one who is less just and good than himself.
• Thrasymachus declares that injustice is more profitable than justice. The unjust man is happy, while the just man is miserable. Mankind censures justice because they fear they will become victims of it, not because they shrink from committing it.
• Socrates proves that justice is wisdom and virtue while injustice is ignorance and vice by demonstrating that the just do not wish to have more than the just, but do wish to have more than the just, while the unjust want more than the just and unjust. A mathematician does not wish to have more knowledge in mathematics than another mathematician, but he does wish to have more knowledge in mathematics than someone who is not a mathematician. A person ignorant of mathematics wants to have more knowledge than both a mathematician and one who is ignorant in mathematics.
• Because justice is wisdom and virtue, it is stronger than injustice which is ignorance and vice.
• The unjust are incapable of common action. If thieves needed to work together, then they would need to act justly with respect to on another. If the thieves are entirely unjust, then they would do evil to each other and would not be able to work together. Injustice located within one individual renders action impossible by reason of sedition and distraction.
• Everything has an end; i.e. the end of anything would be that which could not be accomplished or not so well accomplished by any other thing. The end of an eye is seeing, the end of an ear is hearing, the end of the soul is happiness.
• Everything has an excellence which helps them attain its particular end. If an eye loses its proper excellence, then it will not be able to see. An ear that has lost its particular excellence will not be able to attain its end of hearing. Since justice is the excellence of the soul, if this excellence deteriorates into injustice, then the soul will not be able to achieve its end of happiness.
• The just are happy, and the unjust are miserable.
• Socrates concludes Book 1, stating that he still has not determined what constitutes a just action; he has only described some of its superficial qualities.
“The more the pleasures of the body fade, the greater the pleasure and charm of conversation.”
“Is life harder towards the end?”
“The makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men. And therefore they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing but the praises of wealth.”
“I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. When the passions relax their hold, then we are freed from the grasp of a mad and furious master, and experience a sense of calm and freedom.”
“For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true: either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings. But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age.”
“Mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it.”
Plato wrote the Republic in 380 BC. The first book of Plato’s Republic is concerned with justice. What is justice and why should one behave justly are two questions which Socrates and his interlocutors attempt to answer. The first definition of justice is proposed by Cephalus. Cephalus is an old, wise, and very wealthy man. He provides tremendous insight about old age. He says that as one grows older, the passions relax and one feels as if he has escaped from a mad and furious monster, and that one experiences a sense of calm and freedom. He also asserts that the greatest benefit his wealth has conferred upon him is that he never needed to intentionally or unintentionally deceive another man; for when a man nears the end of his life, and considers his past transgressions, he begins to fear the potential punishment he will suffer in the afterlife. Cephalus concludes that justice is paying debts and telling the truth.
Socrates refutes Cephalus’ definition of justice by positing several instances in which it is not just to tell the truth or to pay one’s debts. For example, it is not just to return weapons, entrusted to your care, to a friend who is not in his right senses. Furthermore, if a friend who is not in his right senses approaches you and enquires where another man is so that he may kill him, then it is not just to tell him where that man is.
Cephalus’s son named Polemarchus proposes the second definition. He asserts that justice is doing good to friends and evil to enemies. Socrates refutes this definition by asserting that the just man never does evil, even to his enemies. Socrates states that when something inflicts harm upon a horse, the horse deteriorates in the excellence of a horse. Similarly, when something injures a man, the man deteriorates in the excellence of a man, which is justice. But a horseman by his art cannot injure a horse, nor can a musician by his art make men unmusical. Similarly, a just man by justice cannot make a man unjust. Thus, Socrates concludes, only unjust men injure other men; to do evil is never just.
Thrasymachus provides the third definition. He states that justice is “the interest of the stronger.” Thrasymachus elaborates that there are different types of governments: tyrannies, democracies, and aristocracies. Each government makes laws according to their own particular interests; and these laws are the justice which they deliver to their citizens. Anyone who breaks the laws is unjust. Because the government has the power to make the laws it is the stronger; and therefore justice is the interest of the stronger.
Socrates refutes Thrasymachus by demonstrating that rulers are liable to err and pass laws that are not in their best interest. Some laws command citizens to behave contrary to the interest of the stronger. If justice is merely obeying the laws, then justice is not always the interest of the stronger. Thrasymachus counters that when rulers pass laws contrary to their interest, then they are not the stronger at that point in time. Thrasymachus uses an analogy of a mathematician. When a mathematician makes a mistake while calculating, he is not a mathematician, in so far as the name implies, at that time. When he errs, his skill fails him and he is not a mathematician.
Socrates proceeds to explain that every art has an interest. The art of medicine is concerned with the interests of the patient. The art of horsemanship is concerned with the interests of the horse. No art is concerned with its own interest because it has none. No physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but only the good of the patient. Thus, a ruler makes laws in the interest of the ruled.
Each art gives us a particular good – medicine gives us good health, navigation gives us safety on the seas, payment gives us money. We do not confuse the goods of each art with one another. For example, the art of navigation is not confused with the art of medicine because one becomes healthy on a sea voyage. Furthermore, we do not confuse the art of making money with the art of medicine because one becomes healthy when he receives payment. The art of medicine is not the art of payment because a physician is paid while rendering his services. The artist never regards its own interest, but only the interests of its subjects; and thus, men must be paid to rule because they pass laws in the interest of their subjects and not themselves. Society can pay rulers three different ways: with money, honor, or by withholding a penalty for refusing to rule. Men who are not avaricious or ambitious are penalized if they do not rule because men less just than they will rule if they do not.
Thrasymachus declares that the unjust man is much happier than the just man, and that the just man is in fact miserable. Therefore, according to Thrasymachus, injustice is more advantageous than justice. Socrates proves that justice is wisdom and virtue while injustice is ignorance and vice by using an analogy of mathematicians. Just as a mathematician does not desire to go beyond a mathematician, but he does desire to be more knowledgeable in mathematics than someone who is not a mathematician, so too does the just man not desire more than the just, but does desire more than the unjust. Similarly, the man who is ignorant of mathematics desires more than the mathematician and non-mathematicians, just as the unjust man desires more than both the just and unjust. Finally, because justice is wisdom and virtue, it is stronger than injustice which is ignorance.
Socrates also notes that the unjust are incapable of common action. A group of thieves must behave justly towards one another if they wish to conspire. If they are truly unjust, then they would inflict evil upon one another, and would not be able to work towards a common cause. Injustice is even more fatal in one individual. Injustice renders an individual incapable of any action because of the internal disorder.
Finally, Socrates concludes that everything has an end and an excellence. The end of the eye is sight, the end of the ear is hearing, and the end of the soul is happiness. If an eye’s particular excellence deteriorates, then it will not be capable of achieving its particular end. Accordingly, if the soul’s excellence, which is justice, deteriorates, then it will not be capable of attaining its end, which is happiness.
Socrates concludes Book I by acknowledging that he has not adequately described the true nature of justice, but rather has only identified a few superficial attributes and consequences of behaving justly.