Is Justice Good in Itself? Socrates, Thrasymachus and Glaucon
The true definition of Justice in the eyes of a philosopher has been in question for many many years. The meaning of Justice has been interpreted in many different ways by these philosophers and the interpretation depends on the perspective or point of view by the person themselves. The true definition or literal definition of Justice is behaving based on what is morally right and morally fair, but many discussions upon what it truly means took place throughout history by many different philosophers.
In Ancient Greek philosophy, Socrates was asked the question of is Justice Good in Itself and not just good for the sake of other things, like ones’ reputation or avoiding punishment. How he demonstrated and explained his case for this question is something that is extremely important that he left behind in his legacy as one of the most profound Ancient Greek philosophers and one of the most famous and talked about philosophers by people today. There is in the Novel Republic of Plato by Allan Bloom many discussions between Socrates, Glaucon and Thrasymachus regarding the idea of Justice and if it is good in itself.
The argument of Justice is profound when reading Book I of the Republic of Plato in regards to what Thrasymachus who was a Sophist. What he had to say was important into looking into the arguments between himself and Socrates on the ideas of justice.. The literal definition of what a sophist is; a paid teacher of philosophy and rhetoric in ancient Greece, associated in popular thought with moral skepticism and specious reasoning who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments. Thrasymachus is one of the most relevant and most talked about Sophists because of this dialogue with Socrates and Sophists want or need to be persuasive over telling the exact and whole truth. This to some is what may have hindered him in his arguments with Socrates. Thrasymachus states in Book I of The Republic, Now listen. I say that the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger (Plato 15).
He then goes on to say that in every city the same thing is just, the advantage of the established ruling body. It surely is master; so the man who reasons rightly concludes that everywhere justice is the same thing, the advantage of the stronger (Plato 15). What Thrasymachus is arguing here is that justice is only the advantage and rule of the stronger over the weak. When he talks about how in every city the same thing is just, Thrasymachus is saying that the laws put into place by the ruling majority is what predetermines what is just, and that all of these cities almost no matter what type of ruler either democratic or Aristocratic, have many of the same rules or laws put into place. This puts into perspective of what Thrasymachus truly thought Justice or being just was. His belief or ideas were that one must follow the laws or the regulations of the legal precedent put into place by the political elite or in his eyes, the stronger always and no matter what. This brings into question to why someone would believe that the ideas that the political elite or rulers have the divine right in a sense to decide what is just or morally right for all others that live under them.
But what really relates or corresponds with what Thrasymachus stated, is the idea in philosophy that has been argued many times, should the strong rule over the weak? From what he stated in his argument with Socrates here, it is well defined that he does believe in this and makes him a relativist. Later in the Republic of Plato in dialogue 348b, Thrasymachus states that injustice is much more powerful than justice. He also declares that injustice is profitable while justice is not profitable. What he says in these few exchanges between Socrates and himself, show his ideology that he truly believes that injustice will provide someone with an advantage over the just or weak. This also goes along with his belief that an unjust person will be better off when compared to a just person because of the disadvantage of being just. What really resonates after reading these dialogues in Book I, is that Sophists like Thrasymachus believed these ideas of the political elite and rulers determining what is right or just, but truly what is just in his mind is acting in a way or in a manner that will benefit the people who are in power. Now when looking into the response that Socrates gives Thrasymachus in the dialogues of Book I, it is important to realize that Socrates believes justice has no true meaning or definition from a ruling force or political power. He believes that justice is what should be or is in the individuals’ interest to do so instead of the opposite, being unjust. Socrates begins his argument or rebuttal against Thrasymachus with the idea that rulers only rule because of wages and penalties. This goes against what Thrasymachus stated that rulers rule for the good of his people because they are weak and in need of a strong type of leadership.
Socrates states that the good aren’t willing to rule for the sake of money or honorwhen decent men do rulethey enter it as a necessity and because they have no one better than or like themselves to whom to turn it over (Plato 25). What Socrates is saying is that, decent or just men do not put themselves into ruling states because they do not seek the power to dictate what others who are being ruled can or cannot do in their lives or to determine what is just, in Thrasymachus’ mind. Socrates next few points refute the arguments that Thrasymachus had brought forward. Socrates states that a man who is just is more like a wise and good man compared to the unjust man. And that justice is far more powerful than injustice in the sense of things getting done. He then gives the example of how even pirates are sometimes granted the idea of justice. or pirates, or robbers, or any other tribe which has some common unjust enterprise would be able to accomplish anything, it its members acted unjustly towards one another? (Plato 30). In Socrates’ final point against Thrasymachus he believes that the just will live a better life because of justice itself. Justice will provide a better life because in the manner he lives not the outcome of how money he received or political power he had. Because of this point, Thrasymachus and Socrates were able to agree upon this statement at the end of Book I; And the man who lives well and is blessed and happy, and the man who does not is the opposite (Plato 33). Justice is the true power of the human soul and without it, a good life would not be possible for someone.
The argument of Justice continues into Book II of The Republic of Plato. This time it is between Glaucon, Adeimantus and Socrates. Glaucon who was the brother of Plato brought forth the idea of the Ring of Gyges. This is where a shepherd who is caught in a dangerous thunderstorm stumbles across a hollow bronze horse and the large body of someone that had a gold ring on its hand. This shepherd then went to a gathering where he decided to wear the ring and turned it when on his hand. Upon doing so he had realized that he had become invisible to the eyes of the others around him. Once finding out the power of the ring, the shepherd had realized the magnitude of the power he possessed and decided to use it how he had pleased. The shepherd then willingly went on to commit adultery with the king’s wife and then killed the king. After doing so he had taken over rule that the king he had murdered once had the power of. This story is an example of someone who has been just their entire life and is considered just, using the ability given to him by this ring to do unjust actions without consequences. What comes after this act is the question of was it really unjust if no one knew that he had done the unjust act of adultery and murder? In Glaucon’s eyes he believes that people who are given the opportunity to commit unjust acts will do so if there are no given consequences afterwards. He states no one, as it would seem would be so adamant as to stick by justice and bring himself to keep away from what belonged to others and not lay hold of it (Plato 38). This type of statement brings up the question, are all people truly this way? If given the opportunity with no consequences, would even the just think about or even commit an unjust act or crime? But this brings up the ideas of how this relates to other circumstances or situations. If a similar situation were to happen where someone who is a just human being and follows the laws which are provided to them in where they live, was provided an opportunity to break the law that he or she lives in, without the consequences of being seen or getting caught.
Would they then do the unjust crime? Or is this crime not even considered unjust because no one was there to see them or catch them doing the crime? This brings up Glaucon’s point of nobody wanting to be or willing to be just, they are this way because they have to be or are obligated to be that way, and the life of an unjust man is a better life than the just man. This is contradicting to the point that Socrates has made previously in Book II and another important point comes up. Tell me in your opinion a kind of good that we would choose to have not because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake-such as enjoyment and all the other pleasures which are harmless and leave no after effects other than the enjoyment in having them? (Plato 35). This is the point to where Socrates explains how justice is good in itself but not just a means to an end. A means to an end actually means that something is done in order to achieve what come after it, like a reward. Glaucon believes that the reason people do just things or acts is because they will receive benefits or money, he uses the example of doctors getting paid for preforming just acts of medicine or treatment in dialogue 357c in Book II of The Republic. What Socrates argues is that these acts or things are just but it is not the result that comes after doing the act is what makes them just. What makes them just is the good in itself.
The good in itself is the act being preformed for the purpose of the act being preformed not the benefiting result. The act of preforming medical treatment for the purpose of preforming the medical treatment from a doctor, not the benefit of getting paid. The act itself is just and while you may receive a benefit in this case payment after doing so, it does not make in unjust if you did the act for the sake of doing it. That is important because that is what truly differenciates the two arguments. Just because someone receives the benefit doesn’t make it unjust in Socrates eyes, if he truly did the act for doing the just act that is the idea of justice or a just act. While the argument ravaged on between Socrates and Adeimantus afterwards about the two cities and the necessity of lying to enemies, but what is most important is the dialogue between Socrates, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon. For those arguments or dialogues between those philosophers, show the differences in ideas of how Justice is or isn’t good in itself.
The moral standards of what is just or unjust may never be truly answered. One thing that is certain, Socrates, Thrasymachus and Glaucon did not agree upon the basis of justice being good in itself. From the ideas of political authority determining, to the benefiting result and finally doing the act for the sake of doing the just act, their ideas were different from one another. Ethics and justice go hand and hand because of the moral principles that relate to both. Perspective on who had the correct meaning or interpretation on this subject is up to the circumstances and understanding of an individual to decide which of these philosophers they agree with. That is the beauty of philosophy.
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