Justice as the Advantage of the Stronger: Thrasymachus’s Ideas (plato’s the republic) vs. Charles Darwin’s Principle of Natural Selection: a Comparison Essay
Updated: Jul 23rd, 2019
It is hard to deny that power often goes hand in hand to strength. Though the ability to take control over the rest of the people and even entire states often depends on such qualities as diplomacy, intellect and strategic thinking, brutal force often actually turns out the pivoting point in the argument between opponents. The given phenomenon spawns a number of ethical questions concerning the situation when the strongest wins only owing to his/her single asset, that is, the ability to use strength to prove the point.
Understandably enough, the concept of force as the ultimate argument in a discussion has been a very low, if not the lowest, means of solving a conflict. For example, in his Magnum Opus, The Republic, Plato deliberately introduces a character that will represent the thoughtless, unreasonable, mean-spirited idea that the power belongs to the strongest and be opposed to Plato’s own concept of whose hands the power is supposed to be in.
However, with the appearance of Darwin’s famous work, The descent of man, the idea of the domination of the strong ones suddenly gained sense; moreover, it can be argued that in a way, Darwin’s work justifies the idea of power being given to the strongest ones.
Hence, Darwin’s work becomes a touch controversial. However, despite the seeming similarity between Thrasymachus’s point of view and Darwin’s concept of the strongest as the most possible survivors and leaders, there is a mile of small differences that sets Darwin’s idea of the strongest as the ones with the greatest amount of assets and Thrasymachus’s concept of the strongest is the beholder of brutal force thousand miles apart.
On the one hand, it seems that there are a number of similarities between what Darwin offers as the basic principle of survival and what Thrasymachus claims to be the key principle of existence.
Indeed, both philosophers believe that the strongest species have the greatest opportunities not only to stay alive, but also to reach the top of the social hierarchy within a specified group. Darwin insists that the principle “only the strong survive” works within a group of any living creatures, not only people, and is the basic rule of evolution that allows only the most powerful creatures who, therefore, have the opportunities to produce the healthiest posterity.
As Darwin puts it, “The stature and strength of the men of a tribe are likewise of some importance for its success, and these depend in part on the nature and amount of the food which can be obtained” (Darwin). Therefore, Darwin stresses that a man’s strength, as well as his behavior and manner of conduct affect his social status and shape people’s attitude towards him.
Thrasymachus, in his turn, argues that strength alone can be the source of everlasting power over the rest of the people: “My answer is that might is right, justice is the interest of the stronger” (Plato). Therefore, it is clear that Thrasymachus claims justice to be the privilege of the strongest. It is noteworthy, however, that both Darwin and Thrasymachus use the notion of strength in their argument. However, the use of the same word is as far as the similarities between the two arguments go.
To start with, it is necessary to explain that by claiming justice to be the prerogative of the strongest, Thrasymachus means that the beholders of the power choose what principles the system of justice must be guided by. According to Thrasymachus, the idea of the survival principle presupposes that those who managed to live through the changes of the environment will also succeed in playing the role of a community leader and establishing the system of justice: “An evil soul must necessarily be an evil ruler” (Plato).
An argument in favor of the difference between Darwin’s and Thrasymachus’s statement is that Darwin does not actually claim that the strongest necessarily possesses the advantage of justice. According to Darwin, the stronger is capable of getting used to the established system of justice rather than of creating his/her own set of rules: “With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health” (Darwin).
Thrasymachus, in his turn, claims that the strongest also establishes the laws and sets the principles of judgment: “Justice is a man’s own loss and another’s gain” (Plato). Though both authors might seem to have a point depending on the perspective, it is still necessary to admit that in terms of intrinsic judgment system, Thrasymachus’s idea does not hold any water.
While Darwin explains that both the strongest and the weakest exist in the system of principles of the universal justice, Thrasymachus constitutes the concept of universal justice with the situational one, i.e., the principles that is not considered the ultimate manifestation of justice, but the ones that satisfy the demands of the beholders of the power. That said, it is hardly possible to consider Darwin’s and Thrasymachus’s arguments as equal ones; they simply concern different ideas of what justice is, not what power is.
The last, but definitely not the least comment to the famous argument concerns the very concept of strength and the qualities that Darwin and Thrasymahcus understand as strength. In Darwin’s opinion, strength incorporates both physical force and intellectual and moral advantage.
It is significant that Darwin stated at the very beginning of the chapter that strength in his interpretation involved not only the ability to destroy or threaten the enemy physically, though it was also an important aspect of becoming a leader, but also being intelligent, able to think fast and adapt to the changing environment. Only joined together, these assets could be viewed as strength, while physical force alone did not guarantee the chance to survive, especially in the primitive setting.
That said, it is clear that the key difference between Darwin’s and Thrasymachus’s point of view is that Darwin does not join the idea of justice to the principle of natural selection, which is “the survival of the fittest” (Darwin), not the ones of the highest morals. While stressing that natural selection is reasonable and by all means predictable, Darwin, thus, explains that it is not always fair.
In fact, the very fundament of modern justice is completely opposite to the concept of natural selection – in people’s society, the strongest ought to help the weakest, thus displaying the ability to empathize, which is the core difference between social animals, which people are, and non-social ones: “It is certain that associated animals have a feeling of love for each other, which is not felt by non-social adult animals” (Darwin).
To Thrasymachus’s credit, one must admit that his point is quite clear and reasonable as well. Thrasymachus does not argue that the idea of justice being in the hands of the strong ones is how the justice system should be established; however, this is how the justice system works in the real world. Admitting that the given state of affairs is rather unfortunate, Thrasymachus still adopts a more realistic point of view on the system of justice.
Therefore, Darwin’s supposition concerning the strongest species as the ones that will most likely survive adapting to the changing environment and Thrasymachus’s idea of the strongest as the one who will prove his/her point with his/her force instead of developing other qualities, in fact, have very little in common.
Though both works introduce the concept of the strongest as the most capable of reaching for the top, the authors obviously use the given term with a slight difference in meaning. While Thrasymachus makes it clear that force is the ultimate argument in any discussion, Darwin states that “the strongest” does not necessarily mean “the one whose muscle system is the best developed.”
On the contrary, Darwin seems to incorporate a variety of qualities into the image of the strongest representative of the species, meaning “the most capable of adapting” by saying “the strongest.” Hence, it can hardly be regarded appropriate to put Thrasymachus’s ideas on the same level with those of Darwin. While both opinions have the right to exist, it would be wrong to claim that Darwin’s concept of the strongest has much to do with the one suggested by Thrasymachus.
Darwin, Charles. “Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals.” The Descent of Man. Ed. Charles Darwin. 1871. Web.
Darvin, Charles. On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Facilities. The Descent of Man. Ed. Charles Darwin. 1871. Web.
Plato. The Republic. 380 B. C. Web.
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