Republic Essay

This essay has a total of 2656 words and 15 pages.

republic



THE DIALOGUE
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BOOK I: WHAT ARE THE CURRENT VIEWS ON JUSTICE?
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This introductory book raises the fundamental issue of the entire
work: What is justice? Four views of justice are examined: 1.
justice is speaking the truth and paying one's debts; 2. justice is
helping one's friends and harming one's enemies; 3. justice is to
the advantage of the stronger; and 4. injustice is more profitable
than justice.
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SPEAKING THE TRUTH AND PAYING ONE'S DEBTS (327a-331d)

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Many Athenians are celebrating the introduction of a new goddess
in Piraeus, the port of Athens and the center of the democratic party.
Socrates and Glaucon are returning from the festivities when
Polemarchus sees them. He insists that they come to his home for
some conversation with his friends. Socrates is persuaded. He
cannot, it seems, resist this opportunity to discuss philosophy with a
group of noble youth.

Polemarchus' father, Cephalus, is in the house. Socrates sees how
old he has grown and wants to know whether old age is a difficult part
of life. Cephalus says that he is glad to have escaped the "mad
masters" of bodily pleasures and is now content. But he quickly adds
that if he had not cultivated a good character he would be unable to
enjoy old age. Then Socrates poses several rather crude questions:
Do you think you endure old age easily because you are wealthy? Is
acquiring wealth really the important thing in life? Socrates, who
is penniless by choice, implies that men like Cephalus often forget
about the conditions that make their kind of life possible.

Cephalus admits that his wealth makes it possible for him to live
a well-balanced life. He does not have to deceive others, nor is he in
debt to any god or any man. Socrates seizes on these remarks to talk
about justice. He asks Cephalus if he means that justice- good conduct
in relation to others- is simply telling the truth and honoring
one's debts. This is precisely what Cephalus, the successful
businessman, means. Because of his wealth he can die contented, his
duties fulfilled. Thus, for Cephalus justice is a matter of
self-interest, but also his view agrees with the laws of the city
and with the traditional religious beliefs.

Socrates' objection to Cephalus is quite simple: Aren't there
times when one should not tell the truth or repay debts? For
example, if a man loaned you a gun, then became insanely jealous and
asked you to return his gun so he could shoot his wife, should you
return his weapon? Because Cephalus' definition of justice does not
hold up in all cases, Socrates says that it is not a good definition.

Suddenly Cephalus decides that he must leave; there are yet more
debts to be paid to the gods. He refuses to be drawn into a
philosophical discussion, one that might threaten his cherished
beliefs.

Cephalus' definition, like the ones of Polemarchus and
Thrasymachus that follow, is found wanting. However, from each of
the definitions presented in Book I something is learned that will
be reflected in the principle of justice Socrates develops later.
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HELPING FRIENDS AND HARMING ENEMIES (331e-336a)

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After Cephalus leaves, the discussion becomes more serious and
more complex. Polemarchus carries on his father's argument. But unlike
his father he is not concerned with the role of justice in religious
matters. Instead, Polemarchus relies on authorities other than the
gods or the laws. He borrows a maxim from the poet Simonides-
justice is "giving every man his due." Socrates confesses that he
doesn't know what the poet means, and asks, "What is it that is due,
and to whom?" He knows, for instance, what the functions of such
crafts as medicine and cooking are. But what is the function of the
craft of justice, if indeed it is a craft? Polemarchus says that
justice is benefiting one's friends and harming one's enemies. At
last, Socrates has a clear statement that he can systematically
examine.

Socrates' examination of Polemarchus' definition can be divided into
three parts: 1. a look at how one can benefit friends (332d-334b);
2. an attempt to define "friend" (334c-335b); and 3. a criticism of
the view that a just man can do harm (335c-336a).

-

1. Socrates asks Polemarchus to explain in what ways justice can
be helpful and harmful. Through a series of leading questions- Is
the just man more useful than the farmer in producing crops? Than
the builder in constructing houses? and so on- Socrates leads
Polemarchus to the absurd conclusion that justice must be useless. And
Socrates pursues this line of reasoning to yet another absurdity.
Because justice, according to Polemarchus' definition, appears to be


*continued in part 2*
*continued from part 1*

the craft of keepers of things not in use (money and property), and
because good keepers are in a position to be the best thieves, justice
appears to be the craft of thieving, to the benefit, of course, of
one's friends.

2. Polemarchus protests. Socrates concedes that maybe his problem is
not knowing what Polemarchus means by "friend." Polemarchus responds
that friends are those who we think are good and helpful to us. But,
Socrates asks, can we be mistaken about who our friends, and
enemies, are? If so, we may be helping or harming the wrong people,
which could not be justice. A contradiction is reached: justice can
both help and harm friends. Polemarchus is forced to be more precise
about what he means by "friend." He says "that the man who both
seems and is good is the friend.

3. At this point, Socrates focuses on the crucial aspect of his
quarrel with Polemarchus' definition. Surely it cannot be the function
of justice to harm anyone at all. Don't we consider justice to be an
excellence of character? And no excellence- whether that of horses
or humans- is ever achieved through destructive means. The function of
justice is to improve human nature. Whatever else it may be, justice
is a form of goodness that, by its very nature, cannot participate
in anything injurious to someone's character.
-
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NOTE: The method of argumentation in this section is worth noting
carefully. Socrates' discussion with Polemarchus is a superb example
of what is sometimes called the Socratic method. Said to be invented
by Socrates (and, obviously, named for him), the Socratic method is
a philosophical technique for discovering knowledge through question
and answer. Socrates, claiming to have no knowledge, encourages others
to answer a general question. Here the question is "What is
justice?" He then proceeds to show the inadequacies of each definition
by producing counterexamples, that is, by producing examples that
expose the biased nature or the narrow scope or the outright falsity
of a definition. These exercises in thinking are not entirely
negative. The ultimate goal is always to discover that which is
true, good, universal.
----------------------------------------------------------------
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THE ADVANTAGE OF THE STRONGER (336b-347e)
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Thrasymachus roars "like a wild beast" into the discussion. He
angrily accuses Socrates and Polemarchus of talking rubbish- all
this question and answer business! He wants to know why Socrates
does not just say what he means. Thrasymachus, a sophist, likes to
give long speeches without being interrupted by questions. Any other
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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