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Plato and the Theme of Justice in His Play 'the Republic'

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Plato �The Republic’

By N.Sutton

A Bit about Plato Himself...

Plato (Greek: О О»Ðž¬ÐŸ„П‰ÐžÐ..., PlÐ"ÐŽtÐ*ÐŒn, "wide, broad-browed") (428/427 BC вЂ" 348/347 BC), was a Classical Greek philosopher, who together with his teacher, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, helped to lay the philosophical foundations of Western culture. Plato was also a mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world. Plato was originally a student of Socrates, and was as much influenced by his thinking as by what he saw as his teacher's unjust death.

The exact birth date of Plato is unknown. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars estimate that he was born in Athens or Aegina between 429 and 423 BC. His father was Ariston. According to a disputed tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius, Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus. Plato's mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon. Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war (404-403 b.c.e.). Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter Potone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of his philosophical Academy). According to the Republic, Adeimantus and Glaucon were older than Plato. Nevertheless, in his Memorabilia, Xenophon presents Glaucon as younger than Plato. (Taken from Wikipedia)

�The Republic’

The Republic is a Socratic dialogue by Plato, written approximately 360 BC. It is one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory, and perhaps Plato's best known work, in which he proposes an eternal universe, which is similar to Aristotelianism, yet Platoism differs in the fact that it actively identifies the body with the soul, and it describes the idea as prior to the matter. This soon became the basis of the philosophy of the Latin Christian Churches of the time, due to the support of the creationist theory. So soon, like the pagans before them, they understood Platonic forms to be the thoughts of God. Although in this piece of writing i will primarily focus on the theme of justice in this piece of writing.

Definition of justice in �The Republic’

Justice ultimately becomes, in Book IV, the action of doing what one ought to do, or of doing what one does best, according to one's class within society. A just society is one in which the organization of the polis, or city-state, mirrors the organization of the tri-partite soul. Thus the three classes in the Athenian polis each correspond to a part of the soul, as the philosophers correspond to the rational part of the soul, the guardians correspond to the passionate part of the soul, and the working-class corresponds to the irrational part of the soul. Thus, for example, a shoe maker could only unjustly act as a guardian or a philosopher - doing anything but making shoes would, for the shoe maker, cause disharmony within society and bar it from mirroring the soul. The three classes, according to their engagement in their particular corresponding part of the soul, thus each have their corresponding proper virtue, as the philosophers have wisdom, the guardians have courage, and the working-class has moderation. However, this determination of virtue is only settled within a conversational narrative of various other proposals for defining virtue.

In the first book, two definitions of justice are proposed but deemed inadequate. Returning debts owed, and helping friends while harming enemies are commonsense definitions of justice that, Socrates shows, are inadequate in exceptional situations, and thus lack rigidity demanded of a definition. Yet he does not completely reject them for each expresses a common sense notion of justice which Socrates will incorporate into his discussion of the just regime in books II through V.

At the end of Book I, Socrates agrees with Polemarchus that justice includes helping friends, but says the just man would never do harm to anybody. Thrasymachus believes that Socrates has done the men present an injustice by saying this and attacks his character and reputation in front of the group; partly because he suspects that Socrates himself does not even believe harming enemies is unjust. Thrasymachus gives his understanding of justice as "what is good for the stronger", meaning those in power over the city. Socrates finds this definition unclear and begins to question Thrasymachus. In Thrasymachus’ view, the rulers are the source of justice in every city, and their laws are just by his definition since, presumably, they enact those laws to benefit themselves. Socrates then asks whether the ruler who makes a mistake by making a law that lessens their well-being, is still a ruler according to that definition. Thrasymachus agrees that no true ruler would make such an error. This agreement allows Socrates to undermine Thrasymachus' strict definition of justice by comparing rulers to people of various professions. Thrasymachus consents to Socrates' assertion that an artist is someone who does his job well, and is a knower of some art, which allows him to complete the job well. In so doing Socrates gets Thrasymachus to admit that rulers who enact a law that does not benefit them firstly, are in the precise sense not rulers. Thrasymachus gives up, and is silent from then on. Socrates has trapped Thrasymachus into admitting the strong man who makes a mistake is not the strong man in the precise sense, and that some type of knowledge is required to rule perfectly. However, it is far from a satisfactory definition of justice.

At the beginning of Book II, Plato's two brothers challenge Socrates to define justice in the man, and unlike the rather short and simple definitions offered in Book I, their views of justice are presented in two independent speeches. Glaucon's speech reprises Thrasymachus' idea of justice; it starts with the legend of Gyges who discovered a ring that gave him the power to become invisible. Glaucon uses this story to argue that no man would be just if he had the opportunity of doing injustice with impunity. With the power to become invisible, Gyges is able to enter the royal court unobserved,

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