CPHL 101 – Jan 24, 2011 – Republic, Book I cont’d/Book II
Book I cont’d: Thrasymachus: Might is right
T proposes his own definition: morality = the advantage of the stronger party.
1. The stronger party = the party with political power (i.e., the power to make and enforce laws).
2. The laws define what is moral in a given society.
3. The laws serve the interests of the stronger party.
4. What is moral = whatever is in the interests of a given society.
What exactly is T doing? Maybe this is meant as a cynical unmasking of high sounding talk about
Alternatively, he might be a kind of Nietzschean, inverting traditional values. On this view, he is
appropriating the traditional concept of morality and applying it to something radically different – just
those things that would traditionally be considered immoral.
* There may be two different things under discussion here. On the one hand, there’s actual justice: the
class of institutions or practices that are called “just”. Think of “the Canadian justice system”. On the
other hand, there’s the concept or ideal of justice. (At least, one might argue that there is such a thing.
Certainly Plato or Socrates would say that there is – or just assume that there is.)
Is T merely offering a definition of actual justice (i.e., the things that are called “just”)? If so, it’s not
clear that his definition is relevant to the discussion. Everyone would agree that actual justice falls short
of ideal justice. What’s in question here, one might argue, is the nature of the ideal.
Is T saying or assuming that actual justice = ideal justice? If so, that’s a controversial assumption that
needs an argument.
* Notice the difference between meaning and reference. Facts about what people call “morality” or
“justice” may not be enough to establish the nature of justice, i.e., the concept they have in mind. And
they may even be wrong about what their concept refers to. (Think of the case of pre-scientific uses of the
Maybe T is saying that there’s actual justice, but no ideal justice. But that too would need an additional