POLB70 Lecture 2: Plato
1. Last week review:
- 3 unifying themes in this course: political community, political leadership, justice and law.
- Law is always to be derived from justice.
- In Greek world: there is a separating of nature and convention in Greek philosophy
- The sophists: specialized teachers in various subjects in political life, more specially red-
- Socrates: first great philosopher of humanity.- later condemned to death by his citizens-
thought threat-impiety and corruption of youth.
2. Book I of the Republic Base Info
- Plato 421-470 BC, height of Peloponnisan war, political questions on all minds. I.e.
- The Republic represents his mature thinking,
- Offers first systemic answers to things such as justice etc.
- Originally called politeia “well ordered or well governed” city
- Focuses on public needs, not private needs.
- During renaissance-new names-on the heavenly city
- Seen as lawful government-not lawless
- Very wide-ranging work, not just about politics-but offers info about philosophy, math,
geo, history too.
- Ideal city that embodies the virtue of justice
- Critical work-this city never existed-but implied that existing were defective, degenerate
3. Book I of the Republic
- Dialogue form-excellent example of the elenchus or the socratic/elenctic method-
Socrates is portrayed at Plato’s spokesperson
- Thrasymachus: well known sophists
- Glaucoma: Plato’s bro
- Adamants: Plato’s bro
- Polemarchus: Plato’s friend
- Cephalic: Pole’s dad
- Subject matter: not obvious that it is political work, but all different areas of philosophy at
What is Justice?
- Cephalic-most intriguing figure of the republic, he disappears only after a few words
- I.329c-d: old age is like a release from a “savage and tyrannical master” it brings “free-
dom from bodily desires” - I.330b: we know that cephalic is wealthy, a money-maker
- I.330c: he questions why material wealth is valuable.
- I.330d-e: fear of death and possibility of an afterlife compels him to evaluate his own life,
“Whether he has been unjust to anyone”
- Capfuls’worry about justice/injustice leads Socrates to ask “what is justice”
- Some possible definitions
- 1. I.331c: speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has occurred
- 2. I331e: Simoncides definition: to give to each what is owned to him
- 3. 1.332d: justice as a craft (techne)-treating friends well and treating enemies bad-
- Socrates only tells us what justice is NOT.
The Challenge of Thrasymachus
- Accuses Socrates of trickery, deceit-something is wrong with Socrates method of elenctic
- Because Socrates simply relies uncritically on our own intuitive beliefs.
- People’s beliefs may be programmed into us by those more powerful than us. Beliefs may
be manufactured, misleading.
- Socratic method is incomplete-it doesn't help us arrive at truth. It simply helps us identify
- Socrates doesn't get to the heart as to why he have such a belief- i.e. Our experience.
- Thrasymachus’definition of Justice
- I.338c: “I say justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger”
- I.338e-39a: “justice is the same in all cities, the advantage of the established rule.”
Some observation about this definition
1. No such thing as an unjust law, all laws are lawful
2. No independent standard to evaluate or measure justice-law can be reasoned through,
however thras says this doesn't matter.
3. Critical assumption rulers always favor their own private interests, rather than the inter-
ests of those who are ruled.
Plato strikes back at claim (3): this very idea of ruling involves that op-
posite relation: rulers must favor the advantage of those who are ruled,
not those of the rulers.
- Plato’s craft-analogy
- Ruling is a kind of craft
- Craftsmen are not motivated by self-interest; they must seek the good
of those over whom they rule, not of their own self interest. - I.342e: “no one is any position of rule, insofar as he is a ruler, seeks or
orders what is advantageous to himself, but what is advantageous to
Thras still unconvinced. Two objections to Plato
- Is injustice more profitable that justice? (I.343b ff..)
- Why not lead a life of injustice? Isn't justice simply ‘high minded simplicity’?
- Justice is a kind of virtue (I.349a)
- Is justice a virtue? (I.349a)
- Certain virtues are necessary for a thing to perform its ‘function.'Asoul must have certain
virtues in order to perform the functions of a soul. Since justice is one of these virtues, jus-
tice is necessary for the soul to live well and be happy.
- I353e-354a: a just person is a happy person.
Why book I is ultimately a failure
- I.354c: the result of this discussion is that I know nothing. For what I don't know what
justice is, ill hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has
it is happy or unhappy’
- Is there any way to know? Plato thinks yes.
4. Book II of the Republic
- In book II, Plato’s voice now begins to come through (although Socrates is still the
spokesperson). The new method is called “Dialectic.” Unlike Socrates, Plato does think
truth can be established.
- Justice is a good.But what kind of a good is it?
- 3 possibilities (II. 357-358)
- 1.An inartistic good-something valued in itself, for its own sake-regardless of the
- 2.An instrumental good-something valued not for itself, but only for its outcome
that result from it-physical training, for example.
- 3. Combination of 1 and 2.
- Plato’s claim: justice is a good of type 3. Justice is valuable for it’s rewards, but it is also
valuable in itself.
- But to prove this, we need to know what justice is.
Gyges Ring (II. 359-60)
- Power of invisibility-you could get away with alot of things
- So if you had that power, why not steal and commit various criminal acts.