Introduction to Plato's Republic

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Political Theory t Week 3: September 29th, 2010
Book I t dramatic setting, town of Pyraeus, city on outskirts of Athens, end of religious festival
Socrates t wise man, friend to the old, someone whose company is sought out by the young
Cephalus t preoccupied with sense of duty to the gods
Polymarchus t friendship and personal loyalties are of paramount importance
Glaucon t ]voo]PvÇ}µvPuvUWo}[}ZU]]Uo]l}}À}]À
Thrasymachus t example of the Sophists, teachers of speech, basics of political influence hinged on
ability to speak well, taught young people the art of speaking
Introduction to themes of book:
Book I tells us to acknowledge justice as a good (from Greek word dike t justice in a much broader
sense: righteousness or goodness)
- Has us thinking about the right sphere to thinking about justice
- Implicit acknowledgement that in order to be fully just must be able to give a full account of
o Knowing justice is to give a full, consistent, coherent account of what justice is
- The defender of one particular world view, paying your debts to men and the gods, telling the
o Fulfilling your duties and obligations as determined by human and religious laws
 Laws of commerce (pay your debts), laws of religion (pay your duties to the
- Represents an understanding of justice determined by rules and procedures
o Just when do what the authority tells us and by respecting conventions
- Has lack of theoretical reflection, can give no real full account of why he does what he does in
any convincing way
- Socrates suggests that his view has major defects
o Stephanos notation (331c)
o Socrates gives example of one who has given weapons to a friend who then goes insane,
to return a weapon to an insane friend would not be just
 Objects to always repaying your debts
 Justice not always served by procedures and laws
x Gap between demands of justice itself and rules established to promote
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o Fundamental point made by Socrates, cannot define true justice
in terms of a rule, even by a universal level
 Classic example: Is it ever right to lie?
 Nor can rules tell us how rules are to be applied and
when rules are to be applied
Second View t Polymarchus:
- Gives alternative account of justice
o A question of good will, doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies
o Central question is one of loyalties
o Not rule-bound as Cephalus had stated it
o Sometimes rules should be broken in the interest of maintaining loyalties
o Maintaining good relations with those who you deem to be good
- Problem: we all can be deceived
o People we trust may be dishonest, because perceptions are not always correct, judge of
human character is not always correct, may in the long term be serving the interests of
- Second objection: question of proper distribu]}v}(Ávv(]v[iµ]v
relation to the quality of the people involved but also to a broader whole or a deeper good
o Need for more impartial understanding, a way of judging the good that is beyond our
own perception of character and our own particular relations in the world
o Justice can never be wrong in the way that following personal rules or personal
allegiances can be
o /(Áv[µµovv[µ}]v]}vUÁZPµ]vM
- 336b, the potential tyrant, defends an understanding of justice or injustice that serves the
person who is an abuser of power
o Might also suggest that his character is one who is more devoted to a sense of honour,
not completely devoid of some sense of justice
o /lÇ^}[]µ]}ns
o Wants the truth to be known, wants to tell it like it is, attachment to the truth, allied
with a need to show his philosophical advantage, outdoing Socrates
- W}µ}v]]}vµ}À]}Á(µoZoovPP]v^}[µu]}v
- 338c, defines justice as the advantage of the stronger
o First position: a form of might is right argument, a fully relativistic understanding of
 The claims of power, those who are in power and what the desire, becomes
sanctified and legitimated and these become what justice is by virtue of the
authority that is invested in these rules
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 States make laws according to their own interest and make them into justice by
virtue of their superior power
 Position that whatever the powerful states of the world declares it to be
x Really no µZZ]vPiµ]Uo]À}ÁZ}À[]v}Á
- Second position: there is such a thing as justice but we might say that it is the opium of the
o Justice is something that keeps the people down, people follow it because they tZ]vl][
a good thing but it actually just keeps them differential and keeps them from getting in
the way of powerful people
- In reality of social and political life, basic principle is that of self-interest, interests of those in
o Things are labelled just or unjust in order to further the interests of the powerful
- One might see Socrates responses as being inadequate even though he came out on top at the
end of Book I
o Socrates himself expresses dissatisfaction with the direction of the dialogue
o Even other participants are dissatisfied
o Rest of Republic is a better articulation of a response to Thrasymachus
- Thrasymachus is important individual as has commitment to the truth, shame with regards to
o He is representative of class of Sophists, through the failing of Thrasymachus, experts at
democratic dialogue get tripped up on themselves, Plato is showing more than just the
pitfalls of identifying justice, making a jab at the pretentions of democracy, democratic
principles not founded on }o]µvv]vP}(ÁZ]]vPol}µUZv[
give a consistent coherent account of what he means, if he is teaching the citizens of
Athens, what does this mean about the state of citizenship in Athens?
- Enter Book II with rearticulation of Thrasymachan opinion
o Whereas Thrasymachus was denied opportunity to structure argument as he wanted to,
Glaucon and Ademachus are able to
- 'oµ}vlZ}oo}(À]o[À}Ul}(iµ]]vu}(]}µÁP]v}
o Most people if pushed to say exactly what they believe will suggest that justice is just
respectability it brings
 Socrates denies that and says it is something we have to pursue for its own good
and its own sake separate from what it brings
 Ring of Gyges account
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