A circle is a perfectly round geometric figure.
-True or False?
2 + 2 = 4
-True or False?
It is unjust to punish an innocent human.
-True or False?
With certainty we can describe the first two statements
as being analytically true or objectively true. An objective truth is a truth about the world, about the
way the world is regardless of what we may believe
-But what about the third statement?
PLATO (427 BCE – 348 BCE)
Metaphysics: The name for the branch of philosophy that
reflects upon fundamental reality and asks, what are its
characteristics, what is the nature of reality?
Plato’s metaphysics puts forth the idea of two realities
that can be explained as the “divided line.”
World of Forms
World of Sense Experience World of Sense Experience: The reality of physical
objects in space and time, which are objects of the senses,
which are in flux, and growing, decaying, and changing.
This world can be described as an impoverished and
imperfect world, a world of shadows.
World of Forms: Another kind of reality, a reality not
subject to change, a reality of forms, a world of perfection
which are objects of thought like the idea of a circle, and
are not in space and time. The “forms” are eternal.
It can be added that the form of something like “the chair”
would be relatively low and trivial, while the forms of
“Law,” “Good”, “Justice” or “the Just Society” would be
near the top and very important. A circle is a perfectly round geometric figure.
According to Plato, this is an attempt to represent a circle.
It is a fairly close approximation of a circle, but it is not a
genuine circle. We cannot see true circularity we can only
know it conceptually, with our reason.
2 + 2 = 4
This mathematical statement is not invented, in the eyes
of Plato, rather it is discovered. Again, we know the truth
of this statement via our reason.
It is unjust to punish an innocent human.
This statement would relate to the form of justice or the
just society and it too, according to Plato, can be
discovered via our reason. The Figure of Socrates
Socrates was Plato’s mentor, teacher and friend.
Socrates was found guilty by the state of Athens for
impiety and corrupting the youth and, as a consequence,
he was executed.
Socrates was known as a gadfly, as was constantly
challenging the beliefs that people held.
Socrates’ execution led Plato to contemplate many
questions, with one being: What kind of society was it
that could not tolerate a Socrates in its midst?
In the eyes of Plato, Socrates was probably the closest
thing to a Guardian or a Philosopher-King that society
had ever witnessed.
The state or city of Athens that executed Socrates
committed a terrible mistake, in the eyes of Plato.
Because Plato thought that something was nefariously
wrong with this state, he set out to provide a blueprint for
a just or perfect society, which is the focus of his highly
influential work, the Republic. Plato’s Republic
Its main theme: the ideal or perfect state or society.
Its prime concern: Justice.
On one hand, justice relates to a correct ordering of
society that is fair and decent.
On the other hand, justice also relates to the quality within
a person, the person who has a well-ordered soul.
The Republic opens with a festival about to take place,
and Socrates heading into town to see how it is shaping
He runs into some acquaintances of his, one of whom is
Cephalus, an elderly man who is at the point in life that
the poet’s call old age’s threshold. In other words, he
doesn’t have much time left. Socrates asks Cephalus about what he has to say about
being very old, and Cephalus responds that he and group
of older men often get together to discuss their old age.
What do they discuss?
They wax nostalgically about their youth: They recall
fondly the drinking parties they once had, the sex they
had, and the feasts they participated in, and so on.
In other words, they yearn for the days of their long-lost
Essentially, Cephalus admits that old age is not that bad.
Socrates tells Cephalus that many people would say that
he can say that old age isn’t that bad because he can take
comfort in his wealth.
Cephalus admits that there’s some truth to such a claim,
as one of the main consequences of being wealthy is that
it allows one to live an honest life and not have to cheat
and deceive. Also, one can repay any debts one may have
Cephalus adds that one sleeps well at night in knowing
that one has not been unjust in one’s lifetime. On the other hand, if one is old and comes to the
realization that one has committed many injustices in
one’s life, one awakes from sleep with terror, according to
With the mention of the likes of “unjust” and “injustice,”
Socrates ears perk up.
First definition of justice, courtesy the individual
Cephalus: Speaking the truth and paying whatever
debts one has incurred. (331c)
Socrates finds this definition to be problematic.
Second definition of justice from Polemarchus: It is just
to harm unjust people and benefit just ones. (334d10)
Another way to put this second definition is like this: It is
just to harm one’s enemies and unjust to harm one’s
This definition is also problematic, in the eyes of
The third definition of justice comes from the Sophist
philosopher, Thrasymachus. The Sophists, for a fee, taught the art of rhetoric: the art of
winning an argument.
Sophist: Person who uses clever but invalid arguments.
Thrasymachus elaborates upon justice as this:
Justice is, the same in all cities: what is advantageous
for the established rule. Since the established rule is
surely stronger, anyone who does the rational
calculation correctly will conclude that the just is the
same everywhere – what is advantageous for the
Justice, according to Thrasymachus, is nothing other than
what is advantageous for the stronger. Any type of social
formation is characterized by the fact that those in power,
the rulers, simply set the rules for others to follow. And
these rules are nothing other than what is in the interests
of those who are in power.
As an aside: A similar view of Thrasymachus’ idea of
justice (or morality reappears) in the 19 century in the
thought of Karl Marx.
The good life for Thrasymachus entails obeying the laws
of the state when you have to, but also breaking the laws
when you know you can get away with it. Thrasymachus puts forth a convincing argument that
Socrates attempts to refute, but not so convincingly.
Theme: Justice and why be good?
The individual Glaucon is not impressed by Socrates’
argument against Thrasymachus, and claims that he thinks
Socrates charmed Thrasymachus like a snake.
Glaucon: Three categories of what makes something good
1. Things which are good for their own sake and not their
consequences (intrinsic value).
2. Things which we value both for their own sake and for
3. Those burdensome things that we value only for their
consequences (instrumental value).
Socrates describes justice as belonging to the finest
category, the second one. Glaucon observes that the majority believe that justice
falls into the third category.
To make his point Glaucon provides the example of a ring
with magical powers, the ring of Gyges.
This example, provided by Glaucon, is intended to
demonstrate that if we could do whatever we wanted, we
Left unchecked, humans are cruel and selfish.
Perhaps left unchecked, we could describe humans as
being psychological egoists.
Psychological egoism is the position that people in fact
act only in their own interests.
(As an aside: This idea of Glaucon’s resurfaces in the
thought of the 17 century thinker Thomas Hobbes.)
The character Adeimantus challenges Socrates to show
how justice is desirable for its own sake, to explain why
justice has intrinsic value. (367d)
Recall, near the beginning of Book 2, Socrates described
justice as belonging to the second category of what makes something good: Justice is something which we value
both for its own sake and for its consequences.
By placing justice in the second category, Socrates is
arguing that it has both intrinsic and instrumental value.
Intrinsic value – something has intrinsic value when it is
valuable for its own sake and not merely as a means to
Instrumental value – something has instrumental value
when it is valuable as a means to some other end.
Note: Adeimantus is challenging Socrates to show how
justice on its own has intrinsic value. In other words, why
is justice valuable for its own sake?
Socrates answer to Adeimantus’ challenge
Socrates approaches this challenge by noting that there is
a sense justice that belongs to a single man and one that
belongs to a whole city (or state). (368e)
He mulls over the possibility of which sense of justice
will it be easier to learn about first, and observes that
justice as it pertains to the city should be easier to initially
discern since a city is larger than a single man. First, Socrates provides a speculative evolutionary
account of the city.
As envisioned by Socrates, a city is a necessary creation
that arises out of n