Justice and Morality in Plato's Republic

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This essay discusses and clarifies a concept that is central to Plato's argument in the Republic — an argument in favour of the transcendent value of justice as a human good; that justice informs and guides moral conduct. Plato's argument implies that justice and morality are intimately interconnected, because the excellence and goodness of human life — the best way for a person to live — is intimately dependent upon and closely interwoven with those 'things that we find desirable in themselves and for their consequences [1]. Hence, we acknowledge that Plato Is moral thesis cannot be interpreted either as a deontological or as a consequentialist argument — or as an act centred or agent centred moral concept. Plato's thesis is informative, in philosophical terms, precisely because it enables us to find new and more fruitful ways of looking at those basic questions concerning justice and morality, and the manner in which they are interrelated [2].

In the Republic Plato endeavours to answer complex questions about justice by introducing a unique account of what justice actually is, and how morally sensitive people are educated and informed about the real nature of justice and morality [3]. Our understanding of justice is more profound if we insist that what really matters is not merely the observance of external demands — normative and conventional moral rules — but the character of the truly just person [4]. Justice and goodness, based upon judgement as the virtue of a decent life, are seen as congruent in the context of a well ordered society.

Plato's fundamental claim, in the Republic, is that justice is so great a good that anyone who completely embraces it is thereby better off, even in the face of the...

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[19] Rep. VI 573d & ibid., p.221-222)

[20] ibid., p.327

[21] Nagel, 1986, pp. 195-196

[22] Rep VII, 540a-b

[23] Rep. V, 46le-462e

[24] Rep. IV, 419a-421c & Rep. VIII, 519d-521b

[25] Annas, 1981, pp. 321-334 & White, 1979, pp.43-54



Annas, Julia An Introduction to Plato's Republic Oxford 1981; Chapter 3, pp. 59-71; Chapter 6 pp. 53-169; Chapter 13, pp. 331-334

Irwin, Terence Plato's Ethics Oxford 1995; Chapter 12, pp. 181-202

Kraut, Richard (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Plato Cambridge 1992; Chapter 10, pp. 311-337

Nagel, Thomas The View from Nowhere Oxford 1986; Chapter X, pp. 189-207

Waterfield, Robin (Tr.) Plato's Republic Oxford 1993

White, Nicholas A Companion to Plato's Republic Indianapolis 1979
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