Plato’s Republic: Justice and Injustice in Thrasymachus' Account

analytical Essay
6573 words
6573 words

Plato’s Republic: Justice and Injustice in Thrasymachus' Account

ABSTRACT: This paper has a two-fold task. First, I show that there are three types of individuals associated with the Thrasymachean view of society: (a) the many, i.e., the ruled or those exploited individuals who are just and obey the laws of the society; (b) the tyrant or ruler who sets down laws in the society in order to exploit the many for personal advantage; (c) the "stronger" individual (kreittoon) or member of the society who is detached from the many and aspires to become the tyrant. Second, I argue that if Thrasymachus’s account of the perfectly unjust life of the tyrant is to be more than a theoretical ideal, then the stronger individual who aspires to the tyrant’s position would do well to lead a double life—namely, pursuing private injustice while maintaining the public ‘appearance’ of justice. My interpretation accords with that of Glaucon, noted at the beginning of Republic II. I want to extend Glaucon’s interpretation to include the stronger individual as well. I argue that the standpoint of the stronger individual, as distinct from the standpoints of the tyrant and the many, shows Thrasymachus’s three statements regarding justice to be consistent with one another.


In the beginning of Republic II, during a conversation with Socrates and Adeimantus about which individual is deemed happier, the one who is just or the one who is unjust, Glaucon states:

For the extreme of injustice is to seem to be just when one is not. So the perfectly unjust man must be given the most perfect injustice, and nothing must be taken away; he must be allowed to do the greatest injustices while having provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice...

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...ggestion commits him to the immoralist position and (quite unfortunately) to an inconsistent position overall. Cf.. "Thrasymachus and Justice: A Reply," p. 14; An Introduction to Plato's Republic, p. 42. In their commentary Cross and Woozley maintain that Thrasymachus’ position would have remained consistent had he accepted Cleitophon’s suggestion. As they see it, there would then be "no conflict between its being just to serve what the stronger (ruler) believes to be his interest and its being just to obey the ruler, for while a ruler may make a mistake as to what actually is his interest he will hardly make a mistake as to what he believes to be his interest; and if it is right for subjects to do what the ruler believes to be in his interest, it will not matter what the ruler is mistaken in believing so." Cf.. Plato’s Republic: A Philosophical Commentary, p. 46.

In this essay, the author

  • Argues that thrasymachus's three statements regarding justice are consistent with one another.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus sees the tyrant as exemplary of the perfectly unjust individual who takes away what belongs to others by stealth and force.
  • Analyzes thrasymachus' connection between the notion of strength and the capacity for leading an unjust life.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus uses the image of sheep or cows in his speech at 343b to describe the many. people obey laws because they know who has the power and fear the consequences of disobedience.
  • Analyzes how the many's naivete is related to the possibility that the tyrant in a society sets up laws that appear to be for the advantage of many, but in reality are for their advantage.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus makes it clear that the unjust life is to be preferred to the just and that individuals should act so as to dupe their fellow neighbor.
  • Argues that thrasymachus' position regarding justice and injustice is lacking in self-consistence.
  • Analyzes how kerferd and annas feel justified in holding that the third statement, i.e., "justice is another's good," is the real thrasymachean position.
  • Argues that annas and kerferd's concerns are well noted and justified. the inconsistency might be reconciled if we hold the view that the tyrant remains unjust in the concern for self.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus rejects cleitophon's suggestion that justice is obedience to the laws.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus' three statements regarding justice and injustice remain consistent from the standpoint of the stronger.
  • Explains that thrasymachus' view of justice is inconsistent when applying it to rulers as well as their subjects.
  • Cites t. y. henderson's "in defense of thrasymachus" in american philosophical quarterly.
  • Analyzes how glaucon captured the essence of the thrasymachean position regarding the best way for the unjust individual to live.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus speaks of the tyrant as an unjust exploiter and the many as the just exploited in his view of society.
  • Analyzes how henderson's account is valuable because it shows how the tyrant can remain unjust without being an iron-fisted dictator.
  • Argues that thrasymachus' three statements about justice and injustice are consistent from the standpoint of the many.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus denies the legalist position in favor of defining justice as the interest of the stronger.
  • Argues that thrasymachus offers us a developmental account of how the stronger individual detaches from the many to rise to the ranks of tyranthood.
  • Cites the translation of plato's republic by allan bloom, and seth bernadette, for accounts that emphasize the "appearance-vs.-reality" schema of greek civil life.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus rejects conventionalism in favor of immoralism, which is more consistent with contemporary linguists.
  • Argues that thrasymachus' rejection of cleitophon's suggestion commits him to the immoralist position and an inconsistent position overall.
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