Plato's Response to Thrasymachus' Immoralist View of Justice

analytical Essay
1494 words
1494 words

Plato's Response to Thrasymachus' Immoralist View of Justice

In Book 1 of the ‘Republic’, Socrates, in answer to the question ‘What is Justice?’ is presented with a real and dangerous alternative to what he thinks to be the truth about Justice. Julia Annas believes Thrasymachus thinks Justice and Injustice do have a real existence that is independent of human institutions; and that Thrasymachus makes a decided commitment to Injustice. She calls this view ‘Immoralism’: “the immoralist holds that there is an important question about justice, to be answered by showing that injustice is better.” This essay identifies this ‘Immoral’ view before understanding if and how Plato can respond to it. How does Plato attempt to refute Thrasymachus’s argument? Is he successful?

Initially Thrasymachus states that Justice is ‘nothing else but the interest of the stronger’. Cross and Woozley identify four possible interpretations; the Naturalistic definition, Nihilistic view, Incidental comment, and the more useful Essential analysis. The ‘Essential Analysis’: “An action is just if and only if it serves the interest of the stronger,” with Thrasymachus stating the disadvantages of Justice and advantages of Injustice. This leads to problems with the stronger man, is it merely the promotion of self-interests? If Justice favours the interests of the stronger, is this simply from the perception of the weak with morality not concerning the stronger? Cross re-formulates Thrasymachus’s view as ‘Justice is the promotion of the ‘strongers’ interest’, therefore both weak and strong can act justly in furthering the strongers interests. However, complication occurs when we understand that Justice is another’s good: “You are not aware tha...

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...purpose is “to unmask the hypocrisy and show how the meaning of Justice is being perverted” . He is not prepared to argue, leaving Socrates victorious. Here, Socrates’s method of argumentative questioning is insufficient and naïve against a stubborn, powerful and philosophically certain moral skeptic. This is confirmed by the change in investigative approach in the latter books. Thus the ‘earlier’ Plato cannot adequately respond to Thrasymachus’s immoralist view of Justice.


Annas, Introduction to Plato’s Republic. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981.

Cross and Woozley, Plato’s Republic. Macmillan, London, 1964.

Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge Press, Cambridge, 1969.

Plato, Tr. Hamilton, Collected Dialogues. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1989.

Plato, Tr. Desmond Lee, The Republic. Penguin Books, London, 1987.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how socrates agrees with thrasymachus, but he reveals the inconsistency between obeying the rulers and what promotes their interests by introducing a wrong law.
  • Concludes that socrates doesn't adequately deal with thrasymachus's problem. he is a moral skeptic who believes injustice pays better than justice.
  • Analyzes how thrasymachus thinks justice and injustice have a real existence that is independent of human institutions.
  • Analyzes how socrates uses an analogy of the doctor, showing that a ruler does not govern in his own interest.
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