In the first book of the Republic Socrates and Thrasymachus argue about the nature of justice. Thrasymachus claims that justice is the advantage of the stronger. He also claims that Socrates’ arguments against that position stem from a naive set of beliefs about the real intentions of rulers, and an uncritical approach to the way words acquire their meaning.
Present the arguments on both sides. Who do you think is right? Justify your position.
In the first book of the Republic Plato orchestrates a dialogue between his teacher Socrates and one of his peers Thrasymachus in order to demonstrate the desirable nature of justice. In this essay I shall present Thrasymachus argument that justice is a tool of oppression wielded by the strong over the weak, whereas injustice provides a happy and fulfilled existence, and Socrates notion that justice is a desirable commodity and characteristic that benefits all individuals and is the only way to achieve any common goal. I believe that both philosophers have elements of truth in their arguments, however in the essay I intend to show that it is not possible to agree entirely with either party because of the underlying premise of their argument. I shall demonstrate that neither party has a correct view because they base their arguments on examples whose essence is incompatible with the concept of justice, and refute their claims due to the obvious fallacy of arguing two extremes when considering human nature.
In the first book of the Republic, Thrasymachus states that justice is not desirable. He describes human behaviour as fundamentally self-interested, and states that justice is
‘an advantage of the stronger’ employed to suppress ‘the weaker’ . He submits the view that injustice is therefore preferable in relation to politics and to common living. Thrasymachus postulates that it is right and just to obey the rules of the state created by the ruling power, but that the ruling power will be making rules that benefit themselves. He supports his claim that the ruling power capitalise upon the weaker party by drawing a parallel between the profession of government and the profession of sheep herding: ‘The shepherd and the herdsman study the good of their flock and herds (for) the good of their masters and themselves’ . He considers that rulers rule with the objective of procuring some profit from them. On a basic level ...
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... is in favour of ‘the weaker party’ and is a position of strength that provides a more fulfilling life. However, both arguments attempt to provide an explanation for the nature of justice without defining it and base their arguments on tangible concepts such as crafts and professions in order to give weight to their beliefs. Without a definition of the subject we cannot make a concrete comparison as it is unrealistic to try to prove that the nature of justice is the same as the nature of medicine. In addition, both arguments endeavour to confine human nature to extremes, just and unjust, knowledgeable and ignorant, and good and bad, without acknowledging the depth of the human experience and intermediate levels that we have. The conclusions of these arguments are incongruous with human nature and when we speak of justice, we are trying to define a concept that has distinct links with human nature. Therefore, I cannot say that either of the positions is ‘right’ as neither acknowledge my nature and have attempted to justify that justice is a commodity to desire or expel without explicating justice itself.
Word Count: 2120
Plato, The Republic, (Penguin Books, 2003)