The Importance of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic
Dr. Malters’s comments: This student does two things quite remarkable for an undergraduate student. In his compact essay, not only does he display an in-depth understanding of complex perspectives on justice put forth by the protagonist Socrates, he deftly explains how Plato has artfully made rude objections by a seemingly minor character early in the dialogue function as a structuring device for nearly all the important ideas examined thereafter.
In Plato's Republic, the character Thrasymachus provides an intense yet short-lived appearance in the discussion of justice early in the story. Though he seems to almost completely withdraw from the discussion for the remainder of the book, his early arguments provide a major impetus in Socrates' search for justice and prove to be an ever-present force contributing throughout the entirety of the work.
After Socrates refutes the primary arguments of Justice from Cephalus and Polemarchus, Thrasymachus jumps into the discussion as a "wild beast" "as if to tear [Socrates] apart." He quickly insults the interlocutors and shows a high disdain for philosophy. He claims to know what justice really is without having to go through all the "asinine" arguments, simply stating it as "the interests of the stronger." He is clearly basing this view on simple observations of various rulers of his time. After Socrates refutes this argument by using examples of doctors and captains working for the benefit of their patients and sailors, respectively, Thrasymachus comes back with the argument of shepherds fattening sheep up for their own profit instead of for the benefit of the sheep. After this, Thrasymachus seems to w...
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...onceived notions of philosophy determined by the mere appearance of things.
After Socrates examines the five regimes of the soul as they move from aristocracy to tyranny, he is eventually able to show how the tyrant becomes a slave to his own appetites and proves most wretched of all leaders. This finally completely refutes Thrasymachus' argument that the unjust is better off than the just. He sums up the matter when he says that they "break away smartly.. .but [in the end] trot off uncrowned. "He goes on to say "as for the unjust, at the end of the race, most will be caught and whipped." Thrasymachus is indeed "caught" by Socrates in the beginning of the Republic, and by the end is whipped into wisdom of true justice from Socrates' enduring argument.
Plato, the Republic, translated by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1991.