The Republic - Book 1 - Theme Of Justice

Powerful Essays
The subject matter of the “Republic” is the nature of justice and its relation to human existence. Book I of the “republic” contains a critical examination of the nature and virtue of justice. Socrates engages in a dialectic with Thrasymachus, Polemarchus, and Cephalus, a method which leads to the asking and answering of questions which directs to a logical refutation and thus leading to a convincing argument of the true nature of justice. And that is the main function of Book I, to clear the ground of mistaken or inadequate accounts of justice in order to make room for the new theory. Socrates attempts to show that certain beliefs and attitudes of justice and its nature are inadequate or inconsistent, and present a way in which those views about justice are to be overcome.

Traditionally justice was regarded as one of the cardinal virtues; to avoid injustices and to deal equitable with both equals and inferiors was seen as what was expected of the good man, but it was not clear how the benefits of justice were to be reaped. Socrates wants to persuade from his audience to adopt a way of estimating the benefits of this virtue. From his perspective, it is the quality of the mind, the psyche organization which enables a person to act virtuously. It is this opposition between the two types of assessment of virtue that is the major theme explored in Socrates’ examination of the various positions towards justice. Thus the role of Book I is to turn the minds from the customary evaluation of justice towards this new vision. Through the discourse between Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus, Socaretes’ thoughts and actions towards justice are exemplified. Though their views are different and even opposed, the way all three discourse about justice and power reveal that they assume the relation between the two to be separate. They find it impossible to understand the idea that being just is an exercise of power and that true human power must include the ability to act justly. And that is exactly what Socrates seeks to refute.

The Socratic dialogue begins of Socrates recounting a conversation he had with a number of people at the house of Cephalus. Returning to Athens from Piraeus, where they had been attending a religious festival, Socrates and Glaucon are intercepted by Cephalus, who playfully forces them to come to his father’s house. Socrates begins by asking t...

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...s are a paradigm case of those in control. The essence of ruling is, therefore, to be unjust and that is why a tyrant is a perfect ruler. He always knows what is to his advantage and how to acquire it. Thrasymachus’ view of justice is appealing but therein lies a moral danger and this is refuted by Socrates.

Out of the confrontation with Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus, Socrates emerges as a reflective individual searching for the rational foundation of morality and human excellence. The views presented by the three men are invalid and limited as they present a biased understanding of justice and require a re-examination of the terminology. The nature in which the faulty arguments are presented, leave the reader longing to search for the rational foundations of morality and human virtue.

Allan, Bloom. The Republic of Plato. Second Edition, Basic Books. 1991
Foster, M.B. The Political Philosophies of Plato. New York, Russell and Russell. 1965
Annas, J. An Introduction to Plato’s Republic. Oxford, Clarendon Press. 1981
White, N.P. A Companion to Plato’s Republic. Indianapolis, Hackett. 1979
Graby, J. An Inquiry into the Works of Plato. New York, McGraw. 1961.
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