The Republic by Plato

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In Plato’s Republic Book 1, Thrasymachus argues that morality is the advantage of the stronger. To support his view, Thrasymachus first claims that the governments, which are the stronger parties, always pass laws based on their own interest, and then argues that subjects must always obey these laws, therefore morality is the advantage of the stronger. Socrates gives two sets of counter arguments. First, by differentiating apparent advantage and actual advantage to the stronger, Socrates argues that the obedience to the laws by the subjects can be occasionally not in the actual interest of the rulers. Second, by claiming that all craftsmen only consider the welfare of the recipients of expertise instead of their own interest, Socrates asserts that a ruler, having an expertise of ruling, also only cares about the interest of the ruled, and thus morality is the advantage of the weaker. In this paper, I will show that Thrasymachus only gives an argument about descriptive morality, and Socrates, by using a completely different definition of a ruler, fails to challenge the empirical facts behind the Thrasymachus’ argument. Finally, I will propose a new way that Socrates could have better refuted Thrasymachus.
In order to clearly understand Thrasymachus’ initial argument, the basic logical structure of the argument is listed below.
(1) The ruling party is the stronger party.
(2) Each ruling party passes laws with a view to its own interest.
(3) It is just for the subjects to obey these laws, and unjust to break these laws. Conclusion: Therefore, justice/morality is the advantage of the stronger party.
Thrasymachus begins his argument with an elucidation of the stronger, that is the ruling party in each form of go...

... middle of paper ...

...egal and descriptive justice.
To conclude, Thrasymachus provides an argument about descriptive morality and bases his argument largely on the empirical facts of many corrupted governments. Both of Socrates’ counter arguments fail to challenge the empirical facts behind the “Might makes right” argument. He could have pointed out the difference between a legal ought and a moral ought. Rulers can only make people believe that the law is the same as morality, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the law actually is morality.

Works Cited

Plato. 1941. Republic of Plato, translated by Francis MacDonal Cornford, 21-25. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gert, Bernard, "The Definition of Morality", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
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