Before addressing the specific issue of ethical egoism, it is first important to understand the context of The Republic and what Plato was trying to accomplish in his writing. As a student of Socrates, Plato's goal in writing The Republic was to define justice. Furthermore, he aimed to define justice in such a way as to show that it is good for its own sake, in and of itself. In The Republic, Plato speaks through Socrates in an attempt to prove this claim. In Book I, he focuses specifically on a couple of questions: What is justice? Why is justice important?
Book I of The Republic puts Socrates discussing justice within a group of companions. Their conversation begins by discussing and arguing the various definitions of justice and what it is. Soon, a man by the name of Thrasymachus boldly enters the conversation. Thrasymachus is a sophist and an ethical egoist. Thus, the topic of conversation quickly transitions from discussing the definition of justice to whether or not just...
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...n because he and Thrasymachus had agreed that justice is a virtue of the soul and that virtue of the soul promotes health of the soul. Thus, justice provides health to the soul. "Now did we not grant that justice was a virtue of the soul, and injustice a vice? We did. . . . Consequently the just man is happy, and the unjust man is miserable" (The Republic, Book I, 353d-354a).
Thus concludes Book I of The Republic and Plato's response to ethical egoism. It is clear that the beliefs of the ethical egoist go against Plato's social philosophy because they directly assault the idea of justice altogether―one which Plato supports and spends a lot of time defending. In The Republic, Plato was able to provide an explanation as to the best way to address the problems―political and otherwise―posed by the ethical egoist.
Plato. The Republic. Book I.
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