Justice in Plato's Republic

Justice in Plato's Republic

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What is justice? Obviously, the word can have multiple meanings. If we were to walk in the Student Center and ask ten people what justice was, they probably all would have different responses. I am not saying that they would not have some of the same ideas, but ultimately, their responses would vary. Having said that, what if one of the people's ideas of justice included injustices? For example, Adolf Hitler believed that justice would be reached by completely wiping out Jewish people and creating a "perfect" blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan race. He also wanted to rule the entire world. Now, was this actually justice? I would definitely have to disagree, but by the same token, he had thousands of followers. The thought of this is heinous and ludicrous, but it is the truth. I think that a similar argument could be made against Plato. To me, Plato errs in his definition of justice. Plato comes up with the Kallipolis, his idea of a just society. In this society, he strives for perfection. However, he is definitely in contradiction. The problem with this "just" society that he fabricated is that many injustices occur while attempting to reach this level of perfection. In my opinion, justice cannot be reached by using injustices to do so. By the same token, I feel that no matter what, perfection could never be reached because in striving for justice, there is always going to be someone or something that ends up being treated unjustly.
Plato comes up with his final definition of justice as basically, people doing what it is that they were born to do, and not stepping outside the boundaries and interfering by trying to do something other than this (Plato, 139). As stated earlier, Plato comes up with many ideas on how to achieve this level of perfection which he strives to attain. In the end, Kallipolis ends up looking like an oligarchy. Plato sets up his regime by creating three classes of people, the philosopher kings, the guardians, and the producers. As one may have assumed, people are sorted into these classes and must remain within them. The power within the society lies in the hands of only a few individuals, this being the philosopher kings (Plato, 164). They are given the power of ruling the society because they are the individuals with the knowledge.

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The guardians are the fighters/protectors of Kallipolis and they have courage. Lastly, the producers are the "lower class". They produce things for Kallipolis. All of this is determined by what Plato refers to as a "noble lie" (Plato, 128). Basically, the original leaders of Kallipolis tell a lie for the "good" of society. They tell everyone that all people have metal in their bodies, and that based on the metal that a person has, that will determine their place within society. People with gold in their bodies are the rulers, silver is the guardians, and bronze is everyone else.
For starters, the foundation of the society is built on a lie. They are using a fabrication to trick people into following. I do not care how "noble" the lie is, rulers lying to their citizens to "sway the masses" in their favor is wrong, even if it is for the so-called good of the society. One could argue and say that this is how politics are currently in our society. Politicians tell lies all the time in order to gain support from people. They make promises that they either do not intend to keep or are unable to keep. Well, my response to that would be that maybe our system is unjust and/or corrupt. Who is to say that our form of government is supreme? It certainly is not beneficial to each and every American. Also, a person being segregated into these separate factions is also unjust. Since the rulers are the ones deciding who belongs in each group, not everyone is getting a fair opportunity to better themselves. This process reminds me a lot of slavery. Slaves are lied to, etc., but most importantly, they are forced into a role that they did not choose. This may not be the case in Plato's era, but I feel that in today's society, slavery is one of the telling signs of an oppressive society.
Next, Plato talks about the roles in which poets and playwrights play in Kallipolis. Basically, they do not have a role. Plato wants to ban and silence all of the poets and playwrights (Plato, 113). He feels as though they are menaces to society. They were storytellers, and we all know that storytellers have the ability to get people's attention. Plato said that they would distract the citizens of Kallipolis with their stories and keep them from focusing. This could eventually lead to uprisings. Also, he did not like the idea that these individuals would write plays and stories about the gods doing the same things as humans do, whether their actions were negative or positive. For example, gods would be sleeping with women, arguing and carrying on, etc. Now, this was an oppressive approach to a perfect JUST society, right? This sounds similar to something Adolf Hitler might have stood for. Let's completely eliminate one group of people for the greater benefit of humanity. On top of that, the word Kallipolis means "city of words" which basically means that it is a fictional account (Plato, 128). Even deeper, Plato's mentor, Socrates, referred to himself as being a "gadfly", or a pest. He was constantly challenging authority and questioning every thing. Socrates was one of the men that would have been banned and silenced in Kallipolis. I almost believe that Plato wrote this account sarcastically and he did not believe in any of these ideas that he presents.
In Kallipolis, everyone would live communally, as one massive group (Plato, 130). They would raise children together and mothers would not even know their own children. Once again, in my eyes this was definitely unacceptable. On of the many joys of parenthood is being able to show your love and affection towards your own child. Parents and their children connect on a different level (well, at least I do with my parents!). Depriving these parents of that right seems unfair and pointless.
Even sex was regulated (Plato, 156). Sex would only be allowed once a year. I have willpower, but once in a year? In Kallipolis, they would have these huge sex parties where the central goal of everyone would be to have as much sex as possible. Those which did well in battle would be awarded with… you guessed it, more sex. There also was a system based on months to prevent incest from occurring. Now, most of this sounds awesome. I have never been to such an event, and quite frankly, if President Bush instituted such an "eventful" day as this, let's just say that I would not necessarily be opposed. However, the "catch twenty-two" within this idea is that people could only have sex with others within the same class as them. Golds were with golds, etc. Sex is one of the most special things that humans share. This system really demoralizes something so sacred by reducing it into nothing more than a trashy, unhealthy, "sexperiment".
Gender also plays an interesting role in Kallipolis. Basically, women have equal rights as men. They have the ability to lead, fight, etc. This is a great concept also. The thing that really struck me was the way that he spoke of women. He allows for them to excel, but he constantly demeans women when he talks about them. One can argue and say that he was merely a product of his era, and women's rights just did not exist back then, but Plato was a brilliant philosopher. If he had these ideas of equal rights for women, he would have understood that talking negatively about them was contradictory of his beliefs.
To sum up, Plato's idea of justice transforms from a virtuous society into a society with complete order. Just because a society has order does not mean that it is a just society. In order for Plato to reach this conclusion, he had to use many injustices. I feel that by him constantly contradicting himself, his idea of justice falls short. I am not saying that Kallipolis could not work. However, I do not believe that it would be a just society. In my opinion, it sounds overly oppressive. Bibliography

Morgan, Michael L., ed. Classics of Moral and Political Theory/ Plato's Republic. 4th ed. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Company, 2005. 75-251.
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