Socrates and Thrasymachus have a dialogue in Chapter 2 of Republic which progresses from a discussion of the definition of morality, to an understanding of the expertise of ruling, and eventually to a debate on the state of human nature. The Thrasymachian view of human nature has interesting implications in regards to Thomas Nagel’s ideal of egalitarianism, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s discontentment with the economic disparity in our democratic society. Although Thrasymachus is thwarted in conversation, Glaucon finds the outcome not entirely conclusive and directs Socrates to proving that morality, in and of itself, is a worthwhile pursuit.
Thrasymachus opens the discussion with Socrates claiming, “morality is the advantage of the stronger party.” (Republic 338c) By this he means ‘moral’ actions are those in accordance with the laws of the stronger party. He explicates his position by saying, “each government passes laws with a view to its own advantage: a democracy makes democratic laws, a dictatorship makes dictatorial laws… In so doing, each government makes it clear that what is right and moral for its subjects is what is to its own advantage.” (Republic 338e) In this example Thrasymachus claims that “morality is the advantage of the current government.” (Republic 339a) In giving this claim Thrasymachus implies that:
1. Morality is not objective.
2. Morality is defined as compliance with the laws given by the governing party.
3. The governing party creates laws based on what (it thinks!) will serve its own advantage.
4. The governing party creates morality for its subjects with the purpose of serving its own advantage.
Thrasymachus defines ‘right’ as acti...
... middle of paper ...
...count for the lack of success of egalitarian societies that Nagel proposes, and the economic disparity that Ehrenreich addresses. Socrates must respond to both Thrasymachus and Glaucon’s reiteration by showing that a moral life is good in and of itself, rather than for its consequences. The dialogue between Socrates and Thrasymachus, and later with Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus prompts Plato to write the rest of Republic in explanation of what a moral community is, and how such a blueprint can be applied to a moral individual.
1. Plato (trans. Robin Waterfield). Republic, Oxford University Press Inc., New York. 1998 edition.
2. Nagel, Thomas. “Equality and Partiality,” in Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy, ed. Steven Cahn (Oxford University Press, 2002).
3. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. Henry Holt & Company 2001.
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