Plato's Republic Essay

Plato's Republic Essay

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In reading the Republic, there is no reason to search for arguments which show that Platonic justice ('inner justice' or 'psychic harmony') entails ordinary justice. The relationship between inner justice and ordinary justice is of no importance in Plato's Republic. We note that Plato tries to argue from the very first book that the true source of normativity lies in knowledge attained by philosophical reason. What is crucial, then, is the relationship between inner justice and acts which brings about a just polis.

I. The Unimportance of Ordinary Justice

The issue of the relationship between inner justice and ordinary justice has been the subject of critical discussion since it was famously raised by David Sachs. (1) In this essay, I shall argue that the relationship between inner (or 'Platonic') justice and ordinary justice (conceived as doing acts which Glaucon, Adeimantus and the rest of the gathering consider to be just) was of no importance in Plato's Republic. (2) What was important, rather, was the relationship between inner justice and acts which bring about a just polis.

My claim about the unimportance of ordinary justice in relation to inner justice is pre-empted to some degree by Gregory Vlastos and Julia Annas. Vlastos distinguished two senses of ordinary justice:(3) (a) the degenerate morality of those who see it as a path to gratification, and (b) the common morality of those who respect virtue and have a firm disposition to act justly ('justice' as Cephalus possessed, for example).

Vlastos rejected any connection between inner justice and ordinary justice in the sense of (a), but assumed that inner justice entailed ordinary justice in the sense of (b) and argued for the connection. However, at least the...


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...eligion, New York, 1971.

(2)I have used the Jowett translation.

(3) Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, Chapter 5: "Justice and Happiness in the Republic", Princeton, 1981 (2nd edition), esp. pp. 135-136.

(4)Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic, Oxford, 1981, see esp. Chapter 6.

(5) There are three different ways of dividing the soul in the Republic: i) the division into reasonable, feeling and appetitive parts; ii) the simile of the line which groups its cognitive capacities into understanding and reasoning on the one hand, and belief and imagination on the other; iii) the division in Book X between the knowing part and the perceptive part. The divisions of the line correspond to the divisions in Book X. In Book III, the feelings and appetites are contrasted with reason, so they naturally rely on perception and imagination and not on knowledge.

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