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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
Table of Contents

THE DIALOGUE

BOOK I: WHAT ARE THE CURRENT VIEWS ON JUSTICE?

This introductory book raises the fundamental issue of the entire work: What is justice? Four views of justice are examined: 1. justice is speaking the truth and paying one's debts; 2. justice is helping one's friends and harming one's enemies; 3. justice is to the advantage of the stronger; and 4. injustice is more profitable than justice.

SPEAKING THE TRUTH AND PAYING ONE'S DEBTS (327a-331d)

Many Athenians are celebrating the introduction of a new goddess in Piraeus, the port of Athens and the center of the democratic party. Socrates and Glaucon are returning from the festivities when Polemarchus sees them. He insists that they come to his home for some conversation with his friends. Socrates is persuaded. He cannot, it seems, resist this opportunity to discuss philosophy with a group of noble youth.

Polemarchus' father, Cephalus, is in the house. Socrates sees how old he has grown and wants to know whether old age is a difficult part of life. Cephalus says that he is glad to have escaped the "mad masters" of bodily pleasures and is now content. But he quickly adds that if he had not cultivated a good character he would be unable to enjoy old age. Then Socrates poses several rather crude questions: Do you think you endure old age easily because you are wealthy? Is acquiring wealth really the important thing in life? Socrates, who is penniless by choice, implies that men like Cephalus often forget about the conditions that make their kind of life possible.



Cephalus admits that his wealth makes it possible for him to live a well-balanced life. He does not have to deceive others, nor is he in debt to any god or any man. Socrates seizes on these remarks to talk about justice. He asks Cephalus if he means that justice-good conduct in relation to others-is simply telling the truth and honoring one's debts. This is precisely what Cephalus, the successful businessman, means. Because of his wealth he can die contented, his duties fulfilled. Thus, for Cephalus justice is a matter of self-interest, but also his view agrees with the laws of the city and with the traditional religious beliefs.

Socrates' objection to Cephalus is quite simple: Aren't there times when one should not tell the truth or repay debts? For example, if a man loaned you a gun, then became insanely jealous and asked you to return his gun so he could shoot his wife, should you return his weapon? Because Cephalus' definition of justice does not hold up in all cases, Socrates says that it is not a good definition.

Suddenly Cephalus decides that he must leave; there are yet more debts to be paid to the gods. He refuses to be drawn into a philosophical discussion, one that might threaten his cherished beliefs.

Cephalus' definition, like the ones of Polemarchus and Thrasymachus that follow, is found wanting. However, from each of the definitions presented in Book I something is learned that will be reflected in the principle of justice Socrates develops later.

Table of Contents


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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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