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HELPING FRIENDS AND HARMING ENEMIES (331e- 336a)
After Cephalus leaves, the discussion becomes more serious and more complex. Polemarchus carries on his father's argument. But unlike his father he is not concerned with the role of justice in religious matters. Instead, Polemarchus relies on authorities other than the gods or the laws. He borrows a maxim from the poet Simonides-justice is "giving every man his due." Socrates confesses that he doesn't know what the poet means, and asks, "What is it that is due, and to whom?" He knows, for instance, what the functions of such crafts as medicine and cooking are. But what is the function of the craft of justice, if indeed it is a craft? Polemarchus says that justice is benefiting one's friends and harming one's enemies. At last, Socrates has a clear statement that he can systematically examine.
Socrates' examination of Polemarchus' definition can be divided into three parts: 1. a look at how one can benefit friends (332d-334b); 2. an attempt to define "friend" (334c- 335b); and 3. a criticism of the view that a just man can do harm (335c-336a).
1. Socrates asks Polemarchus to explain in what ways justice can be helpful and harmful. Through a series of leading questions-Is the just man more useful than the farmer in producing crops? Than the builder in constructing houses? and so on-Socrates leads Polemarchus to the absurd conclusion that justice must be useless. And Socrates pursues this line of reasoning to yet another absurdity. Because justice, according to Polemarchus' definition, appears to be the craft of keepers of things not in use (money and property), and because good keepers are in a position to be the best thieves, justice appears to be the craft of thieving, to the benefit, of course, of one's friends.
2. Polemarchus protests. Socrates concedes that maybe his problem is not knowing what Polemarchus means by "friend." Polemarchus responds that friends are those who we think are good and helpful to us. But, Socrates asks, can we be mistaken about who our friends, and enemies, are? If so, we may be helping or harming the wrong people, which could not be justice. A contradiction is reached: justice can both help and harm friends. Polemarchus is forced to be more precise about what he means by "friend." He says "that the man who both seems and is good is the friend.
3. At this point, Socrates focuses on the crucial aspect of his quarrel with Polemarchus' definition. Surely it cannot be the function of justice to harm anyone at all. Don't we consider justice to be an excellence of character? And no excellence- whether that of horses or humans-is ever achieved through destructive means. The function of justice is to improve human nature. Whatever else it may be, justice is a form of goodness that, by its very nature, cannot participate in anything injurious to someone's character.
NOTE: The method of argumentation in this section is worth noting carefully. Socrates' discussion with Polemarchus is a superb example of what is sometimes called the Socratic method. Said to be invented by Socrates (and, obviously, named for him), the Socratic method is a philosophical technique for discovering knowledge through question and answer. Socrates, claiming to have no knowledge, encourages others to answer a general question. Here the question is "What is justice?" He then proceeds to show the inadequacies of each definition by producing counterexamples, that is, by producing examples that expose the biased nature or the narrow scope or the outright falsity of a definition. These exercises in thinking are not entirely negative. The ultimate goal is always to discover that which is true, good, universal.