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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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INJUSTICE IS MORE PROFITABLE THAN JUSTICE (347e-354c)

Now Socrates turns to the question of whether justice is good or bad. Logically speaking, Socrates has misplaced priorities: He is trying to determine the value of justice before he has defined justice. But he wants to maintain the interest of his audience. Young men, he knows, often grow weary of prolonged analytical discussions.

In the three stands of the following argument, Socrates attempts to refute Thrasymachus' claims that 1. being unjust is wise and good (348c-350c); 2. injustice is power (350d-352c); and 3. the unjust are happier than the just (352d-354c).

1. Socrates wins the first point through a chain of complicated, if not incorrect, reasoning. Using argument from analogy, he compares the art of living well with the musician's art. The musician has knowledge of music and in this way is better than the unmusical person. The musician, however, does not want to be superior to or "get the better" of others who share his knowledge; rather, he wants only to be superior to the unmusical person. The same is true of the just man; he wants to outdo the unjust man but not those of his kind, the just. On the other hand, the unjust man wants to be superior both to those like and unlike himself. The unjust man is incredibly selfish and seeks only his own advantage. Socrates says that people who are good and wise do not want to be superior to or get the better of those who are like themselves. Thrasymachus agrees. Thus he is trapped into conceding that the unjust person cannot be good and wise. A strange argument, but a happy conclusion.

2. With little difficulty, and certainly with reasoning more comprehensible than in the preceding argument, Socrates shows that injustice cannot be power because there is no loyalty among the unjust, no honor among thieves. Thrasymachus has to agree, based on his earlier statements, that unjust people are immensely selfish and so do not readily band together to achieve common goals. Continual dissension and hostility create chaos, not the powerful achievement gained by people working together harmoniously.



3. In the previous arguments Socrates demonstrated that justice is a virtue, a human excellence. He now has to show that human action in accordance with excellence brings happiness. Again Socrates uses analogies: The excellence of eyes is to see, of ears to hear. Excellence in these things, as in all others, means doing well in performing one's function. People who do well are blessed and happy. Thrasymachus agrees with Socrates' statements so far. Then Socrates reminds him that he had earlier conceded that justice is an excellence of character. Therefore, it must follow that the just person is the happy person.

Socrates concludes by summing up all three strands of the argument: Injustice is never more profitable than justice no matter how, dear Thrasymachus, you argue. Yet, although Thrasymachus has been soundly refuted, Socrates realizes that his argument is incomplete. The crucial issue-what is the nature of justice-has not been resolved. Justice is an excellence of human character and a source of happiness. But knowing these things is just a beginning. What is the just life? More investigation is needed. And so, on to Book II.

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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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