Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Table of Contents
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM (357a-367e)
Glaucon, an able student of the Socratic method, questions the method's master. He agrees with Socrates that justice is a good thing, but what kind of a good thing is it? He offers Socrates three possibilities: Some things are done simply because they are good in themselves (for example, listening to music); other things are both good in themselves and have useful consequences (for example, eating); and yet other things are painful but have good consequences (for example, taking medicine). In which category do just things fall?
Socrates says that justice "belongs in the fairest class, that which a man who is to be happy must love both for its own sake and for the results."
But Glaucon sees no substance in this answer. For one thing, the hoi polloi (Greek for "the common people" or "the vulgar masses") think that being just is no more than a painful necessity for maintaining a good reputation and for succeeding in business or politics. Perhaps, Glaucon says, Thrasymachus has the best advice: Discard these pretensions of justice and go after what you want!
Glaucon confesses that he does not really believe Thrasymachus' philosophy, but neither does he see any good reasons for believing that the just life is better than the unjust. What he desires from Socrates is to hear how the life of justice is good in itself and by itself. In other words, Glaucon is saying: Socrates, give us your vision of perfect justice uncontaminated by other human excellences and uncontaminated by any good consequences other than justice itself.
NOTE: This is an unusual request. Yet here Glaucon introduces the central theme of The Republic-"justice" as the principle of the organization of the various excellences of men and states and not as a reward for good deeds. You'll discover that this principle is dependent on knowledge. Thus the themes of justice and knowledge are interwoven in Plato's treatment of the Good Life. However, significant elements of life other than justice and knowledge are denied to the upper classes (warriors and rulers) of the just state-for example, love, art, privacy, freedom, private property. Therefore, when you read Socrates' description of the just state, consider the following questions: What is "ideal" about the just state? What would it be like to live in a totally efficient, perfectly organized state? Does Plato believe that his state is well rounded and ideal in all ways or is he carrying an ideal of justice to its logical, though impractical, conclusion? What does Plato mean by "ideal"? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the just state? is the perfectly just state also perfectly lopsided in what it offers its citizens?
To illustrate his perplexities, Glaucon presents the Myth of Gyges' Ring. Gyges, a shepherd, found a ring that could make him invisible with only a twist of the band. With such power the good shepherd soon became corrupt. He first seduced the king's wife, killed the king, and then took over the kingdom.
Using this myth as an example, Glaucon presents you with a choice between two extremes: Would you rather be a totally self-seeking, unjust person who seems to others to be the fairest and kindest of people, or the totally just soul whom others believe is the most despicable of characters? In other words, what are the advantages of being just if your good character and good deeds are not recognized and praised? Is the best life to seem just without being just?
Socrates starts to reply to Glaucon's questions, but Adeimantus speaks first. Adeimantus feels that the most essential question remains to be asked: what does our educational system teach about the benefits of good conduct toward others? Do our parents and teachers recommend good conduct because of the fine reputation and social prestige that it will bring us? The well-schooled Adeimantus recites several passages from the poets Hesiod and Homer in support of his case. These poets argue that even the gods can be bribed. The wrongs hidden from people cannot be hidden from the gods, but after sumptuous sacrifices (such as the wealthy Cephalus is probably making in his garden at the moment), the gods forgive and forget wrongs. Thus, neither laymen nor poets have ever condemned injustice or recommended justice except for the respectability and rewards that result from each. Adeimantus concludes by admonishing Socrates:
Do not, then, I repeat, merely prove to us in argument the superiority of justice to injustice, but show us what it is that each inherently does to its possessor-whether he does or does not escape the eyes of gods and men-whereby the one is good and the other evil. (367e)
Although they enjoy an arousing philosophical argument, Glaucon and Adeimantus are practical young men who want realistic answers to important questions on how to live. The brothers are questioning their upbringing and their education. The poets and sophists say one thing; Socrates says another. Whose lead should they follow?