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THE ETERNAL REWARDS OF JUSTICE (608c-end)
The previous discussion on poetry is, in part, a preparation for a discussion on immortality and the rewards of justice. The Myth of Er, which ends The Republic, is more poetic than it is philosophic. And the arguments that lead to this poetic finale lack the philosophic rigor that characterizes most of Socrates' arguments. More than anything else, here Socrates appears to be praising justice. He ends the discussion at Cephalus' home by presenting his ode to justice.
This section can be divided into three parts: 1. a proof of immortality (608c-612a); 2. the rewards of justice in this life (612a-613e); and 3. the Myth of Er (613e-end).
1. Socrates surprises Glaucon by declaring his belief in the immortality of the soul. Whether Socrates actually believed in personal immortality is a matter of conjecture. But because the study of eternal ideas is the proper study of man, he investigates the possibility of the eternal existence of the human soul. This argument, however, can hardly be termed a "proof." Rather it is a venture into a logical examination of how the words good and evil are used in relation to the human body and character. Its goal seems to be to persuade you that in the final analysis justice has its rewards.
The argument goes like this: Evil is that which destroys and corrupts; good is that which preserves and benefits. And everything has its special good and evil. For example, certain chemicals preserve wood, and certain grain mildew destroys it. Proper nutrition preserves the human body, and disease destroys it. The soul also has its goods and evils. Injustice, as Socrates has gone to great lengths to point out, is the special evil of the soul. Yet tyrants and other unjust people do not seem to be destroyed by injustice. They often continue to thrive until ripe old age. Therefore, if the soul cannot be destroyed by its particular evil, then it cannot be destroyed at all and, so, must be immortal.
NOTE: As you see, this proof is not a compelling one. Unjust men do not have early deaths-so what? Does this prove anything beyond the cliche that life isn't always fair? Further, this "proof" does not commit Socrates to a belief in individual immortality, but simply to a belief in some form of immortality, which is probably the immortality of such ideas as justice and injustice.
2. Glaucon says that if injustice is not fatal to its possessor, then injustice does not seem to be such a terrible thing. And, worse yet, injustice, as well as justice, will exist forever.
Socrates does not contradict Glaucon. Instead, at this point he strives to convince Glaucon that justice has its rewards in this life. Here Socrates does not actually present an argument. For one thing, the reasons for being just cannot depend on the external benefits that justice may bestow on man. Justice is good in and by itself. It is the health of the soul, and health of any kind is valuable for its own sake. But the nice thing is that experience shows that most people tend to reward just actions and believe that honesty is the best policy. Thus, Socrates concludes, a man ought to behave justly whether he possesses the ring of Gyges or not.
3. The Myth of Er is a Socratic poem in praise of justice. It is fitting for Socrates, the man of many images, to end his discussion on justice with an extended image of the eternal value of living a philosophical life.
Er was a bold warrior who was slain in battle. His body was found among the decaying corpses ten days later, yet still in good shape. When his body was taken home and put on the funeral pyre, he came back to life. And he told the following story of his adventures in the other world.
After his soul left his body, Er journeyed with the other departed souls to a mysterious region where there were two openings in the earth and two corresponding openings in heaven. In that place the souls were judged. Some were sent to heaven; others into the bowels of the earth. Er, however, was not judged. He was told that he had been chosen to witness the proceedings of the souls to and from life and to return to his friends to tell what he had seen.