Supplement to Hauptli’s Lectures on Plato’s Republic Part I[1]


     Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli


There are two more recent files replacing the three on Plato's Republic for this course: Plato's Republic Supplement A and Plato's Republic B




1. Book I—A preliminary overview [327-354c]:


The First Book of the Republic provides an introduction to the concerns, themes, and theses of the text.  Some scholars contend that it was written earlier than the remainder of the text and that it may have been intended as a “stand-alone” dialogue.  Clearly, it more resembles the earlier Platonic dialogues than does the remainder of the text.  Note that while the theses advanced in this First Book are not correct (according to Plato), they are also not wholly wrong either.  For Plato, clearly, you must be right for the right reasons.  The views expressed here (the importance of old age, wealth, giving individuals their due, and even advantage) are all important—but they must be rightly construed!  The remainder of the work endeavors to provide the arguments for what Plato considers to be the right version of the themes and theses. 


327c Pol: “Do you see how many we are?”  “Could you persuade men who do not listen?  The passage is there to remind us of the nature of Socratic dialectic and of its prerequisites. 


Cephalus:  Old Age, Wealth, and Justice:


329c Cephalus cites Sophocles: “Old age and freedom from the many savage and tyrannical masters.”  The picture offered here is one of freedom from the tyranny of the appetites (sexual appetite is the specific example).  As is the case for most of the theses of the First Book, we must interpret this discussion carefully.  It is not that Plato’s Socrates believes that a life of sexual abstinence is the best, but that the advantage which old age brings is that it can facilitate the rational control of the appetites.  It is this thesis, which he is ultimately in favor of, but this is to jump ahead of ourselves—Cephalus’ point, in other words, needs to be interpreted (as it stands it is both right and wrong, and without the context of the overall understanding of what justice is, the rightness and wrongness can not be properly disentangled. 


-331a Cephalus: “...the man who knows he has not sinned has a sweet and good hope as his constant companion.” 


331b Cephalus maintains that the advantage of wealth is that it is conducive to justice. 


-he believes that justice amounts to paying one’s debts. 


--331c Soc: Weapon example!  The example shows that there is something wrong with this characterization of justice. 


Polemarchus and Justice:


331e Pol: Justice amounts to giving to each what is owed to him (citing the poet Simonides). 


-Soc: What is “due” one’s enemies? 


-Pol: Harm is what is owed them—it is their “due.” 


-332c Soc: Is ‘due’ being used correctly here?  Practitioners of a craft[2] like medicine give others what is their due,” so what do practitioners of justice do—wherein lies their usefulness? 


-332d The practice of justice benefits one’s friends and harms one’s enemies. 


--Soc: “benefit in what sense?” 


-333 Pol: Justice is beneficial in contracting situations—“in dealings between people.” 


--Justice is useful in keeping possessions safe when they are not in use (it is useless when they are in use—in such cases other arts are more to the point). 


--333e Soc: Isn’t the skilled boxer also the one most skilled in defending against blows? 


--334a The man most capable of guarding possessions will be the one most capable of stealing them?  And, thus, the just man is a kind of thief? 


-334b Polemarchus is puzzled—but keeps to his definition. 


-334c Soc: Can one be mistaken about who one’s friends and enemies are?  In such a situation, the definition means that the “just” man might merely be helping those whom he believes (falsely) to be his friends.... 


--Note that this point presages an important move in the criticism of Thrasymachus’ orientation at 339c below! 


-335a Pol: justice amounts to benefiting the friend who is good and harming the enemy who is bad. 


335b Soc: “Is it the role of the just man to harm anyone at all? 


-Pol: Yes—the enemies who are bad! 


-Soc: Do horses, dogs, etc., become better or worse when harmed? 


--335b-e Soc: Justice and harming human excellence [arête][3]—music instructors and riding-masters: can they by the practice of their crafts make men unmusical and non-horsemen?  “Can the just, by the practice of justice, make men unjust?” 


--Critical Comment: Note that the definition that is being critiqued here is both right and wrong.  While the “proper ruler” is not supposed to “harm human excellence,” the ruling philosopher-kings and auxiliaries will have to defend the state (at least against enemies from the outside), and the idea that such rulers and soldiers will not harm others is, surely, ludicrous.  Thus later in the Republic Plato’s Socrates has the rulers behaving much as the earlier “definitions” indicate! 


--Plato’s view here is not the view of the age.  In his “Does Piety Pay?  Socrates and Plato on Prayer and Sacrifice,” Mark McPherran maintains that: “first, it seems unlikely that Socrates’ disbelief [in the Euthyphro] in divine enmity and injustice per se would put him at risk of disbelief in the civic gods….Thanks to their exposure to the works of Hesiod, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, most Athenians were acquainted with affirmations of the gods’ justice, and we hear of no one demurring at these expressions….It is, rather, with his rejection of the negative side of lex talionis (that is, the “return of an evil for an evil” [part of this doctrine which holds that we should return a good for a good, a loss for a loss, and an evil for an evil]), and some of the propitiatory do ut des [loosely: give as you receive] aspects of cult that Socrates’ doctrine of divine justice seems to present a threat to the civic gods and cult of Athens.”[4]  Clearly Plato’s Socrates is calling for a significant change in the conception of justice given what he says here! 


Thrasymachus and Justice:


336a Thr: “If you really want to know...stop scoring points....” 


-Rhetoric vs. philosophy.  Thrasymachus was a noted sophist—a teacher of rhetoric and oratory (and, perhaps, virtue). 


338c Thr: Justice (or the Right) amounts to the advantage of the stronger. 


Soc: Before I praise this definition, I must understand your meaning. 


Thr: “Each government makes laws to its own advantage...” 


-339c Soc: Are the rulers in all cities infallible? 


--339e Where the rulers are wrong about what is in their interests, if the subjects do what the rulers tell them to do, they will be doing what is to the disadvantage of the stronger! 


--340c Clitophon breaks in to try to “rescue” Thrasymachus by maintaining that what he must have meant was “whatever the stronger believes to be in his interest.” 


--341 b Thr: “Do you think I’d call someone who is in error stronger at the very moment time he errs?  I mean the ruler in the most precise sense.” 


-341c Soc: Physician qua[5] Physician (vs. the money-maker). 


--341c-342d -Soc: What does the physician (in the precise sense) aim at?  Medicine seeks the health of the patient, horse-breeding the good of horses, etc.  (342d) “Surely, then, no doctor, insofar as he is a doctor, seeks or orders what is advantageous to himself, but to his patient.” 


--342e “ one in any position of rule, insofar as he is a ruler, seeks or orders what is advantageous to himself, but what is advantageous to his subjects....” 


--Philosophical Aside: Is Plato’s Socrates describing politicians as they were then (or are now), or is he describing them as they ought to be? 


-343b Thr: What of shepherds?  You don’t understand at all Socrates! 


--Thrasymachus maintains that Plato’s Socrates not only misunderstands the nature of justice, but also misunderstands its value.  His discussion introduces the second of the two major problems that Plato would address in the Republic: the “question” of the value of justice (“What is justice good for, and how “good” is it?”).  The first question, of course, is “What is justice?”  It is this question that we have been looking at so far, and of course, it must be answered before the second one may be addressed properly.  


--343d-344c Thr: “A just man always gets less than an unjust one....A person of great power outdoes[6] everyone else.”  When people denounce wrong it is because they are afraid of suffering wrong, not of doing it. 


--345 Soc: I believe that injustice is not more profitable, but let’s examine the claim again. 


-345d Soc: let us look at your idea carefully Thrasymachus—the shepherd qua shepherd (rather than money-maker).  Wage-earning is a different art/skill from the doctor’s, ship captain’s, and shepherd’s.  (346a) “...doesn’t every craft differ from every other in having a different function?” 


--346e “ craft or rule provides its own advantage, but, as we’ve been saying for some time, it provides and orders for its subject and aims at its advantage, that of the weaker, not of the stronger.” 


--347b-c No one will willingly want to rule and we will have to compel the good man to do so....”Now, the greatest punishment, if one isn’t willing to rule, is to be ruled by someone worse than oneself.  And I think that it’s fear of this that makes decent people rule when they do.” 


347e Which profits one most—justice or injustice?  Which is the “way” followed by those who are proper practitioners of the “art of life?” 


-Socrates and Thrasymachus agree that there is such a craft (as justice), but they disagree over what happiness is (Thrasymachus maintains that it is “getting more than your fair share of what are commonly called the good things in life [knowledge, power, happiness]), and Socrates shows him that the unjust man actually doesn’t resemble the “craftsman” in any of these facets—those who truly have knowledge, power, and happiness do not resemble the unjust man. 


-349b Unjust men endeavor to “outdo” or “overreach” others—they try to have “more than their fair share.” 


--In this do they resemble men who know or men who don’t?  Do experts behave thusly? 


--350d Thrasymachus blushes. 


-351-352 Injustice implants hate and dissension, and an “unjust unit” becomes hostile to itself! 


--352 “...injustice has the power, first, to make whatever it arises in—whether it is a city, a family, an army, or anything else—incapable of achieving anything as a unit, because of the civil wars and differences it creates, and, second, it makes that unit an enemy to itself....”  Injustice causes a “civil war” within the soul [351d]. 


-352d Who is happier: the just or the unjust man? 


--352e-353e Things have functions or excellences [arête]—carving knives, pruning knives, etc.  The soul’s function is that of “taking care of things,” ruling,” and “living.”  (353e): “...a bad soul rules and takes care of things badly and a good soul does all these things well.”  The good soul, in effect, “lives well.”  Can the unjust man live well?  The just man is happy and “profits” from his justice, the unjust man is miserable. 


354b “I seem to have behaved like a glutton, snatching at every dish that passes and tasting it before properly savoring its predecessor.  Before finding the answer to our first inquiry about what justice is, I let go and turned to investigate whether it is a kind of vice and ignorance or a kind of wisdom and virtue.  Then an argument came up about injustice being more profitable than justice, and I couldn’t refrain from abandoning the previous one and following up on that.  Hence the result of the discussion, as far as I’m concerned, is that I know nothing, for when I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.” 




2. The challenges of Glaucon and Adeimantus [357a-368c]:


Socrates is not the only one who is dissatisfied with what he has said to Thrasymachus.  In this passage two figures step in to restate Thrasymachus’ objections more carefully and to present Plato’s Socrates with the two central challenges that he will endeavor to meet in the remainder of the book.  Plato chooses his two brothers, Glaucon and Adeimantus, for this role.  While neither is of the same opinion as Thrasymachus, each feels that a better refutation of his view is called for.  They press Socrates for such a response.  Glaucon points out (357a-358) that there are both extrinsic and intrinsic goods, and he asks which Socrates thinks justice is.[7]  Plato’s Socrates responds that he believes that justice is both intrinsically and extrinsically good, and Glaucon challenges him to show that it is intrinsically valuable (claiming that most people would consider justice to be [at most] extrinsically valuable). 


     Glaucon imagines two individuals in possession of the magical rings of Gyges (359d) (rings which render one invisible and immune to prosecution for any wrong-doing)—one a just individual and the other an unjust individual.  He contends that many would think the just individual a fool if she or he didn’t take advantage of the ring’s powers.  Glaucon asks Plato’s Socrates to posit two ideal types of individuals (the perfectly just individual who reaps no extrinsic rewards from his justice, and the perfectly unjust person who reaps every imaginable extrinsic reward) and to convince us that the intrinsic rewards of justice are preferable (360e-361d). 


     Adeimantus maintains that while justice may pay, injustice is said to pay better (363a).  That is, according to him people are interested only in the reputation for justice.  He demands that Plato’s Socrates “...not...give us a merely theoretical proof that justice is better than injustice, but tell us what effect each has in and by itself, the one for good, the other for evil, whether or not it be hidden from gods and men” [367d-e]. 


357b Glaucon: three types of good: instrumental, intrinsic, and both. 


-358e Many say justice is good for its consequences.  But they really believe that injustice is actually better, though they all fear being wronged:


--People believe it is fine to do wrong but they fear being wronged and, thus, they make “compacts” to neither do nor suffer wrong.  Imagine two individuals with Gyges’ rings. 


--360d “Every man believes that injustice is much more profitable to himself than justice, and any exponent of this argument will say that he is right.  The man who did not wish to do wrong with that opportunity, and did not touch other people’s property, would be thought by those who knew it to be very foolish and miserable.” 


--360e Imagine two “ideal types:” strip the unjust man of all the negative consequences and “visit” them upon the just man, and, then, show that justice is indeed intrinsically valuable.


362d Adeimantus: while justice may pay, injustice is said to pay better.  People are interested only in the reputation for justice. 


-When justice is praised it is not justice itself that is recommended but, rather, the reputation for it! 


-We need to be shown what harm comes of being unjust and what good comes from being just. 


-367d-e Show us “in what way does its [justice’s] very possession benefit a man and injustice harm him?”  “Do not...give us a merely theoretical proof that justice is better than injustice, but tell us what effect each has in and by itself, the one for good, the other for evil, whether or not it be hidden from gods and men.” 


Notes: (click on note number to return to text for the note)

[1] The citations are from Plato’s Republic, translated by G.M.A. Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992).  Some of the passages are from the unrevised translation by Grube.  The marginal page references in the text refer to a collection of Plato’s works (Platonis Opera [Paris: 1578]) edited by Henri Stephanus.  This edition’s pagination has become the standard way of identifying and referring to Plato.  Emphasis has been added to several of the passages. 

[2] As noted by our translator and editor, the Greek word here is techne and it has connotations similar to ‘science’ today.  The connotation carries the idea that the craft-person would have a “special” sort of knowledge. 

[3] The notion of “human excellence,” or “virtue” (the Greek word here is arête), is one that is difficult for us to initially understand.  The notion here is not (simply) one of “moral virtue,” since artifacts and ordinary objects may have an “excellence.”  The “excellence” or “virtue” of a thing (or individual) consists of that which enables it to perform its particular function well.  For example, the arête of a knife might be to cut well.  Note that this notion of “excellence” presumes that things (or individuals) have “functions” and assumes that they have a particular (unique) function.  Knives, for example, are used not only for cutting but for spreading; and it is not clear what the function of human beings is. 

[4] Mark McPherran, “Does Piety Pay?  Socrates and Plato on Prayer and Sacrifice,” in The Trial and Execution of Socrates: Sources and Controversies, eds. Thomas Brickhouse and Nicholas Smith (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 2002), pp. 162-190, p. 169.  The article originally appeared in Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy, eds. Nicholas Smith and Paul Woodruff (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 2000), pp. 89-114. 

[5]Qua’ means “in so far as”—so a physician qua physician is one whom we speak of as a doctor (rather than as a parent, driver, or money-earner. 

[6] The word here is important, though the translation is a problem.  C.D.C. Reeve indicates in a footnote to his revision of Grube’s translation that ‘outdoes’ (or ‘overreaches’) here means to “...outdo everyone else by getting and having more and more.  Pleonexia is, or is the cause of injustice (359c), since always wanting to outdo others leads one to try to get what belongs to them, what isn’t one’s own.  It is contrasted with doing or having one’s own, which is, or is the cause of, justice (343a, 441e).” 

[7] An intrinsically valuable goal, or activity, is one that is pursued for its own sake.  Such values are contrasted with extrinsic values—here the goal or activity is valued for what it will allow one to achieve.  Health, for example, might be intrinsically valuable (good-in-itself), while wealth is usually conceived of as extrinsically valuable (good-for-what-it-can-get-us). 

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