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Values and Society / Plato's Republic - Philosophical Essay

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Dec 06, 2017 | #1
While the Republic takes on a number of philosophical issues, its overt goal is to argue against Thrasymachus' claim that the life of injustice is more worthwhile than the life of justice. Present Plato's argument and evaluate its success. In your assessment refer to Plato's concept of dikaiosune translated into justice or morality, and the way both meanings relate to each other.


Justice, in Thrasymachus' opinion, constitutes of the interests of those in power. Thrasymachus argues that people in power make laws that ought to be obeyed by subjects of a given state, for their benefits. Injustice is therefore portrayed as a more worthwhile course as compared to justice, in that people in power profit from conducting unscrupulous activities and passing partisan laws, which enable them to accumulate wealth and increase their power. In contrast, the just indulge in fair activities aimed at enhancing the common good of every individual, hence failing to take advantage of profitable opportunities in the name of being 'just'. Thraymachus' claim can be interpreted as an issue of justice and morality; which Plato referred to as dikaiosune. Justice in the sense that rulers often create laws aimed at serving their self-interests, and morality in the sense that laws passed by those in power may be against societal principles.

Notably, the argument on injustice as a worthwhile course relative to justice was laid forward by Thrasymachus, a sophist. At the time, sophists were individuals who taught concepts for a fee, regardless of the validity of the claims they presented. They were argumentative and assertive people, who often applied dishonest techniques to win arguments, such as employing non-logical and unreasonable discussions. The outcome of such a discussion was the obnoxious claim of the value and usefulness of injustice over justice.

Justice and Injustice

Narrative Philosophy PaperDuring the ancient Greek civilization, early philosophers indulged in heated debates regarding the benefits of justice and injustice. With justice referring to fairness and the right treatment for all, in our present world, and injustice constituting all negative aspects of justice; justice, as argued by Thrasymachus prevailed over justice. Thrasymachus fails to speak for the people and identifies justice with the law by arguing that injustice is having a good judgment, while in power. Notably, injustice to him is not a virtue but only attempts to explain that complete injustice profits more than complete justice. Thrasymachus supports his claim by giving an example of a ruler who subjects a whole nation under his control. Such a ruler profits much from having control over the city, unlike a just individual who works hard daily yet profits less. Individuals in power who use their authority to embezzle a nation's wealth for their interests are described as completely unjust. However, their unjust nature is more worthwhile as compared to a just ruler who leaves office without having committed unjust activities to serve his interests. Thrasymachus further argues that a person who enslaves others, and commits all manner of ill activities is called happy and blessed in the society, not only by those he rules but by all who hear his unjust actions. The point made by Thrasymachus as a normal condemnation of injustice is not an outright admiration of justice being worthwhile. The motive behind injustice is viewed as a necessary factor for a ruler to achieve power and control, and with control, people overlook the evil and focus on the achievements of the unjust.

Thrasymachus is of the view that power, ruling and injustice go hand in hand. It is not a mere empirical fact that those in power are unjust, it was a fact in Greece. For example, Thrasymachus who was not a citizen of Athens appears to have admiration on the unjust, and the benefits they reaped from their actions. Justice, as he explains is a virtue and the good for another, but justice in the end always works for the advantage of the rulers and the stronger, and thus causing personal injuries to the subjects. Justice, in this case, has been described as the cause of injustice which the strong use to rule over the just and the simple. In his mind, Thrasymachus has essential exploitable actions of the just, which are used by the unjust for their advantage. Transactions such as business deals, distribution of wealth and social goods, and state taxation are expected to be fair dealings; unfortunately, with the motive of power and acquiring more wealth than others in the society, the unjust benefit from the actions of the just. Therefore, Thrasymachus argues that the doing good of another can be interpreted as doing what will be of benefit to the rulers. For instance, policies and laws enacted by rulers may be right for the people, but in the end tend to become the criteria for what is right among citizens, because of the rulers' ability to enforce them.

Thrasymachus believes that all human beings seek to satisfy their desires. His claim is supported by the mere fact of laws and policies enacted for the benefit of the strong, which subject the simple and just to the unjust' ill motives. Glaucon, also part of discussion argues that justice or the law come into being when the majority - in most cases the weak- come together to protect themselves from the attacks of the weak. Glaucon's claims somewhat support Thrasymachus argument, since he is of the opinion that justice is not good, natural and neither is it choice worthy. He claims that most individuals prefer satisfying their desires, contrary to being subject to the desires of the others, which may also lead the just into unjust decisions. They achieve this by settling for customs and laws (nomos) that will prevent them from acting on their desires, but also shield them from the evil desires of others. However, these laws are used by the strong for political control and manipulation of the just. The policies and laws declared as just by the people become appropriate avenues for political arrangements of the strong. Punishment, for instance, is just in the eyes of subjects on the grounds that unlawful behavior damages the common good and thus ought to be punished. In the reality, however, punishment is used by the strong, not for common good, but as an enforcer to the obedience of rules set by the strong in an attempt to safeguard the 'good of the rulers'. Being just, in this case also, is a state of serving the interests of the strong in the society.

Rulers and Crafts

Socrates objects to Thrasymachus claims by stating that craftsmen are concerned with the benefit of their objects. For instance, doctors are concerned with the welfare of their patients rather than their personal welfare. Similarly, a ruler is concerned with the well-being of his subjects and not with his personal well-being. Socrates is of the opinion that justice provided by a ruler exercising a ruling craft does not focus on the ruler's interest. He supports his claim by explaining a case of a shepherd who works hard to fatten his sheep for their sake. However, his illustration is opposed by Thrasymachus who explains that not every craft is designed for the benefit of the object. He points out that shepherds fatten their sheep, not to benefit the sheep but to profit from the sale of the sheep.

To further object to Thrasymachus claims, Socrates demonstrates that rulers are likely to make mistakes in their attempt to profit, which is likely to create justice, hence benefit the weak. However, Thrasymachus responds through stating that true professionals do not make mistakes, and since rulers are true professionals, there can never exist a strong individual capable of being mistaken about what is to their advantage and on how to pursue it. Such a mistake would signify a weakness on their part since it is their capacity to pursue what is to their advantage, which makes the rulers strong and in control.

Interestingly, Thrasymachus succeeds in countering Socrates objection due to its weakness. Socrates craftsmen theory appears weak since he refers to rulers as professionals to their clients, which is not the case. Also, Socrates' argument that craftsmen always work towards the benefit of their objects is not entirely true. Craftsmen do not undertake their daily work responsibility to create justice in the society. To a larger extent, professionals are driven by the desire to enhance their social wellbeing, such as their status and wealth. However, Socrates claim is not entirely refutable since there are craftsmen who work for the benefit of their clients. These professionals include individuals who quit high paying jobs to dedicate their lives to the less advantaged in the society.

Justice and Morality

Justice and injustice discussion as brought out by Socrates and Thrasymachus introduces the concept of dikaiosune, which means justice and morality. At the end of the heated debate, Thrasymachus notes that states would reach levels of excellence through just actions; and that adopting a just life would be more worthwhile as compared to being unjust. In their discussion, it was noted that most people in the society fail to practice justice out of the fear of what may befall them. Likewise, unjust people present themselves as being just to cover their corrupt affairs. In that respect, wrong judgments in regard to how we relate to people are the foundation of morality. Morality arises from the very essence of a man, who obliges another to act in a just way. However, Thrasymachus' claim appears to subordinate the importance of justice, as the moral principle that governs relationships between people in society. He fails to demonstrate the moral good in justice and the moral evil in injustice. In relation to morality, justice can never be done to cause harm to another. Justice as morality is self-sufficient and ensures the happiness of every individual. Justice constitutes virtues that involve the knowledge of doing good, and the avoidance of evil in the society. A moral life entails breaking away from the selfish pursuit of gratification, materialism, and pleasure while causing harm to others. In most cases, acting fairly entails a sacrifice or loss on the part of the doer, which is a complete contradiction to Thrasymachus' argument. Justice involves redressing wrongs committed by punishing criminals and eliminating all opportunities for the unjust to take part in unfair practices. Such punishments are conducted with the belief that the knowledge of good is common sense to every individual. This belief implies that there is a rational way through which people determine what is objectively good and what is evil. However, according to the theory of ethical relativism, there are no universally accepted moral values, but rather, morals principles are isolated to specific cultures or individual choice. Therefore, certain morals may be valid in one culture but unacceptable in other. The varying cultures thus implies that the conflicting behaviors of people in different societies, should not be judged by one who is estranged to it.

The contention between Thrasymachus and Socrates claims may, therefore, be attributed to their different cultures since the former was a foreigner in Athens. Socrates, unlike Thrasymachus advocates for the greater good of the society through the application of just ways by rulers. In contrast, Thrasymachus advocates for injustice as a means to profit, while at the same time ignoring moral principles of fairness. However, it is unclear whether Thrasymachus' claims were motivated by the sole desire to win the argument, since, as a sophist, he had to employ all tactics to persuade others. In addition, Plato may have used Thrasymachus in his work -the Republic- to air his political views on the worthiness of justice and injustice. Notably, Thrasymachus fails to appear in the following chapters of the book, in spite of his significant contribution and arguments.

Thrasymachus' claims fail to acknowledge the very essence of people in power, which is to attend to the common good of all citizens. His arguments on the worthiness of injustice are contradictory to moral principles and tend to support the tyranny and the evils of injustice. Socrates on the other hand presents a fair argument that supports justice as a worthy course for the happiness of all people in the community. However, Socrates failure to present his case leads to the triumph of Thrasymachus' distorted views on the worthiness of injustice. Nonetheless, Thrasymachus' ability to persuade does not necessarily mean that his entire claims are believable. Notably, his claims on unjust people having power are true even in our present generation. However, such people do not enjoy a lasting power as compared to the just. Injustice often ends in failure and disgrace, while justice creates peace, happiness, and respect among people. Evidently, injustice profits individuals, while justice profits the whole society. Therefore, Thrasymachus claims may somewhat be true, since the life of injustice is worthwhile, only that it benefits a few individuals. However, the life of justice is most valuable and rewarding, since it focuses on the common good of every person, both the just and the unjust.


Kupperman, J. J. (2012). Theories of Human Nature, And, Human Nature: A Reader. Hackett Pub Co Inc.

Lycos, K. (1987). Plato on justice and power: Reading Book I of Plato's Republic. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

Zuckert, C. H. (2009). Plato's philosophers: The coherence of the dialogues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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