Republic By Plato Summary and Analysis Book II: Section I

Summary

Thrasymachus is now out of the dialogue, having gracelessly told Socrates that Socrates was all along seeking to do Thrasymachus personal injury in making him look bad in the argument and that Socrates probably cheated somehow in achieving the final rebuttal. But Glaucon and Adeimantus want the conversation extended, Glaucon because he would like to accept Socrates' argument that justice is better than injustice, but he is not yet convinced; Adeimantus because he is troubled by the efficacy of theappearance of virtue as opposed to the possession of virtue in and of itself. Adeimantus is also troubled by other aspects he wants introduced in the dialogue. In other words, Glaucon wishes to hear Socrates amplify his rebuttal of Thrasymachus, so Glaucon will recapitulate Thrasymachus' arguments. And Adeimantus intends to break new ground in the conversation.


Socrates has said that Justice is a good, a virtue, not unlike good health and forms of human knowledge that are good in and of themselves. The attainment of the good is not consequent on the rewards (money, honor, prestige) it might entail.

But Glaucon's recapitulation of Thrasymachus' argument is of value, if only because it eschews the Sophist's bombast. Here it follows:

In the old days, there was no concept of justice, no laws to fix the locus of justice. People took by force of arms whatever they could from one another, but no group of people could ally themselves in sufficient force or philosophical consensus to assure their position of power. So they were unhappy because everyone was effecting retribution of evil upon others who had instigated the use of force, violence for violence, blood feuds, the wrongs of fathers visited upon sons. So people agreed to a sort of rude law, tried to establish "right" actions and "wrong" actions. But their laws were engendered by fear and motivated by selfish ends.

Let us suppose (Glaucon continues) that each of two men possesses a magic ring that enables each man to become invisible. One of these men is a just man; the other is unjust. The men's invisibility-at-will enables them to do whatever they want, take whatever they want, seize any opportunity at will. And given the opportunity, both men would seize it and exploit it; the unjust man will behave unjustly; the just man, given the opportunity, will also behave unjustly unless he is a simpleton. Furthermore, Socrates has argued that justice is a virtue, that it is better in and of itself than injustice, no matter the circumstances. No, says Glaucon, it is more rewarding for the unjust man, reaping the benefits of injustice, to appear to be just, thereby incurring honors and reputation consequent upon the appearance of justice.

Moreover, Adeimantus chimes in with his brother, in attempting to fix a definition of justice, we have been talking about the ideal. In mundane reality, when fathers and teachers advise sons and students to strive for justice, they are actually advising the appearance of justice. So Glaucon is correct, and Thrasymachus, in spite of his specious rhetoric, is probably correct. And even if we are reminded that we are taught that the gods themselves reward justice and punish injustice, we know from the stories the poets tell us that the gods can be bribed. Perhaps we can fool the gods with appearance as well as the most of mankind. So in order for Socrates to demonstrate that justice is finally good in and of itself, and injustice commensurately bad, we need a furtherance of that argument.

Analysis

Glaucon and Adeimantus have refined Thrasymachus' argument and have augmented it. Now they want a more profound argument proving that, infinitely, justice qua justice is preferable to injustice as injustice. Furthermore, the two older brothers want Socrates to eschew any discussion of reputation of justice in his answer; for it has already been established that mankind generally mistakes the appearance of justice for justice. The ideally unjust man is no simpleton, and he becomes adept at concealing his injustice under the guise of justice; no matter how hard he has to work at it, the rewards are great, and he is doubly rewarded in that he can enjoy the fruits of his injustice and at the same time he can enjoy the reputation of being a just man. Thus it is that appearance is all, and, to coin a phrase, the unjust man hereby profits both from the injustice and the appearance of justice, thereby selling his fellows both a doughnut and the hole in the doughnut. And, even if a truly unjust man perceives himself to be a hypocrite, he is finally a happy hypocrite. Besides, it is common knowledge that the hypocrite is recognized as such only by himself and by the gods. Further, it is common knowledge that the gods can be propitiated by sacrifice, so it follows that the clever unjust man may go merrily through life, alternately sinning and sacrificing to the gods, enjoying the best of both worlds. And, if we strip the just man of his reputation and honors for being just, then he finally stands naked in his simplicity: He is a just man, but only that.

So we return to the concepts of opportunity and necessity. If the unjust man perceives himself to be in a situation whereby he may profit, he may and will choose either just or unjust measures to ensure that profit. After all, if we are talking of the truly unjust man, then finally he does not even care for the appearance of being just. Like most of us, the unjust man has heard the poets tell stories of just men who are thought to be unjust, and those just men are in the myths forced to undergo all sorts of tortures before they are finally executed. So according to the myths, perhaps both the gods and men are united in "making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just." This being the case, if either the just or the unjust man finds himself between two crowds shouting, he had better shout with the louder; if the just man finds himself driven by necessity and want in this world, he had better assuage that want by whatever means necessary, unless he is a simpleton. So the question remains: What is the value of justice?

In their defense of Thrasymachus' arguments, both Glaucon and Adeimantus are adducing new evidence into the discussion, and they are both, echoing Thrasymachus, arguing a situational ethic. If they could argue from universal truths, they might elect to argue in syllogisms; since they are arguing questions of probability ("if/then" arguments), they are arguing enthymemes.

Syllogism:

All men will die. (Universal truth — Major premise)

Socrates is a man. (Minor premise)

Socrates will die. (Conclusion)

Enthymeme:

If that child plays in traffic, he will probably be injured.

Glaucon and Adeimantus want Socrates to present a conclusive definition of the quality of justice. They seek a universal truth. From now on, Socrates will monopolize the conversation.

Glossary

Croesus (d. 546 b.c.) last king of Lydia (560-546), noted for his great wealth. He is often used as an exemplar of great wealth (as in the simile "rich as Croesus").

Lydia ancient kingdom in western Asia Minor: it flourished in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C.; conquered by Persians and absorbed into Persian Empire (6th century B.C.).

collet a small metal band used in ring settings.

Aeschylus (525?-456 b.c.) Greek writer of tragedies.

Hesiod eighth-century B.C. Greek poet, generally accepted to be the author of the epic Works and Days; Hesiod (with Homer) is one of the earliest sources of the Greek myths in written form.

Musaeus a legendary Greek poet thought to have lived before Homer, believed to be the author of Orphic poems and oracles.

Hades in Greek mythology, the home of the dead, or the Underworld; the traditional belief was that the souls of all who died went to Hades, where they existed as shades, with consciousness but mindless and without strength.

slough a swamp, bog, or marsh, especially one that is part of an inlet or backwater.

"mendicant prophets" prophets or holy men who live by begging; Socrates' implication here is that they are assumed by educated persons to be charlatans.

Orpheus a legendary musician from Thrace; according to myth, he played the lyre with such artistry that his music moved rocks and trees and calmed wild animals. Orpheus figures in numerous myths and, like Musaeus, is associated with religious rites.

Archilochus seventh-century B.C. Greek poet, regarded as the inventor of iambics (a poetic meter).

rhetoric the art of using words effectively in speaking or writing; the "professors of rhetoric" to whom Socrates refers here are Sophists, noted for their adroit, subtle, and often specious reasoning.

panegyrists plural of panegyrist, an orator who presented eulogies (praiseful speeches); here, Socrates means writers and speakers who praise, or have praised, justice.

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