The book is actually an in-depth recording of a philosophy contest between Platos teacher Socrates and several other great philosophers. What is significant about this contest is that, in it, Socrates describes his personal view of a perfect world, and why justice is so important in the process of creating a civilized world. The novel was completed in 370 B. C. , and it describes a strong debate between Socrates and five other speakers.
The two main arguments that he illustrates in this novel are that a ruler cannot obtain more power than the state, and that a philosopher is best suited to rule a nation since he has the ability to maintain this balance. Also, Socrates claims that only the philosopher has traveled beyond the cave of worldly desires and temptations to discover what justice really is. Socrates first major argument is with Thrasymachus in Book I. The current debate lies on the pure definition of justice. Thrasymachus claims that there is only one principle of justice: the interest of the more dominant force. Socrates counters this argument by using the phrase the stronger.
He claims that the ruler of a nation will not be aided, but harmed, by an unintentional command, in the long run. Socrates then builds his argument gradually by stating that the good and just man looks out for the interest of the weaker, and not for himself. Thrasymachus tries to counter Socratess argument by vaguely proclaiming that injustice is more gainful than justice. However, Socrates bravely explains that the just man will live happily because he has a just soul, and the man with the unjust soul lives in poverty; therefore, injustice can never be greater than justice.
At this point in the novel I saw Thrasymachuss flaw and also the reason why Socrates has silenced Thrasymachus. Injustice, in my opinion, may be better as a short-term plan for pleasure, but in the long run the unjust man will be condemned by just men of his evil deeds, thus leading to his downfall. This is a point Thrasymachus failed to see, and thus his argument was too unilateral. This is the reason I believe he lost, and his failure led me to believe that Thrasymachus is a knowledgeable man without wisdom(whereas Socrates had both). After Thrasymachuss defeat, Glaucon steps up to challenge Socrates. Glaucons first argument is that doing injustice and not being punished for it is much more pleasurable than suffering injustice at the hands of unjust rulers and practicing justice.
Glaucons brother, Adeimantus, backs up his brothers speech by stating that an unjust man with a deceivably just reputation(which is almost always the trait of the perfectly unjust man) is also better than the just man. But Socrates counters these two strong speeches by proclaiming that, in an average city, justice is needed for the Senate to build the city, for citizens to trade and barter with foreigners, and for training and educating soldiers for battle. Socrates also states that justice comes from God and those who follow his example become just. Although these two arguments are striking contrasted content-wise, there is a connection between them. If a man is unjust, he will not only be condemned by men, but by God as well.
And even though there may be no Supreme Being that controls the Earth and its neighboring planets, injustice will still cause harm, leading to more injustice and finally the destruction of the world. I am quite positive that Glaucon and Adeimantus are thinking in the same manner as Thrasymachus; they are thinking short-termed and are explaining their arguments in terms of the present. Of course, three unjust men in a world where just people rule could get away with almost any unjust act. But injustice leads to more injustice, as well as justice leads to more justice. Therefore, if the following is considered true, then unjust men leads to more unjust men, and then what would happen if unjust men ruled the world. There would be many intense conflicts, which would lead to violence and hatred, and finally, the destruction of mankind.
So therefore in the end, unjust men would lose. Socrates continues with his argument by saying that persons of worth should be given the greatest respect and authority, which includes the Greek gods as well. Socrates also claims, using the arts of medicine, music, and gymnastics; that one who practices these arts constantly and repeatedly with disregard to his surroundings will soon become one with the art, and forget about what is really important in a mans life. This act will most definitely lead to injustice. Socrates polishes off the remainder of his argument by stating that the way of life of a man should be a guardian of the State; for they have courage and are never too lazy to protect the city from an enemy. The men who have plenty of possessions, however, become greedy and turn against their fellow citizens.
During Socratess argument, in my opinion, Adeimantus looks to be stupefied by Socratess great wisdom and knowledge, and how Socrates takes simple points and develops them to defend his argument. However, Adeimantus(unlike the cowardly Thrasymachus) continued to participate in the debate, although saying little much than phrases agreeing with Socratess arguments. In Book IV, Adeimantus proposes a question to Socrates, asking what Socrates would do if someone blamed him for the economic condition of the man. Socrates responds, first of all, that if a man lives by education, courage, and self-mastery, he should have no trouble making a decent living in the modern world. Justice finds its place in these three principles because they are the common traits of the State, which all mankinds should respect and follow.
Socrates continues his argument by generally stating throughout a long river of metaphors, symbols, and great understanding, that just men appreciate other just men, but not men opposite of what he is. Unjust men, on the other hand, appreciate neither just men nor other unjust men. The only interest they care about is that of himself. At this point Thrasymachus, Adeimantus, and Glaucon believe that Socrates has gone overboard with his arguments.
Socrates replies by saying that it takes great depth inside wisdom and understanding and many comparisons relating to everyday life to understand what truth really is; the three speakers then resume their positions. Socrates goes on by saying that men who make the best rulers possess not only political understanding and military leadership, but also great wisdom and understanding; therefore these people are the ones who have a complete understanding of what justice is. These rulers could also be philosophers with military experience, or military leaders with a great sense of philosophy. It seemed to me in this point in the novel that Glaucon and the other two were tired of Socratess arguments because they were too long and besides the point. However, as Socrates had said earlier, justice is not merely explained in minutes. It is a subject that must be looked into very closely and with the greatest respect and gravity.
Socrates then explains that not all who claim to be philosophers are actually philosophers. At this point in the novel, Socrates explains the difference between those that claim to be philosophers, and those that actually are philosophers. Men who only claim to be philosophers are only thinking of building a reputation. At first they seem to be wiser and more knowledgeable than others, but after they have gained the respect of the citizens, they become corrupt and rule the city unjustly. Real philosophers, however, find that it is in their best interest to govern wisely and make laws fair enough for the good of the people, not for the benefit of the ruler. Real philosophers also have wisdom and understanding, which gives them a better understanding of justice than corrupted rulers.
In any case, I am beginning to agree with Glaucon and the others about how Socrates builds his arguments; now its a good thing for a philosopher to start with a simple idea, and then use it to form the basis of the philosophers opinion. However, in my opinion, Socrates is overdoing the formations of his opinions. For example, in Book VI, Socrates goes on and on about good and evil philosophers; much of what he says is pretty much beside the point, in my opinion. Socrates, after the previous argument, goes on to say that there is a difference between what the eyes see and what the mind sees.
According to Socrates, the eyes see both small and great, but in a confused manner. (Book VII, section 524) What this means is that the eyes alone cannot distinguish what is right from what is wrong since they contribute to many sins, such as lust, coveting, and several others. After this statement, Socrates claims that the mind was compelled to reverse the process, and look at small and great as separate and not confused. (Book VII, section 524).
What this means is that the mind, with the aid of wisdom and knowledge, can sense right from wrong easily. After all of Socratess arguments about justice, Socrates concludes his entire debate by describing what he calls a perfect State. This perfect land was The type of government in this State is democracy(where people rule the land) because then the people can obtain plenty of freedom to achieve their own pleasures without being pushed around by a superior force. In democracy also is equality, since people rule the government, and there is no reason for a man to be treated as an inferior by a fellow citizen. What the State does not have is a tyrant, which Socrates goes into great detail about in Book IX.
The tyrant, as Socrates describes, is unable to satisfy anyone but himself. Therefore he has few, if any, friends. The tyrant is also a ruthless ruler; he is hard-hearted and will not forgive anyone of doing wrong to him. Finally, Socrates points out that, in his perfect State, philosophers will always have the advantage over other types of rulers because they have wisdom and knowledge, which gives them the ability to govern justly and wisely.
In my opinion, Socratess perfect State sounded plenty like the scenario progressing in the debate. Socrates, since he is a great philosopher, had the advantage over everyone because he was wise and intelligent in his arguments; therefore he obviously knew more about justice than anyone else. So, in conclusion, Socrates won the debate on the definition of justice. The reason for this is because Socrates, as stated before, had the wisdom and knowledge to analyze, in the most descriptive way, what justice really is. Glaucon and the others lacked what Socrates had, and so they could not support their arguments as well as Socrates could.
I really liked this novel a lot because I am a lover of philosophy and understanding. However, I must admit that some of Socratess arguments were redundant and besides the point. But other than this crucial flaw, the book showed great insight, and Socrates created a vivid description about what justice means to the modern world.Bibliography: