Plato's Republic

Topics: Philosophy, Plato, Political philosophy Pages: 5 (1626 words) Published: June 15, 2013
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
–Plato

Justice and the challenge of the Sophists

The premise of Plato’s Republic is indeed a question of morality, as Zeitlin contends (Zeitlan 1997, 3), and a direct challenge to the philosophical ideas proposed by the Sophists who assert that subjective truths, individualism and self-interest is the basis of human nature, and therefore what is moral is relative to ones’ own perception, and justice is what serves the individual’s desires. They considered Plato’s definition of justice one that would often go against one’s self-interest and could therefore be considered a form of injustice (Zeitlan 1997, 6).

In Bloom’s translation and analysis (Bloom 1991, 335) we see this argument over the merits of justice expertly expressed by Socrates with Thrasymachus struggling to maintain his claim’s about the benefits of injustice. For his stance is so extreme that he dismisses justice as indifferent and proposes that as it applies to “caring for others, obeying laws, or being dedicated to the common good,” it is simply bad and that even the unjust power of a tyrant was preferable. This of course is an extreme example of the “might makes right” argument, which Thrasymachus is most strongly associated with. Not only does Plato attempt to confront this extreme individualistic stance, but he takes on these arguments and their basic premise as a foundation for his ambitious claim that morality and justice are not only human imperatives of necessary virtue, but is the basis for any semblance of human happiness. While the argument may take on the character of circular reasoning common of the sophists, it is hard to claim that Plato fails completely in pointing out the flaws in the arguments of self-interest and strength as being the measures of justice.

The Human Soul-Mind and Utopian Political State

In the Republic, Plato develops a sort of tripartite “psychology,” (the components of the human soul-mind) according to Waterfield in his introduction to Oxford’s translation (Republic 1993, pp 41). The psychology is first of the individual and their respective strengths and roles in society. Plato then ambitiously tries to unify these within a framework that is essentially an analogy for his ideal political state and utopian political system. His proposed system is based on the concept of morality and dependent on individuals participating in the divisions of labor that Plato’s political system necessitates. The division’s are believed to be derived from the specific nature or “psychology” of the individual as it relates to their unique disposition to one of the three characteristics of the human mind-soul: appetitive (epithymia), reason (logos), and spirit (thymos). In the political realm these divisions of the human mind-soul form the basis of labor divisions with analogous propensities, e.g., the rulers, influenced mainly by logos, the warriors or helpers by thymos and the producers/labourers by epithymia. Thus, in this way Zeitlin is correct that in this sense the state is a product of the human mind and each component of the state is a product of an element of the soul-mind (Zeitlin 1997, 10). The Principle of Specialization

Justice for Plato is the adherence to the state by one’s participation based on specialization or rather the Principle of Specialization (hereby referred to as PS) (Republic 1993, 290, 370a-c). “Complying with PS is the foundation of individual happiness and fulfillment (406c-407a, 241c), the foundation of the unity of the community (423d) and is social morality (433aff.) because it involves co-operating with others and contributing to the welfare of the whole. And this has a psychological counterpart: if each part of one's mind conforms to the internal equivalent of PS, then one is unified and moral” (Republic 1993, 298).

PS is thus morality, allowing the interdependence that an ideal society needs to function. Ergo, Plato...
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