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Plato's the Republic

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  • May 2007
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Justice
In Plato's The Republic, the author seeks to define the meaning of justice. In the story, the main character Socrates and some other men are discussing the subject of justice in the city and how one might judge what is just. At one point in the argument, Thrasymachus, one of the debaters and a sophist, makes a very broad and controversial statement: "Justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger." This sparks a heated discussion between him and his friends, who ask him to clarify what he meant. In this paper, I will explain Thrasymachus' argument and outline the dialectic process that took place. When Thrasymachus claims that justice is the advantage of the stronger, this seems to imply that justice is whatever the strong people, the people in power, have made of it. He says that every government on earth, be it tyranny, democracy, or oligarchy have created their own set of laws and rules, "and they declare what they have made — what is to their own advantage — to be just for their subjects" (338e). This would mean that moral values are entirely socially constructed and reflect nothing more than the personal interests of the politicians in charge of making the rules. By his definition, if you are clever and strong enough to seize power to begin with, then you have the advantage of being superior, of being able to define justice, as justice then becomes whatever benefits you. However, Socrates disagrees with this thesis statement and presents his anti-thesis, pointing out that rulers are not infallible and that sometimes they enact laws that are not to their advantage at all. Therefore, would this not directly contradict the idea that justice is to do whatever they say, and also to do whatever is beneficial to them? Would it not also logically follow that if obeying their laws leads to actions that are not beneficial to the ruler, then "it is just to do the exact opposite" (339e)? Thrasymachus then clarifies his position by stating in...