Plato: Human Nature and Political Institutions

Topics: Soul, Plato, Socrates Pages: 8 (2897 words) Published: March 20, 2011
Human nature has been contemplated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many philosophers. Plato begins his study by discussing the nature of justice, which then gets applied to human nature. His discussion of human nature can be considered the foundation of his discussion of justice in the soul. Since we only learn about human nature through the study of politics, it can be argued that both topics are of importance to Plato, albeit in differing degrees. If he did not care about politics, it does not seem likely that he would have created such an elaborate scheme to create the kallipolis—the perfect city. However, Plato only uses the construction of the kallipolis to illustrate the perfection of human nature (representative of the soul), because hypothetically speaking, it is easier to see and understand things on a larger scale (human soul vs the soul of the city). The obscurities are vast when discussing topics such as these; however this essay will attempt to demonstrate the fact that Plato’s views on politics and human nature have a re-affirming relationship.

At the beginning of the Republic, Socrates discusses justice in the general. His inoculators, Glaucon and Thrasymachos, both have differing views on justice which are discussed in Book 1 and Book 2 of the Republic. For Thrasymachos, justice is to the advantage of the stronger and the disadvantage of the weaker. Essentially, this argument is parallel to might is right; survival of the fittest etc. This is why the stronger people rule and make laws in the polis; however, Socrates points out a flaw in that argument. Sometimes, rulers mistake their own advantage. An example of this is in obedience to the law. It is not always in the best interest of an individual to obey the law because law is created to protect the interest of the majority but does not necessarily accommodate the needs of individuals. Since this is clear it becomes apparent that a stronger man will not be mistaken about what is advantageous for him; otherwise, he would not be ruler. Socrates then concludes that justice is not to the advantage of the stronger and the disadvantage to the weaker. Moreover, Socrates gets Thrasymachos to agree that through craft, the expert works to the advantage to others (not to himself). This is evident on page 141 where Socrates says: ...the arts rule and have power over that of which they are arts. He agreed to this, but very reluctantly. Then no science seeks or commands the advantage of the stronger, but the advantage of the weaker, that which is subject to it...Then it is not true that no doctor, so far as he is a doctor, seeks or commands the advantage of the doctor but only the advantage of the patient? (Plato 1999, 141) This quote shows the ways in which the expert works for the advantage of others and not themselves. Doctors do not practice medicine to benefit (solely) themselves; they practice it to help weaker people. The good in practicing medicine is the act of practicing medicine (helping those who are sick). This benefits the other person, not the person who practices medicine. Similarly, the good in ruling is not actually the act of ruling because the good person will not want to rule for themselves. They will end up ruling to prevent an inferior person from ruling. This does not benefit the ruler; in fact, it is argued that ruling is a burden. Those ruled are the people who benefit from ruling a nation. So by the end of his discussion, Thrasymachos’ argument has been thoroughly debunked. A clear implication here is that the human nature that Thrasymachos proposes is not to be considered just simply because it potentially creates more vices in the world which would be unjust.

While Thrasymachos attributes justice to strength, Glaucon takes a perspective that illustrates human nature as being a pragmatic compromise. For him, people are willing to commit unjust acts as long as it serves them without getting caught for their unjust acts. People are...
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