Socrates' Justice

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Socrates' Justice

By | October 2008
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In The Republic, Plato wrote a dialog between Socrates and his friends about the meaning of justice. They came into four definitions of justice, returning debts, helping friends, a system that benefits the strong, and a virtue that feels food.

When asked about the meaning of justice, Cephalus believed that justice was the repayment of debt. Justice is completed when one‘s debt if fully returned. Socrates believed that the theory was flawed and may deliver disastrous result if applied in every situations. For example, if someone without a doctor’s prescription gives me money in exchange of some prescription only drugs, should I give the person the drugs? According to the “returning debt” theory, the answer is yes. When a person gives me some money or anything for that matter, I am in debt to that person, and it will be just if I give that person something equal in return. The problem is the person may become intoxicated and harm his or her own body by taking the drugs without a doctor’s supervision. The justice is complete, but the result is bad. In other words, I am actually doing a disadvantage (wrong drugs) to someone while taking an advantage (money) myself. Thus the person did not have justice.

Socrates and the other philias then had agreed that justice was not simply returning one’s debt. The next definition of justice was raised. “…justice is to help your friends and harm your enemies.” By that definition, we need to make sure that when returning debt, we don’t harm our friends as well. In the previous drug case, I should not give the person the drugs because he or she is my customer. Another issue was then raised. Socrates pointed out that sometimes we make the wrong judgment about who are friends and who are enemies. There are people who seem kind yet mean us harm and there are people who seem hostile yet mean us no harm. What about a good friend who wants us to use illegal drugs and a police officer who will arrest us for doing so. Does it make...