The Application of Plato’s Justice in Contemporary Society
“The result, then, is that more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of the others” (Sayers 21) Despite an existing definition of justice prior to his philosophical works, Plato spent much of his life challenging that definition and introducing his own. He used his famous work The Republic to define justice and outline its implementation within his concept of the “just city.” The Republic was written several thousand years ago, which causes one to question whether or not its contents are still relevant today. The goal of this paper is to show the correlation between Plato’s theory of justice, and our current contemporary idea of justice. While there are clearly some gaps between the two, I believe many of Plato’s theories are deeply rooted within our society still today.
Plato approaches the subject of justice from two directions. He first addresses justice within the individual, and follows it with his model of the “just city” and societal justice. Plato is clearly motivated by the failing government system in Athens, which at the time of The Republic was on the verge of ruins. Further adding to his frustration, was the execution of Socrates. “Plato blamed his death on a broken system in which justice was not truly understood or enforced” (Sayers 57). These factors were key in Plato’s pursuit of justice.
Plato viewed individual justice as a “human virtue,” that forced consistency and overall good. Social justice was defined as a certain level of consciousness the “makes society internally harmonious and good” (Plato 14). Plato believed that justice was contained within the individual, or within the soul, and therefore he laid out three crucial elements for the existence of justice. He believed that within the individual must existence a proper balance of reason, spirit, and appetite, in which reason was in control in order to contain the self-satisfying properties primarily of appetite. Plato used the same three elements to define social justice. He assigned each element to a different class within his “just city.” The ruling class (or philosopher class) was representative of reason; the guardian or warrior class was representative of spirit; and finally the lower class (artisans, workers) were representative of appetite (Sayers 62). Plato believed that each element must work together for the overall good of society, in order to truly be just.
In summary of Plato’s theory, he defines justice as “part of human virtue and the bond which joins man together within society” (Plato 61). “Justice is an order and duty of the parts of the soul, it is to the soul as health is to the body” (Plato 61). Plato believed in the overall good of the individual and society, and defined this goodness paired with certain virtues and morality as justice.
This brings us to justice within contemporary times. The current Webster’s Dictionary definition of justice is, “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” While we look to this definition for an understanding of justice it is clearly rather vague. In fact, it uses the word just within the definition, and therefore leaves us wondering what justice today truly means. While researching this topic I looked to the writing of political philosopher Thomas Patrick Burke. In his book The Concept of Justice, Burke begins by saying that the mere concept of justice, “provides every society with its most fundamental rule of social order” (3).
Burke further explains that the standard widely accepted question behind justice for much of history remained “what is right and wrong for a particular person in particular circumstances to do?” (Burke 5)...
Cited: Burke, Patrick Thomas. The Concept of Justice. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011. Print
Plato. The Republic. 2nd ed. Trans. Desmond Lee. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1987.
Sayers, Sean. Plato’s Republic: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. Print
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