Developing a Definition of Justice

In Book I of Plato’s The Republic a definition of justice begins to develop in Socrates’ conversations with Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus. Through these conversations we, as readers, come closer to a definition of justice. Three definitions of justice are presented: argued by Cephalus and Polemarchus, justice is speaking the truth and paying ones debts; Thrasymachus insists that justice is the advantage of the stronger; Socrates suggests that justice is a craft like such as aiding the sick or being a captain of a chip. Through speculation Socrates disproves the later definitions.

Also, through said speculation certain defining characteristics evolve. Socrates disproves his company’s arguments of what justice is through the use of analogies and syllogisms. The syllogisms lead us closer to the definition of justice as two definitions are eliminated by Socrates and only his proposed definition survives the scrutiny of the mens argument. Socrates finds many flaws in Cephalus’ and Polemarchus’ definition of Justice as speaking the truth and paying ones debts. The conversation about justice arises when Socrates questions Cephalus about the greatest good his wealth had brought to him.

Cephalus replies that wealth aids one to live a just life by saving one from having to cheat and deceive in order to have life’s necessities. Wealth helps to insure that no sacrifices or money is left owed at the end of ones life, therefore, one can die a just person without fear of Hates. Socrates discredits Cephalus’ account of justice by suggesting a situation where speaking the truth and paying ones debts would not be just: ” . . . if a sane man lends a weapon to his friend and then asks for it back when he is out of his mind, the friend shouldn’t return them, and wouldn’t be acting justly if he did.

Nor should someone be willing to tell the whole truth to someone who is out of his mind” (5). Here Socrates shows that Cephalus’ account of justice cannot be accurate if there are clearly exceptions to it. Here is the point of the conversation where Polemarchus, Cephalus’ son, replaces him in the discussion. Polemarchus quotes Simonides stating, ” it is just to give what is owed” (6). However, he adds to the definition that one owes a friend only good and never harm, where as enemies only owe bad to each other. Socrates uses a series of analogies and syllogisms to disprove this account.

First he analogizes justice as a craft such as that of medicine giving and cooking. Then he points out that one who is best able to guard against disease is also best able to produce it. A person who is best at making food taste good also knows best what makes food taste bad. Likewise, then , if a just person is most lever at being a guardian, as Palemarchus suggests, the person must also be most clever at stealing it. Since stealing is not associated with justice, Polemarchus’ account cannot be correct. This argument which Socrates constructs against Polemarchus’ definition of justice is a syllogism.

Socrates’ continued use of these syllogisms demonstrates his logical and mathematical way of thinking. Polemarchus seems to accept this way of thinking because each time his thought is proven to be illogical he tries to adjust his thought to a more accurate definition. Once Socrates proves again that his thinking is illogical he accepts defeat. Socrates also uses mathematical thinking through analogies and syllogisms to disprove Thrasymachus’ definition of justice as being the advantage of the stronger. Thrasymachus’ argument, in summary is that the strongest element in a city is the ruler.

Each ruler makes laws that are to their own advantage; however, they declare these laws to be in the best interest of their subjects. Anyone who disobeys these laws is punished for being lawless and unjust. Since the established rule is the strongest element in any city, this definition should be accepted because it can be globally recognized. Socrates’ feels, and successfully proves, that this argument is not logicall y adequate. He counter- argues using a syllogism which shows that Thrasymachus’ premises does not support his conclusion. Thrasymachus claims that it is just to obey rulers.

He also agrees that rulers are liable to error. The logical conclusion based on these two premises is that some laws are made in correctly and are, therefore, not to the advantage of the stronger, the ruler. This conclusion does not support Thrasymachus’ hypothesis that justice the advantage of the stronger because obeying an incorrect law would fall under the categories of being just and unjust; for it is just because one is obeying the ruler. It is unjust because it is not to the advantage of the stronger, rather it is to the disadvantage.

Because it is illogical that an action would be both just and unjust, this definition does not suffice. Socrates’ definition of justice as a craft was, perhaps, an unconscious one. It is first presented in his conversation with Polemarchus when he associates being just with crafts such as being a doctor of medicine among others. Not only does Socrates’ definition withstand the scrutiny of argument in his conversations with Polemarchus but it also aids in discrediting his definition of justice. Socrates’ association of justice with crafts spills over into his conversation with Thrasymachus as well.

It withstands the scrutiny of Thrasymachus, who is much less willing to accept his defeat than Polemarchus, and again aids Socrates in defeating the opposing argument. The men agree that a doctor is a person who treats the sick rather than a money maker; likewise, a ships captain is a ruler of sailors. Because the purpose of neither of these crafts is to make money, they are advantageous to the bodies of which medicine heals and the sailors of which captains command. The crafts are stronger than the subjects over which they rule. Crafts seek what is advantageous of their subjects.

Therefore, crafts are advantageous to the weaker. Furthermore, according to Socrates’ justice is analogous to crafts. Therefore, if crafts are advantageous to the weaker that justice is advantageous to the weaker. At the end of book one we are closer to a definition of Justice. We should not accept Socrates’ definition as concrete however because he has not adequately proven that justice is indeed a craft. We are closer to a definition merely because two of the possible definitions have been eliminated.

Work Cited Grube, G. M. A. , Reeve,C. D. E. Plato:Republic. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1992.