Justice in Plato

What is justice? Why do men behave justly? Is it because they fear the consequences of injustice? Is it worthwhile to be just? Is justice a good thing in and of itself regardless of its rewards or punishments? Speaking through his teacher Socrates, Plato attempts to answer these questions in the Republic. In book I Thrasymachus, a rival of Socrates makes the claim that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger. It does not pay to be just because those who behave unjustly naturally gain power and become the rulers of society.

Justice is what unjust rulers say is right through the rules that they make. It is injustice that is the source of happiness#. Plato sets out to disprove Thrasymachus’ argument and provide an accurate definition of justice through which he will demonstrate that justice is good and desirable and it is in our best interests to adhere to it. Plato claims that there are two kinds of justice, individual and political. Since the city is larger than the individual it is easier to find justice at the political level and later inquire as to whether there is any similar concept to be found in the individual.

To locate political justice he builds up a completely just city and observes where justice enters it. # Through the examination of this city Plato shows that both the ideal city and the just individual are balanced and structured through a principle of specialization, both are governed by reason brought forth by education, and justice is good in it of itself because of these reasons. Instead of defining justice as a set of behavioural norms Plato identifies justice as a set of structural relationships among the parts of the whole. # Political justice is accomplished as harmony in a structured political body.

Each individual is born with a natural role or skill that they must practice exclusively. # The ideal city consists of three main classes of people: producers who fulfill their necessary and unnecessary appetites and consist of the general population and labourers, auxiliaries who guard the city from external and internal conflict and are driven by spirit and passion, and rational guardians who rule the city. # Society is just when relations between these three classes are balanced. Each group must perform its appropriate function and only that function.

Each must be in the correct position of power in relation to the others. Rulers must rule, auxiliaries must uphold the ruler’s convictions and the producers must perform only the skills that nature granted them. No group can interfere in any other business. Rulers ought not produce and producers have no part in the political system of the polis. # Since this just city is set up the best way possible we can be sure it has certain virtues: wisdom to be found in the guardian class, courage to be found in the auxiliaries and moderation and justice which are spread across the entire city.

Moderation is the agreement and acceptance of who ought to rule and justice is to be found in the principle of specialization, each person playing their natural role and only this role# Plato has now defined justice in the political realm and moves on to show how it is mirrored on the individual level. He argues that the human soul consists of three parts, similar to those of the just city. The appetitive part of the soul desires material possessions and is ruled by appetites such as food, drink, sex and money, this part of the soul is similar to the class of producers in society.

# The spirited part of the soul is analogous to the auxiliary class in the city and strives for honour and pride. # The part corresponding to the guardians of the polis is the rational part of the soul. It is driven by the love of knowledge and strives for truth. # Justice in the individual soul is that same as justice in society. It involves a correct balance in the power of the different parts, each fulfilling its proper role. In a just individual the rational part of the soul rules and the soul desires knowledge above all other appetites.

The spirited part supports this rule and together these parts keep the appetitive part in line. # The entire soul aims at fulfilling the desires of the rational part. A person who’s soul is set up in this way will naturally live a just life, just like a city based on principles of specialization will inherently be just. Instead of striving for honour or material possessions, which lead to greed, crime and other vices the rational soul is driven by the love of truth and is a healthy soul. # Plato shows that justice is not merely a set of actions or beliefs but is instead the result of the well-structured soul.

The guardians whose souls are naturally dominated by rationality and strive for wisdom are best able to understand what is good for the city and are therefore in the best position to govern the city. However, guardians are not produced perfectly by nature and their souls must be purified through education. # Education plays a crucial role in creating Philosopher Kings and justice in the city and the soul. It purifies the guardians of the city and causes them to desire only rational things. # Similarly, education purifies the soul of the individual and purges lust for unnecessary appetites.

Like the body, the soul can have a healthy and an unhealthy state. This is determined by what the soul is exposed to. It is the role of education to control this. # Plato says that the only way the ideal city is possible is if the rulers are philosophers, he thus introduces the concept of the philosopher king. The philosopher loves truth and knowledge more than anything else, the rational part of his soul rules and his soul is just. # Also, only philosophers are capable of real knowledge because only they can grasp understanding of the forms, objects of knowledge that posses eternal unchanging truths.

# Philosophers come to grasp the forms, particularly the Form on the Good through education. Education moves the philosopher through the stages of cognition, from imagination to belief of the visible realm to knowledge and finally understanding on the intelligible realm, ultimately grasping the Form of the Good. One must have full understanding of the form of the good in order to be a philosopher king and be fit to rule. # Plato uses the example of the sun to help explain the Form of the Good.

The sun is to the visible realm what the Form of the Good is to the intelligible realm. Like the sun gives us sight and is the source of visibility in the visible realm, the Form of the Good gives us the capacity for knowledge and understanding of all the forms in the intelligible realm. # Plato then turns to the analogy of the cave to demonstrate the effects of education on the human soul and its role in producing philosopher kings. In the cave prisoners, that represent most people in society, are chained in the world of appearances and are looking at the wall of the cave.

Behind the prisoners there are people moving objects near a fire and casting shadows. The prisoners believe these shadows to be the realest things in the world. Once the prisoner breaks away and turns around he realizes that the images are not real, they are just projections of real objects, however he still does not understand the source of light. # The prisoner is in the realm of belief. The love of wisdom will draw the philosopher up the long path out of the cave towards the light, he will eventually know that the sun is producing

the light and then finally when he makes his way out of the cave he will see the light and reach the stage of understanding. # The goal of education is to draw individuals as far out of the cave and towards the understanding of the Form of the Good as possible. # The philosopher king that grasps the Form of the Good must return back into the “cave” and rule society. # Although returning back to the darkness of the cave is undesirable, the philosopher king must do it because the goal of the city is to make the whole as happy as possible, not one group happier than the rest.

# Since the philosopher’s soul is governed by reason and ultimately desires what is the most just he will in a sense want to rule because the city would be unjust if he didn’t. The just city “will be governed, not like the majority of cities, by people who fight over shadows and struggle against one another in order to rule, but by people who are awake rather than dreaming. “# Plato argues that the reluctance the philosopher king has to rule makes him the most fit to rule, for he will rule as a sense of obligation rather than for personal gain and power.

#This insures that the city is governed according to the laws of reason and not according to the lust of unnecessary appetites. Now that Plato has defined justice and explained how it is brought about in the city and in the individual he must now show the justice is worthwhile even when it doesn’t seem to confer an immediate advantage. He compares the philosopher king to a man ruled entirely by the non-rational part of the soul, the tyrant#. His lawless desires draw him toward unjust things. Since he will do anything to feed his desires the rational part of the soul is enslaved by the other parts.

# He is inconstant danger of being killed in revenge by his subjects who he enslaves, his unjust actions cause him to become a captive and live in fear. Plato argues that because his desires are insatiable, the tyrant is forever unfulfilled and unsatisfied. # The just ruler on the other hand is a legitimate ruler. His desires are achievable because knowledge has an attainable end point, the Form of the Good. # Plato goes on to argue that there are three sorts of people in the world, truth loving, honour loving and profit loving.

Each person takes the most pleasure in what he values most. # However, only one of these groups can be right and only the philosopher can make this judgement because he alone has experienced all these pleasures. We ought to believe the philosopher when he says that the pleasure one gets from having a just soul is the best kind of pleasure. # The just life is good in and of itself because it is connected to the greatest good, the Form of the Good. Plato asks us to envision that every individual has a lion, a beast and a human being living inside of him.

# If he behaves unjustly he is feeding the beast and the lion, making them strong, while he weakens the human so that he is dragged where the others lead. The three parts are enemies because each tries to pursue its own agenda and there is disharmony in the soul. # In the just person, the human has the most control. He tames the beast and makes the lion his ally in controlling the beast. The three animals live in harmony and the soul is balanced. # This metaphor sums up Plato’s main arguments in the Republic. Plato has demonstrated that instead of being a set of behavioural norms justice is structural.

Harmony between the three classes of society makes for a healthy, just city and harmony in the soul makes for a healthy and just soul. Justice is achieved when all aspects of the whole know their role and not meddle in any other parts’ business. The rational parts of both the city and the soul should rule. The rational part desires truth and wisdom and is developed further through education. Education brings people closer to understanding the forms and ultimately the Form of the Good. Because justice is connected to the Form of the Good, the ultimate good it is worthwhile in it of itself.