The unjust person

Thrasymachus' explanation as to why a shepherd may be considered an unjust man5 is very interesting. He claims that because the shepherd is acting out of concern not for the sheep, but for the future monies he may earn from their sale, or for the enjoyment they will provide at a banquet. This injustice, then, is in the shepherd's own good: he would be foolish to spend all his time caring for the sheep without good reason to do so, thinks Thrasymachus.

It certainly seems plausible that the unjust man may benefit more than the just man: the unjust man avoids paying his taxes, whilst the just man diligently pays his whenever they are due; the unjust man does not spend time helping others, whilst the just man may rarely have time for himself, etc. If, however, justice involves the unjust man benefiting more than the just man, it seems impossible to regard it as the advantage of the stronger, since it would appear that the unjust person is the stronger in this situation.

As Socrates says, if justice is of a good nature, then injustice must be of a bad nature, but Thrasymachus has said that such injustice can be a good attribute – the just shepherd would get nothing back from his sheep, whilst the unjust one may earn money through his unjust shepherding skills. Thrasymachus believes that unjust men can arouse respect, and this seems a fair judgement: people as dangerous as many unjust men (Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, for example) deserve a certain amount of respect, since without it nobody may ever attempt to change these dictators' ways of thinking.

To change or help someone, you certainly do need to have respect for them and respect for their power: these men may not be seen as good men, but they are certainly great ones, in terms of how much power they acquired, even though it was acquired in a cruel and unjust way. Socrates offers three main arguments at the end of the book in an attempt to make Thrasymachus concede his position. Firstly, Socrates says that – in opposition to what Thrasymachus has said – it is not clever to always strive for more and more, which the unjust man does6.

For example, many dictators have been captured when they have tried to advance too far into forbidden lands; if they had not been so greedy, wanting more and more land for their empire, they may have survived. Socrates argues that justice is a skill, and that any skill requires some degree of intelligence because in order to practise a skill one already needs to have some knowledge of it.

The expert does not aim to outdo others, but the non-expert tries to outwit everyone; Thrasymachus has already said the unjust man tries to outdo both just men and other unjust men, thus – according to Socrates' definition – making the unjust man the non-expert in this case. The second of Socrates' arguments7 is that if everyone wants to outdo everyone else, there would never be enough cooperation for anything to succeed, since such general compliance is rather required as it is almost impossible for one person to work alone if his work is large and will affect other people.

The tyrant, however, rules by fear, and is thus someone who does not need anyone to back him up, requiring no cooperation whatsoever from other people. Socrates' third argument8 is that various things have a function and corresponding virtue, as mentioned above with regard to the eyes and the virtue of sight. It has been agreed that the virtue of a soul, i. e. : that which is required for it to function without deficiency, is justice. Therefore, a soul with justice will live well and be happy, suggests Socrates, obviously making the soul and the person synonymous with one another.

Ultimately, justice then will make us more happy than injustice. This is a convincing argument, but rather begs the question as to whether something as nebulous as a soul can have a 'function'; we view everyday items, like washing machines, baths and thermos flasks as having functions, and – to some extent – the bodily senses too: the ears' function is to hear, the tongue's to taste, etc. However, it is harder for us to imagine something as rather non-descript and invisible as the soul as having a similar function to things which we can see and use consciously.

In conclusion, both Thrasymachus' and Socrates' arguments are not particularly clear, and Thrasymachus is obviously wrought by confusion, unsure quite what he means and obviously put off by Socrates' intense questioning and attempts to 'wrong foot' him. Rather more questions are raised by the arguments than answered by them, and throughout the book there seems to be general confusion over exactly what question they are trying to answer: 'what is justice? ' or 'who benefits from justice? '. Ultimately, both of these important questions appear to be left unanswered.