What Is Justice

What is justice? Well, many seem to think that they know the answer to this. No one had a better understanding of what justice was and what constituted a just life than Plato and Socrates. After reading his famous book, The Republic, it left me confused, yet well educated on what Plato thought was justice. Philosophers say this book could possibly be the single most important philosophical books of Western Tradition. Plato believed that there is more need for abstract thought than concrete thought. He proposes that there were two worlds the real world and the world of ideas (forms).

Justice could mean many different things to many different people. Although philosophers are more recognizable with the workings of a city than a soul, they tried to define justice by creating the ideal city which they named Kallipolis. In this ideal city, the philosophers believed that each citizen will do the task that is best suited to him or her. Socrates then examines these various tasks and is able to separate them into three distinct groups: those which produce something for the city, those which protect the city from both internal and external subversion, and those which provide control and direct the other two groups.

Socrates makes use of the fact that each citizen in the ideal city is doing his or her own work and is therefore just. Now, if the citizen is just, then it follows each part of the person's soul and must also be doing its job and be just. This assertion, of course, rests on the assumption that justice applies to both the city and the soul and that the soul is divisible. Those who produce for the city can only be just if they produce as much goods as they can. As a result, producing goods for the good of society makes them “good’, therefore, serving a purpose in society.

Citizens that are inherently unjust are those who don’t contribute to the good of society and bring the ideal city down. During the philosophers’ discussion, Socrates proposes a principle of specialization, in which every citizen has a role to play in the ideal city. The soul has an appetitive part that desires money and other earthly goods, such as the producers. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently evil because they desire money, it just means that they are trying to contribute to society and do good.

Those who protect the city from threats such as guardians are also just. They make sure the streets are safe, children are not harmed, and justice is served. Plato says, “Only philosophers live just lives because only they have the ability to recognize the true pleasure to be found in the love of truth” (Plato/Socrates). This makes little sense to me and it seems to contradict his whole philosophy. One minute he says there is good in everyone and one minute he says that only philosophers live just lives.

If guardians are just and protect the masses from harm, what good do philosophers do in contributing to society other than rambling on about various idea’s. This concept I do not agree with. From the actions of the guardians, not the producers or rulers, is a city called courageous or cowardly. Therefore, courage most closely relates to the guardians. The abstract principles that govern the intelligible world, however, are perfect and unchanging, and so they represent a higher form of knowledge than true belief.

The people that govern, control, and direct society need to be able to lead others. Plato stated, “What is most real is what we can grasp by means of the intellect” (Plato/Socrates). Some have called The Republic an authoritative or even totalitarian idea book that gave rise to dictators such as Stalin and Hitler. One could argue that this is true after reading this book. The philosophers agreed that the ideal republic should limit personal freedom and social mobility (Sparknotes).

This idea is very interesting and I seemed to agree with this thought after reading Plato’s book. In conclusion, Plato was a philosopher, so he wanted to provoke and stimulate the mind to think “what if”. Plato and his colleagues wanted to challenge and question where one stands when it comes to defining justice. Everyone has a different perception as to what this term means. It could mean punishment to some and control for others, either way this one word, justice, could make or break a country. I believe democracy is the best way to achieve overall justice.

Authoritative type governments such as Hitler’s Nazi Party will never rule for very long. I believe thinking abstractly makes a person smarter. It challenges the mind to find the right answer and to prove it. I am no philosopher but I believe that justice should always be equal from person to person, no matter their financial status. Plato wrote The Republic to create discussion and inflame the mind in thought about justice. What constitutes a just life? Well, what one person may think is just, another may not. It varies from person to person.