Republic Outline Book I, 2nd Essay
Prof. Bill Long 9/2/05
Polemarchus to the Fore
Polemarchus, the heir to his father Cephalus' goods, now becomes the heir of his argument. When the Socratic questioning began, Cephalus left them to their argument and laughingly went off to sacrfice (331d). Polemarchus ("P") will appeal to the poet Simonides for a second definition of justice. Simonides defined it as giving to each what is owed him (331e). By advancing a definition, he gives S all the fuel he needs...
The Discussion over Polemarchus'/Simonides' Def. of Justice
331e-333a. In this section S subjects P's definition to scrutiny. This is the "Socratic method" at its best. So, if anyone asks you whether your law professors used the "Socratic method," you can answer them based on S's conduct in this section of Republic. S's crucial move is to ask what Simonides means by saying that justice is to give to each his due. Note how he treats P's definition differently from C's. In the former case he extrapolated from some of C's words and then came up with a definition, to which he provided an immediate counterexample; in this case he will probe what P must mean by the words. What does it mean, then, to give each person his/her due?
S brings up the example he previously had mentioned--giving back to a deranged person the weapon s/he has loaned you--and gets P to admit that Simonides could not have meant that. Rather than concluding that the poet errs, S suggests that he must mean something different. Indeed, he does, says P. "He means that friends owe it to their friends to do good for them, never harm." 332a. But note how P has collapsed the definition to the subject only of friends. S, of course, picks up on this move and asks what one ought to give one's enemies. 332b. P responds: "And in my view what enemies owe to each other is appropriately and precisely--something bad." 332b. Thus we seemingly have a new definition for justice, which is to do good to your friends and harm your enemies.
S then turns to a familiar technique from other dialogues in order to see how such a definition would "hold up" with respect to other professions. He asks about things that are "owed" or "appropriate" by various professions. What does the craft of medicine owe, and to whom? It owes "medicines, food, and drink to bodies." 332c. S then gets P to admit that justice, following on the previous answers, "gives benefits to friends and does harm to enemies." 332d. S continues to probe. In what types of action, then, does justice do this? P responds, "In wars and alliances." 332e. The questions continue. But what about in peacetime? In what sphere is justice worthwhile? "In partnerships" or "contracts." 333a.
333a-336b. But S presses on. If justice is useful in partnerships, what kind of partnerships? P thinks that "money matters" is the place where justice is evident. But then S shows that in money matters those who are most useful are those who have knowledge of the thing on which the money is to be spent, such as a boatbuilder or a horse breeder. 333c. S is backing P into an intellectual corner, and P says then that justice is most useful when it is used to protect money for safekeeping. 333c. S concludes, "Then it is when money isn't being used that justice is useful for it? I'm afraid so." 333d. S concludes, "And so, too, with everything else, justice is useless when they are in use but useful when they aren't?" 333d. Justice then isn't very useful at all or, paradoxically, becomes useful when it is not being used.
Not content to rest on his victory, S presses on still further. Appealing again to his examples of doctors and guadians, he draws out from P that a good general or doctor is one who is able to guard against the opposite of what he provides (like a doctor guarding against disease, or a soldier being able to spy out the enemy). He concludes, "If a just person is clever at guarding money, therefore, he must also be clever at stealing it." 334a. P is forced to admit that he is flustered. "I don't know any more what I mean, but I still believe that to benefit one's friends and harm one's enemies is justice." 334b. This is where S frequently brings his interlocutors in other dialogues, and is one reason why the people in authority may have hated him. Indeed, you don't tend to like the person who exposes your inadequacies in areas you thought you knew.
Even though Polemarchus is tied up in intellectual knots, S decides to probe further on his definition of a friend. Is a friend someone who actually does good to you or someone whom you believe is doing good to you? 334c. P will answer that you love those whom you consider good and useful and hate those you consider bad and harmful. But this response provides S with another opening. What if you are deceived about people? Then those who appear to be good to you might be, in fact, your enemies and vice versa. P has to admit that S is right. 334d. S concludes, "Then, according to your account, it's just to do bad things to those who do no injustice." 334d. In other words, since you might be deceived by someone's actions toward you, you might think they are doing something bad to you when actually they are doing something good. You will therefore do bad things to these good people, these people who have done no injustice to you.
P, like a good student, sees that his premises must be wrong, and so he retreats in his argument to redefine the nature of friendship. He now defines a friends as "someone who is both believed to be useful and is useful." 335a. So, a person who is actually good will be a friend, while an actually bad person will be an enemy. Going back to the earlier argument, then, you treat a friend well and harm your enemy. But S won't let him get away with that assertion either. "Is it, then, the role of the just man to harm anyone?" 334b. Because P doggedly maintains that this is so, S has to examine this argument. Again he argues from the "crafts" or professions. Animals become worse if they are harmed and better if they are helped. So do humans. 335c. Since justice is a virtue, that means that some people will be harmed by the application of a virtue to them. But S asks, "Can those who are just make people unjust though justice?" 334d. P realizes he is trapped again. "They cannot." S concludes that it is an unjust person who harms people. S concludes:
"If anyone tells us, then, that it is just to give to each what he's owed and understands by this that a just man should harm his enemies and benefit his friends, he isn't wise to say it, since what he said isn't true." 334e.
This discussion leaves another member of the group, Thrasymachus, seething with dissatisfaction. The next essay describes how he jumps into the discussion.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long