Republic Outline Book I, 3rd Essay
Prof. Bill Long 9/2/05
Enter Thrasymachus I
For the rest of the book, 336b-354c, the interlocutor Thrasymachus ("T") holds forth. The literary description of him both in 336b and throughout is very vivid. T can barely control himself. He wants to burst forth to speak. "He coiled himself up like a wild beast about to spring, and he hurled himself at us as if to tear us to pieces." 336b. The basic reason T is liked a caged or restrained animal is that he feels that S deliberately takes the easy road (the way of questioning) to embarrass people, and that he isn't, in fact, interested in truth after all. He tries to draw S out to tell all what he thinks justice is, but S cleverly perceives that T would rather speak than listen at this moment.
336e-338c. S tries to calm T by saying that he simply is interested in truth. "[F]or if P and I made an error in our investigation, you should know that we did so unwillingly." 336e. Since justice is a far more valuable commodity than gold, the search must be all the more earnest. Thus, S would like to enlist T in the search for the meaning of justice, too. T calls S's pleas his "usual irony," (337a) meaning by this S's intentional deception of his hearers. But T really wants to speak. "What if I show you a different answer about justice than all these--and a better one? What would you deserve then?" 337d.* S admits, in language similar to words he
[*S and T have an interchange in 337a-c that isn't exactly clear to me. It doesn't seem to affect the flow of the argument, so I will skip it here; it seems placed here to enable S to "bait" T so that T has to speak.]
uses in the Apology, that he if he is instructed he will pay the appropriate "penalty" of the ignorant--to learn what s/he doesn't know. A few more interchanges lead S to urge T again to tell the hearers what he thinks justice is. Again Plato's descriptive language is wonderful:
"It was obvious that T thought he had a fine answer and that he wanted to earn their admiration by giving it, but he pretended that he wanted to indulge his love of victory by forcing me to answer." 338a.
In other words, even before he has said much, T is sitting pretty at this moment. He is the center of attention and all want to hear him speak, but the longer he remains silent the more he has to endure their insistence that he speak. Ultimately, when S tells him that he thinks T will speak well (338b), T gives his definition of justice.
"Listen, then, I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger." 338c.
As if waiting for the drums to keep rolling, he says, "Well, why don't you praise me? But then you'd do anything to avoid having to do that." T is baiting his hearers, supremely confident as he is in having an unassailable perspective on the question.
Examining Thrasymachus' Argument
338c-340c. S learns immediately that he won't have a pliant conversation partner in T. S tries to take his words literally by applying them to a rather ridiculous example, to which T responds: "You disgust me, Socrates. Your trick is to take hold of the argument at the pont where you can do it the most harm." 338d. That is, all S tries to do is to break down arguments. He never does anything constructive. T just can't conceal the amount of disdain he has for S. After turning the tables on S by asking him a few questions, T gives a few examples of what he means. Tyranny and democracy make laws that are to their advantage--that work to the perpetuation of their system and the power of those in charge. "They declare what they have made--what is to their own advantage--to be just for their subjects, and they punish anyone who goes against this as lawless and unjust." 338d. T then gives a slightly different definition:
"This, then, is what I say justice is, the same in all cities, the advantage of the established rule. Since the established rule is surely stronger, anyone who reasons correctly will conclude that the just is the same everywhere, namely, the advantage of the stronger." 339a.
S's first argument in trying to confute T is in 339b-e. Actually, this first argument is really a plea for clarification (the basic Socratic method. 'What do you mean when you say..?") Briefly stated, it runs: 'You, T, maintain that people must obey the laws--the rulers require it. You further would agree [and T agrees] that sometimes rulers make laws that are disadvantageous to them. Thus, it may happen that to obey the orders that rulers give is works to the disadvantage of the stronger.'
Some of the other listeners can barely contain themselves. Cleitophon and Polemarchus have to interrupt at this point to discuss just what T might mean by his definition. Does T mean that the advantage of the stronger is what the ruler believes to be his advantage or which actually is his advantage? 340b. It is similar to the argument earlier used about friends--does the definition of justice relate just to those who actually are friends or only those who seem to be friends?
But we see, as we get deeper into T's argument, that even such a brief and apparently clear definition as T provides is now subject to a close linguistic analysis. T will have to start splitting verbal hairs--the same thing that led to P's problems. But, will they lead T to problems?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long