Republic Outline V, Book I
Prof. Bill Long 9/6/05
Finishing Thrasymachus, 343a-354c
I think it is important, as we review the arguments advanced by S and T in Book I not simply to be able to recite the arguments, hard as that task is, but to stop and ask whether what S says really makes sense. The discussion is about the nature of justice, and T has advanced the thesis that justice is the "advantage of the stronger." S has tried to show that each craft really is concerned with doing things for the advantage of the thing it serves--such as a doctor in relationship to the patient--, and thus the ruler really does things for the advantage of the ruled but this argument, though logically seeming to confute T, doesn't satisfy either him or the reader. So, T bursts out in frustration in 343a, asking S if he has a nurse to dry his snotty nose. Then T gives his longest continuous exposition of his theory in 343b-344d, which I mentioned at the end of the previous essay. This and the next essay will outline very briefly the remainder of S's argument against T's position in Book I. S makes two major points but takes a detour from 344d-348b that is distracting to me. Let's try to unpack his argument.
First, the Distraction
T has just given his long speech on justice and injustice, in which he introduces an ambiguity into the use of the term. S responds: "For my own part, I'll tell you that I am not persuaded. I don't believe that injustice is more profitable than justice, not even if you give it full scope and put no obstacles in its way" (345a). Therefore we are ready for S to launch into a refutation of T. But he doesn't. Possibly S is bothered by T's subtle redefining of the term just/justice. S says, "But, first, stick to what you've said, and then, if you change your position, do it openly and don't deceive us" (345b).
So, S begins by stressing the point made earlier (which is open to debate), that "every kind of rule, insofar as it rules, doesn't seek anything other than what is best for the things it rules and cares for" (345d). But before he tries to refute T he talks about money making, ruling and the crafts. Each craft brings its peculiar benefit, but all the crafts share the common benefit of wage-earning. 346c. Wages are the benefit for the craftsperson because s/he works for the benefit of another when producing the object desired by the client. Thus, by providing wages for rulers, we recognize that they do things for the benefit of others. 347a.
However, then S seems to throw us a curve ball. He argues that "good people won't be willing to rule for the sake of either money or honor" (347b). This provides him an opportunity to introduce his notion that rulers really need to be forced to rule through threat of penalty, and then he retreats to his major point--that rulers rule for the benefit of the ruled. 347d. But then he turns to the subject that really interests him--the blessings of the just and pains of the unjust life, and decides, with Glaucon, that he will not oppose them with parallel speeches but will "investigate the question, as we've been doing, by seeking agreement with each other" (348b). As a result, "we ourselves can be both jury and advocates at once."
Let's pause for a second. By putting these last words in S's mouth, Plato is saying that the method he pursues is only one method to try to arrive at understanding. He will use the "question/answer" method, even though it might have been just as fruitful for justice and injustice to have spoken their respective "speeches" in order to compare which is more attractive. Which method suits you? "Logical" argument? Competing pictures/claims? Another one?
From 348b-354c, then, S returns to the main task of trying to refute T.
S's First Tack, Picking up on "Outdoing"
S confronts T directly. T says that injustice is profitable and justice isn't (348c). Note how our terms have become mixed up. Really T believes that justice, being the advantage of the stronger, is profitable, but it is profitable for the rulers and not the ruled. But here he calls that "injustice." So, justice, then is "very high-minded simplicity" while injustice is exercising "good judgment." S wants to make sure he is hearing his ears properly: "Do you really want to include injustice with virtue and wisdom, and justice with their opposites" (348e)?" "I certainly do." S immediately recognizes his problem:
"That's harder, and isn't easy now to know what to say. If you had declared that injustice is more profitable, but agreed that it is a vice or shameful, as some others do, we could have discussed the matter on the basis of conventional beliefs. But now, obviously, you'll say that injustice is fine and strong and apply to it all the attributes we used to apply to justice, since you dare to include it with virtue and wisdom" (348e-349a).
Socrates is now going to pick up on the notion of "outdoing" to try to refute T. In brief, he will try to show that real craftspersons only try to "outdo" those that don't do the craft properly, whereas the unjust ruler, as T would have it, tries to "outdo" both the ignorant and the other rulers. Let's see how he gets there, however, in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long