Republic Outline VII, Book II
Prof. Bill Long 9/7/05
Taking a Different Tack
We know from the end of Book I that even though S has apparently quieted T's opposition, no one really is satisfied with the results. S recognizes that even if he convinced T that his notion of justice was mistaken, he isn't any closer to realizing what justice is. And Glaucon ("G"), who begins the conversation in Book II, feels that S has only "seemed" to persuade people though not fully convincing them (357a-b). I will argue in class that one of the problems Plato is subtly exposing through these words is the problem of the dialogue form. Maybe elenchus is not equipped to deal with questions such as this, where the object of the search (justice) is really known to none.* One further sign
[*In this connection I find it interesting that the account G gives in the first several pages of Book II is like the "parallel speech" which S rejects as his method of doing things in 348a. S opted, instead for "investigation" of the question "by seeking agreement with each other" (348b), but that resulted in dissatisfaction. The parallel speech "counts and measures the good things mentioned on each side" for a "jury" to decide the case. Isn't that what G's picture(s) amount to in Book II?]
that Plato might subtly be putting down the "Socratic method" in Book I is that the argument in that book is often tortured, hard to follow and intelletually unsatisfying while the flow of Book II is lucid and the argument brilliant. Stories such as the Ring of Gyges or the "impaled" just person in Book II stay with you forever.
Getting Into Glaucon's Argument
The major section for understanding the structure of G's important speech is 358b-c. We have to get there, however, by first traversing 357a-358a. In this section, G inquires of S how many "kinds of goods" there are. He is not thinking about Article 2 of the UCC when he poses this question--he is thinking of good things that can come our way. G posits three types of good: (1) where the good is welcome in itself--like the emotion of joy; (2) where the good is cherished both because of itself and the effects it brings--like seeing and being healthy; and (3) where the good yields a beneficial result but isn't appreciated for their its sake--such as taking some kinds of medicine or engaging in some forms of labor. G wants to know into which category justice fits for S, and S says #2. G responds that most people would say that justice "belongs to the onerous kind" (#3) and is to be practiced for the sake of the rewards it yields, even though it is burdensome to practice. Then, he lays out how he will proceed.
G wants to renew T's argument but, more specifically, he says he wants to know "What justice and injustice are and what power each itself has when it's by itself in the soul" (358b). This really is more complicated than it may sound at first. Later in the Book (367b-d) he (or his brother Adeimantus) states repeatedly that he wants S to speak of justice "because of its very self" or "because of its own powers" or "because of itself." That is, everyone else who has praised justice does so because of what it brings--reputation or fame or wealth--and not what it is "in itself." Thus, the description of justice and injustice that G wants, and will attempt to describe, will be this 'solitary' justice/injustice portrait. He goes on to explain that he will speak of three things: (a) "the kind of thing people consider justice to be and what its origins are"; (b) why all "who practice it do so unwillingly, as something necessary, not as something good"; and (c) that unjust people have "good reason to act as they do" because the life of such a person is "much better than that of a just one" (358b-c). G will praise the unjust life not because he believes such a statement is true but in order to sharpen issues for S's treatment of them.
The Origins of Justice, 358c-359b
G posits that justice arose out of a social contract in which people who are not able to assert their will against others agree not to do injustice to each other. "As a result, they begin to make laws and covenants, and what the law commands they call lawful and just" (359a). The best life would be to do injustice without paying the penalty; the worst is to suffer it without an opportunity for revenge. "Justice is a mean between these two extremes. People value it not as a good but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity" (359b). No one who had power, however, would enter into such a social compact because it would be detrimental to his interests. The reason for this is that it is everyone's "nature naturally" pursues the "desire to outdo others" as his/her good. 359c. Now G is using that hugely loaded term "outdo" (pleonexia). It is the human condition to want to strive, to be greedy, to want more and more and not to be content simply with one's own lot and goods. People then who have entered into this social compact are "forced by law into the perversion of treating fairness with respect" (359c). Justice is what no one would choose as his/her first choice, but it is certainly a better system than opening yourself up to injustice from another.
The Unwilling Practice of Justice, 359d-360d
How do we know that people practice the just life unwillingly? Plato has G tell the wonderfully engaging and brief story of the Ring of Gyges to show that we, like the shepherd, would use the ring of invisibility to become king, have sex with whomever we wanted and generally do things to "make [us] like a god among humans" (360c). He concludes, "This, some would say, is a great proof that one is never just willingly but only when compelled to be." Or, "whenever either person thinks he can do justice with impunity, he does it" (id.).
We recognize the immediate cogency of G's story. Perhaps we have ourselves entertained ideas of this nature. It seems like G is indeed making an argument exceeding T's in its cogency.
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