The Republic (Plato)
In The Republic, an elderly man named Socrates, invents a theoretical society based on philosophy and justice. During Socrates’ quest for the definition of justice, he provokes Thrasymachus to propose his own version of justice. Socrates does not believe in his version of justice and disproves his definition over and over again and also manages to carry out this theme throughout Book V of The Republic. He uses his own version of justice that just men are good and wise to create a hypothetical city in his mind that he believes to be an ideal city. While doing so he manages never to contradict himself within his theoretical city.
Book I begins as Socrates refutes Cephalus’ argument that justice is telling the truth and giving what is owed and Polemarchus’ argument that justice is benefiting friends and harming enemies, Thrasymachus proposes his own definition of justice claiming that, “the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger” (338c). His view of justice is that whatever benefits the stronger is what is ultimately just. According to this understanding, the rulers, who are obviously the superior to the lower classes, make laws that will advantage themselves. Those who violate the laws must be punished as, “a breaker of the law and doer of unjust deeds,” (338d-339a) according to Thrasymachus. Socrates then contests Thrasymachus’ view by questioning him whether a ruler, who makes a law that is disadvantageous to himself, is a legitimate ruler or not. Thrasymachus agrees that an actual tyrant would not make such a mistake. Socrates further weakens Thrasymachus’ claim by using an analogy of a doctor. Socrates reasons that a good doctor does not consider the advantage of himself while tending to a patient, but rather the advantage of the patient and his body. Likewise, a good ruler ought to create laws that benefit his subjects rather than himself. Thrasymachus rebuts with an analogy of sheep and shepherds and claims that shepherd watches over and takes care of his sheep only so that he may eat them later. He also goes on to say that injustice is a quality of the strong and mighty while justice is for weak and pathetic. Socrates then initiates a line of reasoning through the use of analogies of wage-earners in which he gets Thrasymachus to accept that injustice is inconsistent with wisdom, which is true virtue. “The just man is like the good and wise, and the unjust man unlearned and bad” (350c).
In Book V of The Republic, Socrates creates a “city in speech” which is supposed to be an ideal city. This city is established upon the “noble lie.” The noble lie is an untruth that asserts a social class system in which god has instilled a soul of gold within rulers, a silver soul within the auxiliaries, and bronze soul within the farmers. Using this theoretical city Socrates is able to build upon and demonstrate the view he established opposing Thrasymachus from Book I. Socrates first proposal is that men and women will be able to hold common positions as men which included being rulers and guardians. Although Socrates does acknowledge that women are physically weaker than men he also declares that men and women are born with the same type of soul whether it be gold, silver, or bronze. The second thing he proposes is the abolishment of family for the exchange of a lottery system that determines who shall mate with who. The superior men and women of the city shall be selected to mate with one another to produce the best possible offspring, while the weaker/unintelligent persons are told that god did not wish for them to reproduce. Even though these bold statements shocking and offensive to the people of Greece, they are in line with his initial declaration that a ruler shall look over his people for the benefit of them as a whole. These ideas may or may not advantage the public, but in Socrates mind they do and therefore they do not contradict. The next thing that Socrates puts forward is a philosopher king. He explains that the philosopher king would have a profound love of knowledge. He would know the true meaning of justice rule accordingly. If he actually did know what was truly just and truly unjust then the philosopher king would be able to rule based on facts and knowledge rather than opinions which can lead to corruption. Even though the philosopher king pushes the boundaries between what acceptable and what unacceptable in Greek customs, Socrates has expanded his case that the ruler should be a good and a wise man that tends to the needs of his people rather than feeding off of them as Thrasymachus first suggested. If Socrates’ claim that wisdom is virtue is true, then who better to rule than a philosopher king for he has the greatest amount of knowledge. A ruler who bases his laws on knowledge and what good for the people is virtuous, while a ruler who drinks the blood of his inferiors is not. But, some might argue that although this philosopher king is ruling in the best interest of his people his is still lying directly to their faces. Socrates covers this up with the euphemism “noble lie.” The noble lie is used to conceal the truth from the people, but it also benefits them for not knowing the reality of their situation.
Although Socrates uses deceptive methods in his city of speech, such as the noble lie, he manages never to contradict himself with respect to his original argument with Thrasymachus about the advantage of the stronger. The theme that runs throughout Book V is Socrates’ belief that the just man is good and wise, and that the wisest is also fittest to rule. Even though many of the witnesses disagree with his concept, Socrates still manages to build up his argument against Thrasymachus. Nevertheless, Socrates is careful in his words never to repudiate himself.