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Plato's Thrasymachus - Selections - Comments

Tr. Paul Shorey (Loeb, 1930). The Thrasymachus is a name sometimes given to Book One of Plato's Republic. The beginning of Book Two refers to the discussion in Book One as "only a prelude" (357a) and Thrasymachus' thesis is not spoken of again. (The Republic was also known in classical times by the title "On Justice" (Diog. L. iii, 60).)

Thrasymachus was a native of Chalcedon (on the Bosphorus, near Byzantium) who flourished circa 430-400 B.C. He was a sophist and rhetorician, best known for defending the thesis that "Justice is the interest of the stronger" in Plato's Republic [338c]. (Oxford Classical Dictionary 2e)

Philosophy since the time of the Sophists and Socrates has been concerned with logic, that is, with definition and language -- although maybe the logic of language was not clear to Plato or Socrates, for they did not distinguish between conceptual and factual inquiries (i.e. between conventions for using words and reality). In this dialog Plato concludes where he might have begun: We are discussing something or other called by the name 'justice', but beyond that we don't know what we are talking about.

Plato makes no distinction between the question (or apparent question) 'What is justice?' and the question 'What is the meaning of the word 'justice'?' For he does not try to describe how we "normally and naively" (Wittgenstein, Zettel § 223) use the word 'justice' -- a description which shows us a concept (rules for using a word) 'justice', not a theory about "what justice really is". Plato assumes that a common name, if it is not to be meaningless, must name a common nature, i.e. a something that is common to all things that bear that name, (as if that were the only way, or even the usual way, we use the word 'meaning'), and so he seeks to find the common nature or essence of justice.

At most by this procedure Plato might succeed in producing a persuasive definition ("True justice is"), although he does not do that in this dialog, beyond saying that by 'justice' he means 'the defining excellence (virtue or areté) of man (the human species), whatever that excellence may be'. And that is not the way we normally use the word 'justice', and that the English word 'justice' does not always appear to have the same meaning (our concept the same extension) as the Greek word dikaiosyne is part of our trouble when trying to figure out what the topic of Plato's dialog is if we study the Thrasymachus in an English language translation.

In Gorgias 507b, Plato has given a very general definition of 'justice', namely 'right conduct towards men' (as 'piety' means 'right conduct towards God'). But, of course, that doesn't tell us just what the essence of that right conduct is, which Plato will try to discover in the first part of Book One of the Republic.

The background of many of my comments is Wittgenstein's later definition of 'language meaning', that particular logic of language.


Outline of this page ...


What is justice according to tradition and the poets?

331a - [CEPHALUS] For a beautiful saying it is, Socrates, of the poet [Pindar, fr. 214] that when a man lives out his days in justice and piety, "sweet companion with him, to cheer his heart and nurse his old age, accompanieth hope ..." [rather than despair]. - 331b - Not to cheat any man even unintentionally or play him false, not remaining in debt to a god for some sacrifice or to a man for money, so [not] to depart in fear to that other world ...

Which suggests that 'justice' means 'ethical conduct towards human beings (and maybe also towards the gods)'. Is that, excepting the clause about the gods (which seems to apply instead to 'piety'), how we normally use the English word 'justice'? (But what does 'ethical conduct' mean here? Isn't that the very thing that is being disputed here?)

331c-d - [SOCRATES] An admirable sentiment, Cephalus ... But speaking of this very thing, justice, are we to affirm thus without qualification that it is truth-telling and paying back what one has received from anyone, or may these very actions sometimes be just and sometimes unjust? I mean, for example, as everyone I presume would admit, if one took over weapons from a friend who was in his right mind and then the lender should go mad and demand them back, that we ought not to return them in that case and that he who did so return them would not be acting justly -- nor yet would he who chose to speak nothing but the truth to one who was in that state.... Then this is not the definition of justice -- to tell the truth and return what one has received.

It may be "an admirable sentiment" -- "but whether it is true or not I have to try to learn" (339a). For just as the words of Apollo's oracle at Delphi must be put to the test to find their meaning -- i.e. in which sense they are true, so too the words of the poets must also be tested, as next will be those of the poet Simonides (331e).

"... that we ought not to return them". In this instance 'ought' = 'if we are to do justice' or 'if we are to be just men'.

Socratic ethics is not categorical (Kant and Plato)

According to Kant's ethics of the "categorical imperative" the just man would do exactly what Plato says an unjust man would do -- namely, return a madman his arms and tell the truth to a man intent on murder (where the one he wants to kill is hiding). Thus we do not find in the universalized principles of Kant the thoroughgoing confidence in reason in ethics that we find in the Greek philosophers who descended from Socrates, for according to those philosophers man must use his reason and experience to assess the consequences of his acts, not as it were leave them in the hands of God (because, according to Kant, one must always return another's property and one must always tell the truth; that is what Kant means by "categorical").

The source of Kant's categorical imperatives is the rule: Always act as if the principle you acted on were to become a universal law imposed on all mankind. [A corollary is Kant's rule that human beings must always be seen as ends, never as means to an end; which is akin to the golden rule: "Treat others the way you wish them to treat you" (Luke 6.31); and Epictetus: "What you don't want to endure yourself, don't impose on others" (fragment), as well as to "You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Mark 12.31).] But if Plato's proposition that "The just man harms no one" (Republic 335d) is true, then the man who would be just (by the Kantian standard) may be unjust (by the Platonic standard), because if Kant's imperatives are applied without exception then how shall man not do harm -- will not Kant's path to justice lead the good man to act as if he were the evil man, e.g. not to lie, because if lying were universalized ... and therefore one must never lie; but contra this is Xenophon's Memorabilia iv, 2, 17: sometimes the wise = just man will deceive (cf. Plato, Gorgias 456b), even if the general rule, in Platonic form, appears to be that "The good man does not deceive; that is what the evil man does".

"... the wise = just man." The wise man is the one who is rationally moral, that is, who acts in accord with all the moral virtues (which maybe are only one virtue), i.e. the ethical excellence/s proper to man, if the good = wisdom-for-man is indeed life in accord with the specific excellence that is proper to man. This is tautology by Plato's method in ethics (or, rather, by one of his methods).

The guidance given by Kant's categorical imperatives is not vitiated by the particular case but is indeed universal -- but it is also not necessarily just, and so despite its universality (absoluteness) it is not the standard in ethics Socrates and Plato seek.

The ambiguity of action

"... may sometimes be just and sometimes unjust". The discussion of "courage" in Plato's Laches founders on that very consideration: the same act may sometimes be brave, sometimes not. And the method of argument, the method of introducing [adducing] specific [particular] examples that make apparent the contradictions that follow from a general statement, is the same.

Thus, I think, J.M. Keynes' meaning in calling himself an "immoralist", that is, one who does not categorically follow general statements of principle, but instead bases his judgments on the circumstances of the particular case, as Keynes did (although that does not seem to be what is normally meant by the word 'immoralist').

"... as everyone I presume would admit". This belongs to Socrates' method of argument: always to seek step by step agreement in dialectic (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 13-15), and thus not to presume anything without stating one's presumption, and so allowing anyone who disagrees with it the chance to test and possibly refute it. (cf. Thrasymachus 348a.)

Justice is "to render to each what befits him" (to each his due)

331e-332a - [POLEMARCHUS affirms what the poet Simonides has said] That it is just ... to render to each his due.

[SOCRATES] ... it is not easy to disbelieve Simonides. For he is a wise and inspired man [as likewise was Homer, "but a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth" (Plato, Republic 595b-c, tr. Jowett); cf. Phaedo 91b]. But just what he may mean by this you, Polemarchus, doubtless know, but I do not. Obviously he does not mean what we were just speaking of ... And yet what the man deposited is due to him in a sense, is it not?

332a-d - [What does "his due" mean then? POLEMARCHUS says that: it is just to benefit one's friends and to harm one's enemies. - 332d - SOCRATES] To do good to friends and evil to enemies, then, is justice in [Simonides'] meaning?

332b-c - [SOCRATES] It was a riddling definition of justice ... that Simonides gave after the manner of poets, for while his meaning, it seems, was that justice was rendering to each what befits him, the name that he gave to this was "the due".

Friends, enemies, but which is which?

334c - [But then there is the difficulty of deciding who is really a friend and who is really an enemy, for men make mistakes in this matter.]

The child believes that the cook [pasty chef] is the child's friend, and the doctor the child's enemy (Gorgias 521d-522c). Pinocchio believes that his schoolfellows are his friends and that his schoolmaster is his enemy, but what happens when he follows the boy Candlewick to "The Land of Fools" is that Pinocchio grows donkey's ears and then fully turns into a donkey (Apollo put donkey's ears on King Midas' head, not as a punishment for wrong-doing but as a punishment for stupidity). But far from only children make this mistake.

335a - [After much discussion, SOCRATES suggests that] ... it appears the friend will be the good man and the bad the enemy.

Justice is the good for man, the specific moral excellence that is proper to or defining of man. The good man does what makes others better, not what makes them worse.

335b-c - [SOCRATES] Is it then ... the part of a good man to harm anybody whatsoever?

[POLEMARCHUS] Certainly it is ... A man ought to harm those who are both bad and his enemies.

That is akin to the moral of Aesop's fable The Fox and the Crane, that "one bad turn deserves another", and that a bad man is already one's enemies (just as "a good man, even if as yet unmet, is already one's friend").

[SOCRATES] When horses are harmed does it make them better or worse?

[POLEMARCHUS] Worse.

[SOCRATES] In respect of the excellence or virtue of dogs [canine virtue] or that of horses [equine virtue]?

[POLEMARCHUS] Of horses.

[SOCRATES] And men, my dear fellow, must we not say that when they are harmed it is in this respect of the distinctive excellence or virtue of man that they become worse?

[POLEMARCHUS] Assuredly.

[SOCRATES] And is not justice the specific virtue of man?

[POLEMARCHUS] That too must be granted.

This is important. Plato is calling whatever may be the specific (or, defining) excellence (or, virtue) of man by the name 'justice'. Note, however, that Plato has not yet said what the virtue he calls 'justice' is, or in other words, how 'the just man' does and does not live ("We are discussing no small matter, but how to live").

According to the Stoics the excellence (or, virtue) of man is the only good for man: for if man is harmed in any way except with respect to this excellence, then it is as if nothing had befallen him. I do not know if that was also the earliest view of Plato, although I believe that in his later discussion of "the soul" it is. (The good for man, as I understand Socrates, is the well-being of man considered as an ethical personality; although it seems to have been the view of most Greeks, and of the historical Socrates as well, that life in a crippled body no less than in a morally crippled soul (Plato, Crito 47d-48a) or with an age-diminished mind was not worth living.)

Question: in the discussion -- before Thrasymachus breaks into it (at 336b) -- rather than "the just man", would it not be clearer to simply say "the good man"? Because that seems to be the sense of 'just' that is used. For does not Plato identify the excellence (or, virtue) that is the defining characteristic of man -- and therefore also of the good for man -- with "justice" and therefore, is not saying 'the just man' the same as saying 'the good man'?

But on the other hand, the excellence (or, virtue) of living beings and lifeless objects is different for each species or class of objects. And we do not use the expressions 'the good dog' and 'the just dog' interchangeably (Not that we use the expression 'the just dog' at all -- i.e. it is not a defined combination of words). And a man may be good for many things , without those types of being-good being the defining excellence of man, for not all men are good for gymnastics or good for scholarship and so on, but lacking being-good in those respects does not prevent a man from practicing justice and therefore being 'a just man'.

"Good? -- good for what?" If the good is the useful, then of anything said to be good, it must be asked: what is it good for? Dr. Sloper, when told that his rather ungifted daughter is, if nothing else, good (i.e. kind, gentle, free of vice), exclaims: "Good? -- good for what? If you're not clever, you're good for nothing." But even if intelligence were, as I believe Aristotle says it is, the specific excellence proper to man, it would not follow that someone who is not terribly clever is good for nothing.

335c-d - [SOCRATES] Then it must also be admitted ... that men who are harmed become more unjust. By justice then do the just make men unjust, or in sum do the good by virtue make men bad?

[POLEMARCHUS] Nay, it is impossible.

But what kind of impossibility is this -- is it empirical or logical, or in other words, factual [experiential] or conceptual ['conceptual' in the sense of 'based on rules']? Doing men harm does not make them more unjust, but, rather, doing harm = make more unjust (If a deed does not make the man more unjust, then it does not harm him, it seems).

335d - [SOCRATES] It is not, I take it, [the function (ergon)] of the good to harm but of its opposite [just as it is not the function of warmth to cool, but of warmth's opposite, namely, cold].... But the just man is good?

[POLEMARCHUS] Certainly.

The just man -- i.e. the good man, for is not 'the good man' the one who practices the excellence that is characteristic of man, namely, justice? -- harms no one, because the good man only does good, even to his enemies: he makes his enemies better not worse, because to make something worse is not to do good but to do bad (or, not to benefit but to harm). Which is a tautology -- for if the good man harms his enemies, then what does the bad man do to them -- does he benefit them? That would be absurd -- i.e. not what we mean by the word 'bad' (335e). Socrates' question "But the just man is good?" is rhetorical; it is a "grammatical" remark.

But Plato's comparison of the good and warmth is not "just as". For it is not logically necessary (as a tautology is), but only a fact of experience, that warm things (such as a warm breeze or campfire) increase the temperature of nearby objects.

Question: when Plato says that it is not the function of the good or of warmth -- what does he mean by 'its function'? Does he mean 'its essential nature, excellence or virtue'? He says that it is not the function of dryness to moisten. What does he mean by 'dryness' -- does he not then mean 'dry things', and by 'warmth' does he not then mean 'warm things'? Apparently not. In Wittgenstein's logic of language "essence belongs to grammar" (PI § 371), but in Plato's metaphysical picture essence belongs to the "really real" reality, not to convention.

Plato's tautological ethics: The just man harms no one

That we do not call a thing 'dry' if it is wet belongs to logic (or, "grammar"); but that a dry thing makes other things dry, does not belong to logic but to experience. On the other hand, the proposition 'The 'good man' does not harm but benefits (or, makes better)' is a tautology -- i.e. it is a rule of grammar: it belongs to a definition of 'good man'.

335d - [SOCRATES] It is not then the function of the just man, Polemarchus, to harm either friend or anyone else, but of his opposite, the unjust [man].

Socrates and Polemarchus have had a long discussion to conclude with a tautology; what they have made is a conceptual investigation, but Plato does not think that what he is doing is conceptual investigation, but instead that he has demonstrated a fact about the just man (justice). And yet, Plato's conceptual investigation that draws rules of ethics from tautologies is not at all idle -- rather, very useful to ethics is "Plato's tautological ethics" (I will call it that, because it is not the only account of ethics Plato gives). For if e.g. we say, "If the good man does harm, then what does the bad man do?" this bit of rhetoric (or, "grammatical remark" in Wittgenstein's jargon) shows us what we mean by the words 'good man'. And so this is a very important insight of Plato's. (These remarks are also contra Philebus 49d.)

335e - [SOCRATES] If, then, anyone affirms that it is just to render to each his due and he means by this that injury and harm is what is due to his enemies from the just man and benefits to his friends, he was no truly wise man who said it. For what he meant was not true. For it has been made clear to us that in no case is it just to harm anyone.

And so according to Polemarchus, according to the poet Simonides "to do good to friends and evil to enemies is justice" (332d), but Plato argues that, on the contrary, "in no case is it just to harm anyone" (335d-e), "that neither to do wrong or to return a wrong is ever right, not even to injure in return for injury received" (Plato, Crito 49b, tr. Grube). And so on the one hand, there is the result of reasoning (in fact about concepts, but in Plato's eyes about reality), and on the other there is the result of reflection about what love demands: "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5.43-44). And it seems remarkable to me that two thought-worlds so very different should arrive at the same conclusion.

*

Then the irony is that the "Criminal Justice System" imposes a punishment on those who have been convicted (or simply accused) of breaking the laws -- but punishment is intended to harm the criminal, not to make him better. Indeed, according to that system, justice is what Polemarchus thinks the poet Simonides says it is: "To do good to friends and evil to enemies" (332d). Or, in other words, it is an injustice system.

In the Gorgias, Plato says that punishment is good for the wrong-doer (479d), but his argument is based neither on human experience nor on the intent of those who impose punishment.

Justice, does it make men better or does it make men worse? And punishment, does punishment make men better or does it make men worse? And if it makes men worse, then punishment is not justice, as the word 'justice' is defined here.

If the Republic is an earlier work than Plato's Philebus, then I am perplexed to find the following remarks in the later work. "SOCRATES: And to delight in our enemies' misfortunes is neither wrongful nor malicious? -- PROTARCHUS: Of course not" (49d). For is that not the very view of Simonides, as that view is taken to be in the Republic?

Query: "a man does not become morally better by making his enemy worse" | "the benefits of living an unjust life". The addition of 'morally' seems important, because making others worse makes oneself worse as well: it does harm to one's soul (i.e. moral being [cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia i, 2, 4]). Justice is not only a virtue (excellence) but more specifically a moral excellence. Non-moral virtues (skills, abilities) say no more than how the man who is endowed with those particular virtues should live if he is to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to himself as an individual man; but the moral virtues such as piety, bravery, and justice say how all men should live if they are to live in accord with the excellence that is proper to man (mankind). [The two parts of Know thyself.]

Plato is not asking about the practical advantage one might gain by harming one's enemy -- e.g. by fostering one's enemy's vanity or greed, by encouraging one's enemy to over-reach his own powers. That would not be the justice which is the concern of man qua man. Yet, for man qua military strategist, will it not be just to encourage one's enemy to over-reach himself?


A Question for Plato's Reasoning

Is the topic of Ethics shepherds qua shepherds or man qua man? Man must be just in all that he does, but what must he do to be just? Is it to be always disinterested? But can that be consistent with self-preservation (Republic 496c-d)? In the case of the historical Socrates, according to Plato (Apology 31e-32a) it could not: "... he who will fight [for what is the good for man "against the many lawless and unrighteous deeds which are done in a state"], if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station [in life] and not a public one" (tr. Jowett).

Thrasymachus: "Justice is the advantage of the stronger"

336a - [SOCRATES] Very well ... since it has been made clear that ["It is just to benefit friends and harm enemies" (332d)] too is not justice and the just, what else is there that we might say justice to be?

It is at this point (336b) that Thrasymachus of Chalcedon [according to 328b], who has been present since the beginning of the discussion but has not as yet spoken, breaks in and, after abusing Socrates, presents his own "theory about what justice is".

But in the discussion that follows, Thrasymachus might better have defended the proposition that "Justice is the will of the ruler" (for the strongest party always rules, he says) rather than that "Justice is what is to the ruler's advantage". For just as Pinocchio could not distinguish between his friends and his enemies, so too the ruler cannot necessarily distinguish what is and what is not to his advantage. And if what the ruler wills is not to his advantage, then it cannot be just for the ruled to obey him -- i.e. do what is to the ruler's disadvantage. But if that be so, then we are still left without knowing "what justice is", for Thrasymachus does not tell us how we are to decide what is and what is not to the ruler's advantage (and therefore how to determine exactly what the just are or are not to do).

Where the stronger party is rule by the majority (democracy), it doesn't seem true to say that the voice of the people (vox populi) is the voice of God (vox Dei) -- i.e. that the majority always knows what the good is for their community, and therefore that to serve the majority is just. (Is the question of what is just decided by taking a vote? That is a question Plato asks elsewhere.)

Given that the ruler makes the laws, then if justice = law, "Justice is the will of the ruler". And that might well have been the proposition to discuss -- i.e. whether justice = law, or justice = equity. But Plato does not discuss that proposition with Thrasymachus, but instead the proposition that "Justice is whatever is to the ruling party's advantage".

"Socratic Irony"

336c - [THRASYMACHUS] But if you really wish, Socrates, to know what the just is, don't merely ask questions ... since your acumen has perceived that it is easier to ask questions than to answer them -- but do you yourself answer and tell what you say the just is.

336e - [SOCRATES] If I, and my friend [Polemarchus], have made mistakes in the consideration of the question, rest assured that it is unwillingly that we err.

337a - [THRASYMACHUS] Here we have the well-known irony of Socrates, and I knew it and predicted that when it came to replying you would refuse and dissemble and do anything rather than answer any question that anyone asked you.

337e - [SOCRATES] Why, how ... could anybody answer if in the first place he did not know and did not even profess to know, and secondly, even if he had some notion of the matter, he had been told by a man of weight that he mustn't give any of his suppositions as an answer? Nay, it is more reasonable that you should be the speaker. For you do affirm that you know and that you are able to tell.

338b - [THRASYMACHUS] Here you have the wisdom of Socrates, to refuse himself to teach, but to go about and learn from others ...

Being "able to tell" (Laches 190c) is the standard for knowing Socrates sets for philosophy. In Xenophon's words, for Socrates to 'know' means 'to be able to explain what you know to others'. [Guthrie renders the Greek word 'logos' here as 'an account' or 'definition'. Plato seems to allude to this standard in Theaetetus 201c-d (cf. 202b-c), but Plato alters Socrates' meaning to something different from Socrates' own.]

What is Socrates' aim in his discussions with his companions?

And now, as to "Socratic irony". According to Thrasymachus, Socrates' profession of knowing only his own ignorance is a pose Socrates adopts. Thrasymachus equates "Socratic ignorance" with "Socratic irony", but, as Thrasymachus' anger (337a) shows, the meaning of the 5th century Greek word 'eironeia' was not so mild as the English word 'irony', for it was "a term of abuse meaning plainly deceit or swindling", a "villainous quality" (Guthrie, Socrates (1971) iii, 5, p. 126).

Guthrie says that in Xenophon's Memorabilia i, 2, 36, where Charicles accuses Socrates of "asking questions when he knows the answers" is an allusion to "Socratic irony" (ibid.) But if Socrates aims to guide his companion to the truth -- namely to the truth that his companion does not know what he thinks he knows -- Socrates might well ask such questions, as maybe he does in Plato's Euthyphro (11b-e). Euthyphro compares Socrates to the sculptor of moving statues, Daedalus, but although there may be gentle irony in Socrates' words, there is sincerity as well: Socrates is an unwilling Daedalus: it is Euthyphro's own propositions that contradict themselves, not Socrates' manipulation of them.

Charicles may be attributing a low motive to Socrates: that Socrates asks questions he already knows the answer to only in order to make his companion look a fool (by showing that his companion does not know what the thinks he does). Thrasymachus' view seems to be that: Socrates is willing to make a fool of others by questioning them, but unwilling to be questioned and answer questions himself -- for fear that he too will be shown to be a fool by the method and the kind of questions Socrates asks. It is of course to be a fool to think you know what you do not know.

But it must be asked what kind of questions does Socrates already know the answer to? Certainly in Plato's Euthyphro Socrates does not know what the common nature of all things called 'piety' (i.e. "piousness") is -- but what he may know is that the kinds of definition Euthyphro is suggesting are mistaken. How does Socrates know this? Because he has already "held discourse with himself" about this, and thus knows that he does not know "what piety is", although he may know, from the point of view of definitions, what piety is not. And and so Socrates' statement that he knows only his own ignorance is at most only partly a pose: for Socrates knows of no definition of 'piety' he can offer Euthyphro that is not false. However, and this is what is important to Socrates: Socrates' knowing that Socrates does not know "what piety is" is of no help to Euthyphro; to help Euthyphro Socrates must being Euthyphro to see that he also does not know -- and that he, like Socrates, must therefore seek to know what it is (Indeed Socrates says at the end of Plato's dialog that he will never give up until he knows).

Likewise Socrates knows of no definition of 'justice' he can offer Thrasymachus that is not false: Socrates does not know "what justice is", although he may know what kinds of definitions of 'justice' are false. Of course with someone as hostile as Thrasymachus, Socrates' "irony" may not be as gentle as it is with Euthyphro (who is sympathetic and truly does wish to help Socrates to know "what piety is", although Euthyphro is mistaken in his belief that he himself knows).

Plato has Socrates speak both of the mischief-making of his youthful followers and the wounded vanity of those they cross-question in Apology 23c-e.

There is another reason for my being unpopular. A number of young men ... have deliberately attached themselves to me because they enjoy hearing other people cross-questioned. These [youths] often take me as their model, and go on to try to question other persons. Whereupon, I suppose, they find an unlimited number of people who think they know something, but really know little or nothing. Consequently their victims become annoyed, not with themselves but with me ... They would be very loathe, I fancy, to admit the truth -- which is that they are being convicted of pretending to know when they are entirely ignorant. (Tr. Tredennick)

I think this shows that Socrates' "irony" has a serious aim, which is not to make fools of the people he questions, but to help them to "know themselves" by showing them their own ignorance of things it is important for man to know, in order that his companions on seeing "the condition of their own minds" (Epictetus), which has been one of conceited ignorance, may now seek knowledge of the true and the good to replace that ignorance with.

SOCRATES: It isn't that, knowing the answers myself, I perplex other people. The truth is rather that I infect them also with the perplexity I feel myself. (Plato, Meno 80c, tr. Guthrie)

A teacher -- although in Socrates' case not a teacher of doctrine but of wisdom (i.e. self-knowledge) -- can't really be rebuked with the charge that he asks questions that he already knows the answer to. For Socrates is trying to bring his companion to see something that his companion needs to see but does not see, and Socrates' method of asking such questions allows his companion to discover his own ignorance through contradicting himself, which may be far more effective than presenting that person with a counter-argument which in his conceit that person may evade with endless "That's not what I mean". And so Thrasymachus' anger seems directed towards the Socrates of Aristophanes' The Clouds, the then common picture of Socrates as a deceitful sophist, rather than towards Socrates himself: the false profession of not knowing or "Socratic irony" Thrasymachus attacks is not Thucydides' "what really happened".

Anyway, as if men like Thrasymachus and Callicles could understand a man like Socrates without dragging him down to their own level.

According to Frederick Copleston, if Socrates "criticized and exposed superficial views and easy-going assumptions, this was [not] to display his own superior dialectical [skill], but ... to promote the good of his interlocutors and to learn himself. (History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome, I, xiv, 3, 4, p. 108; cf. Socrates' dialectical method.)

"What is just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger"

Republic 338c - [THRASYMACHUS] Hearken and hear then ... I affirm that the just is nothing else than the advantage of the stronger.

[SOCRATES says that he does not understand the meaning of Thrasymachus' statement.] The advantage of the stronger is what you affirm the just to be. But what in the world do you mean by this?

338d-339a - [THRASYMACHUS] Don't you know then ... that some cities are governed by tyrants, in others democracy rules, in others aristocracy?... And is not this the thing that is the strong and has the mastery in each -- the ruling party?... And each form of government enacts the laws with a view to its own advantage ... and by so legislating they proclaim that the just for their subjects is that which is for their -- the rulers' -- advantage and the man who deviates from this law they chastise as a lawbreaker and a wrongdoer. This ... is what I understand as the identical principle of justice that obtains in all states -- the advantage of the established government.

Thus, according to Thrasymachus, there is no absolute standard of justice, but only the standard that is set by whichever the ruling party happens to be. Note that is not the convention versus nature (nomos versus physis) distinction that Callicles makes in Plato's Gorgias, but that the very nature of justice is to be relative rather than absolute -- i.e. 'justice' is a relational rather than an absolute concept. So that Thrasymachus appears to believe that he is simply reporting an obvious fact about the world. His statement is not metaphysical, for nothing is hidden from view.

On the other hand, is that what he says in 339a-b, for there he claims to have stated what the essence of justice is? However, given that which party is the stronger varies from place to place, what justice is also differs from place to place -- or does it? For on the other hand, if we wish to know what justice is in any given place, we have only to look at the laws of the ruling party in that place, and then we shall know what justice is in that place. Is Thrasymachus' simple statement "The just is the advantage of the stronger" a general definition of 'justice' -- i.e. does it state what all just things have in common and what separates all just things from everything else?

In any case, I have stated the proposition I believe Thrasymachus might have been able to defend. However, rather than "Justice is what the ruling party legislates", he has chosen "Justice is what is to the ruling party's advantage", which is an very different proposition to try to defend.

Ask about the meaning first, only then about the truth

339a-b - [THRASYMACHUS] This I presume you will admit holds power and is strong, so that, if one reasons rightly, it works out that the just is the same thing everywhere, the advantage of the stronger.

[SOCRATES] Now ... I have learned your meaning, but whether it is true or not I have to try to learn. The advantageous, then, is also your reply, Thrasymachus, to the question, what is the just ... But you add thereto that of the stronger.

[THRASYMACHUS] A trifling addition perhaps you think it ...

[SOCRATES] It is not yet clear whether it is a big one either, but [what is clear is] that we must inquire whether what you say is true ... For since I too admit that the just is something that is of advantage -- but you are making an addition and affirm it to be the advantage of the stronger, while I don't profess to know -- we must pursue the inquiry.

The order of the questioning: first, what is meaning of the Thrasymachus' proposition 'The just is the advantage of the stronger'? (Note that Thrasymachus claims his "definition" or thesis or "theory" for dialectic to be absolute, the essence of justice: "the just is the same thing everywhere".) And only second is the question of whether the proposition is true or not. Socrates says, "I have learned your meaning", but it seems clear by end of this discussion (354b) that neither he nor we have learned it.

Socrates seeks step by step agreement: "you affirm ... while I don't profess to know", but as what it is that Thrasymachus affirms [asserts to be true] both he and Socrates are now in agreement, because now it is clear to both of them. And so now they can pursue their inquiry together further. (Without common ground, which is what agreement is, there cannot be an argument, for where would the argument begin.)

What Thrasymachus puts forward (affirms to be true) is a thesis. It does not come at the end of an argument or investigation which has established it to be true, as it ought, but at its very beginning. Question: would it have made any difference to the discussion if the question had been "What is the meaning of the word 'justice'?" rather than "What is justice?"? Does the question 'What is justice?' have a different possible meaning to 'What is the meaning of the word 'justice'?' Given that the combination of words 'real definition of an abstraction' is undefined (i.e. nonsense), I don't see how it could.

I think, although I don't know, that because justice or the just is good, and, according to the Socrates of Xenophon the good is the useful, it follows that "... the just is something that is of advantage" -- i.e. is beneficial to (or, to the benefit or good of) man.

339c-d - [SOCRATES] Then on your theory [about "what justice is", or according to your "definition of justice"] it is just not only to do what is to the advantage of the stronger but also the opposite, what is not to his advantage.

339d-e - [SOCRATES] Have we not agreed that the rulers in giving orders to the ruled sometimes mistake their own advantage, and that whatever the rulers enjoin it is just for the subjects to perform?... Then you will have to think ... that to do what is advantageous to the rulers and the stronger has been admitted by you to be just in the case when the rulers unwittingly enjoin what is bad for themselves, while you affirm that it is just for the others [i.e. the ruled and the weaker] to do what they [i.e. the rulers and the stronger] enjoined. In that way does not this conclusion inevitably follow ... that it is just to do the very opposite of what you say?

Were Thrasymachus not a Sophist willing to engage in eristic for the sake of winning (or appearing to win) the argument, would not 339d-e be the point at which he admitted that he did not know what he thought he knew (namely, "what justice is")? That point is Socratic elenchus or refutation by the method of making evident the hidden [or, implicit] contradiction in a general statement or thesis. (This method has been shown earlier in the dialog when discussing the thesis "Justice is rendering to each what befits him".) Socratic refutation is philosophy's path to Socratic ignorance. Thrasymachus, however, chooses to revise his thesis (although he does not admit it is a revision), which is a "theory" in the sense that it attempts to account for all the data of experience with regard to what is called "justice"; but even a theory put forward by a Sophist is not infinitely plastic.

Ignorance and its consequent, namely arrogance. That is the great danger, both in philosophy and in living life. Over-reaching oneself, not obeying the second, the individual's part of the command "Know thyself!", not knowing one's own limits -- i.e. thinking that one is wise when one is not (Plato, Apology 29a).

Thrasymachus could, I think, have revised his thesis to be that: The just (or, justice) is whatever the ruling party believes to be to its advantage (whether or not it actually is). That would appear to be the amended description of the facts. But Thrasymachus is not willing to make that particular amendment; rather he chooses to redefine the word 'ruler' instead.

340e-341a - [THRASYMACHUS replies that the ruler (apparently "the true ruler" ["real rulers" (343b)]) is only a ruler when he does not err; when he errs he is not a ruler.] It is a loose way of speaking [to say that "the ruler erred", for he is only a ruler when he does not err. But when he does not err] he enacts what is best for himself.

340e - [THRASYMACHUS] ... speaking precisely, since you [Socrates] are such a stickler for precision, no craftsman errs. For it is when his knowledge abandons him that he who goes wrong goes wrong -- [i.e.] when he is not a craftsman [for we do not call a man who errs a craftsman, but only the man who has knowledge of a craft rather than the man who is ignorant of it]. So that no craftsman, wise man, or ruler makes a mistake ... when he is a ruler, though everybody would use the expression that the physician made a mistake and the ruler erred.

341b - [SOCRATES] But that nothing of the sort may spring up between us again, define in which sense you take the ruler and the stronger. Do you mean the so-called ruler or the ruler in the precise sense of whom you were just now telling us, and for whose advantage as being the superior it will be just for the inferior to act?

[THRASYMACHUS] I mean the ruler in the very most precise sense of the word ...

Creon in Sophocles' Antigone is an example of a ruler, in this case a tyrant, who believes that his "writ", in Antigone's words, "overweigh the laws of God", that his own laws (legislation) are the just (justice). But his laws result in the death of his own beloved son, and not only of Antigone for her defiance of Creon's writ.

According to Thrasymachus' unqualified "definition of justice", any laws Creon makes must be to Creon's advantage. But in his qualified -- or "speaking precisely" -- definition, Thrasymachus must say that Creon is not a ruler when he makes laws that are not to his advantage. (That is an example, I believe, of what is called 'sophistry'.)

341c - [SOCRATES] But tell me, your physician in the precise sense, of whom you were just now speaking [as an example of a craftsman], is he a money-maker, an earner of fees, or a healer of the sick? And remember to speak of the physician who is really such.

[THRASYMACHUS] A healer of the sick ...

341d - [SOCRATES] Then for each [craftsman] is there not a something that is for his advantage?... And is it not also true ... that the art naturally exists for this, to discover and provide for each his advantage?... Is there, then, for each of the arts any other advantage than to be as perfect as possible?

341e - That is the reason why the art of medicine has now been invented, because the body is defective and such defect is unsatisfactory. To provide for this, then, what is advantageous, that is the end for which the art was devised.

342c-e - Then medicine ... does not consider the advantage of medicine but of the body?... But surely, Thrasymachus, the arts [i.e. the crafts such as medicine] do hold rule and are stronger than that of which they are the arts [In the case of medicine, the art of healing is stronger (more powerful) than the sickness it heals].... Then no art considers or enjoins the advantage of the stronger but every art that of the weaker which is ruled by it [Medicine exists to treat illness, and the course of treatment is determined by the illness, but illness does not exist in order for medicine to treat it].

Can we deny, then, ... that neither does any physician in so far as he is a physician [i.e. a physician in Thrasymachus' "precise sense"] seek or enjoin the advantage of the physician [who practices the art of medicine] but that of the patient [the one who is ill]? For we have agreed that the physician, "precisely" speaking, is a ruler and governor of bodies and not a money-maker. Do we agree on that?...

And so [also] the "precise" pilot [of a ship, the one who guides the ship] is a ruler of sailors, not a sailor [For it is not in respect of his sailing ... [despite] the fact that he actually sails in the ship ... that he is called a pilot but in respect of his art and his ruling of the sailors (341d)]?... Then that sort of a pilot and ruler will not consider and enjoin the advantage of the pilot but that of the sailor whose ruler he is.

The pilot is "not a sailor". Likewise the physician, even if he is himself one of the victims of a plague is in respect of his art a physician, not a plague victim.

There is possible logic of language confusion over the word 'advantage' here, for 'advantage' is a relative (i.e. relational), not an absolute, concept (By 'concept' I always mean 'the rules for using a word'). Cf. relatively 'large' and 'small', and thus, being concepts also dependent on context, 'advantage' and 'disadvantage' (If there are absolute, as opposed to relational, concepts, what would an example be?). Thus relative to his livelihood it is to the advantage of the physician to cure his patients (or he will not last long as a physician), and it is to the advantage of the pilot that the ship he guides not founder and sink (for the same reason and also for his own safety).

However, it is not relative (or, in relation) to these that Plato is measuring advantage here. For even if it were not to his advantage to cure the sick man, it is to the physician's -- considered only in his role as a physician -- "advantage" to cure the sick man (even if the physician, considered only in his role as a man, may fear that if the patient recovers the patient will murder or rob the physician). And likewise for a ship's pilot, despite his fear as a man that the sailors are pirates and will murder or rob him as soon as they reach port safely. (Remember that, according to Thrasymachus' "precise sense", when the physician, in his role as a physician, errs in his treatment of an illness and does not cure his patient, then he is not a physician; for a man is only granted the title 'physician' on account of his knowledge of medicine, not on account of his ignorance of it.)

"... because the body is defective and such defect is unsatisfactory" (341e). Everything functional is also dysfunctional -- but only according to our world-picture, with its concepts 'function' and it antithesis 'dysfunction', and the expectations that arise from this. Thus it is only of logical necessity that the body is defective when it dysfunctions (but logical possibility tells us nothing about the world in itself, but only describes possible ways of thinking about the world).

342e - [SOCRATES] Then, ... Thrasymachus, neither does anyone in any office of rule in so far as he is a ruler consider and enjoin his own advantage but that of the one whom he rules and for whom he exercises his craft, and he keeps his eyes fixed on that and on what is advantageous and suitable to that in all that he says and does.

343b - [THRASYMACHUS] ... you think that the shepherds and the neatherds [cow herders] are considering the good of the sheep and the cattle and fatten and tend them with anything else in view than the good of their masters and themselves. And by the same token you seem to suppose that the rulers in our cities, I mean the real rulers, differ at all in their thoughts of the governed from a man's attitude toward his sheep ...

Thrasymachus clearly has not understood anything Socrates has just said. Or has he? For having been refuted, as he must recognize that he has been, with respect to "Justice is what is to the advantage of the craftsman in the "precise sense" of 'craftsman'", he simply passes over that -- and seems to change tack. Because what we were not prepared for is that Thrasymachus denies what Socrates has affirmed with the agreement of Polemarchus above, that "justice is the good for man". Thrasymachus will say that, quite the contrary, it is only the good for the stronger or ruler and evil for the weaker or ruled.

If we are the ruled or weaker, Thrasymachus says, then what we believed (or, thought) was good (namely, justice) is really bad, and that what we thought was bad (namely, injustice) is really good; for the good for us is the unjust and what is bad for us is the just. But what's this thing "justice" he is talking about when it's at home (PI § 116)? Does it not belong to the very grammar (definition) of the word 'justice' that to do what is just is do what is good?

But the word 'justice' is equivocal, for by 'justice' do we mean 'the law' or do we mean 'equity'? It may always be good to do what is fair (or, equitable) -- i.e. the grammars of the words 'fair' and 'good' may be interconnected in this way; however, it cannot always be good to do what the law enjoins, for laws vary from place in place, often contradicting one another ... but then, don't also arguments about what is or is not equitable? However, it belongs to the grammar of 'law' that laws can [This is logical, as contrasted with real, possibility] vary from place to place and time to time; however, that does not belong to the grammar of 'equity', for although men may disagree about what is or is not fair, it does belong to grammar of the word 'fair' that whatever is fair is also good.

What Thrasymachus might, less dramatically, have said is that laws are not made (or, legislated) for the sake of equity (or, fairness), but rather in order to benefit the rulers at the expense (or, harm) of the ruled. And if that is the case, then what is unlawful may be the good (i.e. beneficial) for the ruled. But in the discussion, Plato's Socrates and Thrasymachus seem merely to fuss about the word [which is -- as all undefined words are -- mere marks on paper or spoken sounds] 'justice' -- what does it really mean? As if that question were not nonsense (i.e. undefined language). If, of course, that is all Socrates and Thrasymachus do in this dialog.

For it's not as if there could be a "real definition" of justice, and consequently -- anything we say about "what justice is" will be a rule of grammar, or a true or false grammatical account if we are trying to describe (or, report) actual usage (or, practice). Is there a difference, then, between asking the question 'What is justice?' and the question 'What is the meaning of the word 'justice'?' I do not see one.

Or Thrasymachus might have said is that what the rulers call [classify as] justice is really injustice, for although it may benefit the rulers, it harms the ruled. And justice does not do harm. It is the good for man; it is beneficial to him, not harmful. But, that is so (i.e. its necessarily being beneficial to him), only if 'justice' does NOT = 'law', but something else. But what else -- 'equity'? How is equity measured? (That is of course a grammatical question.) Law is measured by "the rule of law" -- i.e. whether the laws are correctly enforced and obeyed, I think.

Distinctions qua distinctions are not the servants of philosophy

The Latin word 'qua' means "as such and no further" or "for its own sake only". And so Plato talks about the man who is a sheep herder only in so far as he is a sheep herder: what is his task limited to? What is the defining excellence (virtue) proper and unique to [the essence of] the shepherd? That is "the shepherd qua shepherd".

It seems Thrasymachus says that: Justice is that the weak [weaker party] should serve the strong [stronger party; "party" because in a democracy stronger individuals are often forced to serve those who, if considered as individuals, are weaker]. But Plato shows this isn't or isn't always the case, because the shepherd is stronger than his sheep, and yet the shepherd qua shepherd serves the sheep rather than the sheep serve the shepherd. But what is to be thought about Plato's "strict sense" distinction, separating man's occupations from man himself? For the man who shepherds the sheep is in serving the sheep of course ultimately serving himself, and thus it is the sheep who end up serving the man who shepherds them (and few men would shepherd them without this end in mind). What is served by Plato's distinction? It seems to be mere eristic -- countless distinctions may be made, but a distinction is made to some end or other, and what end has Plato in mind? Further, his distinction seems to guide the discussion away from the most interesting questions.

Thrasymachus it seems wants to talk about the just man, not about the just shepherd, to talk about justice for man qua man, not for man qua shepherd (or in his other occupations). Has Plato made things clearer or cloudier? Who does the philosopher qua philosopher serve? The truth surely. And is the truth stronger or weaker than the philosopher? (Of course, that question is nonsense, i.e. an undefined combination of words).

Distinctions in philosophy aren't made for their own sake, but because they make something clearer. For example, the distinctions between sense and nonsense in language (Wittgenstein), between knowing and not-knowing in philosophy (Socrates), between verifiable and non-verifiable hypotheses (Newton). Distinctions point to differences.


What is the most worthwhile life for man?

343b-c - [THRASYMACHUS] ... a man's attitude toward his sheep or that they think of anything else night and day than the sources of their own profit. And you are so far out concerning the just and justice [i.e. so far from knowing "what justice is"] and the unjust and injustice that you don't know that justice and the just are literally the other fellow's good -- the advantage of the stronger and the ruler, but a detriment that is all his own of the subject who obeys and serves -- while injustice is the contrary and rules those who are simple in every sense of the word and just, and they being thus ruled do what is for his advantage who is the stronger and makes him happy by serving him, but themselves by no manner of means.

Thus Thrasymachus denies what Socrates has said about justice (335c) -- namely, that whatever justice is, it is the specific excellence of man, and therefore that justice is the good (or, happy life) for man. Thrasymachus says that, quite the contrary, justice is only what is the good for the stronger, whereas the good for the weaker is injustice (i.e. to be unjust). Since the word 'justice' has not been defined by either Socrates or Thrasymachus, they are both talking without knowing what they are talking about, for although they utter the sound 'justice', it is for them no more than that -- a sound without sense (or, nonsense). Next Thrasymachus explains his "theory (or, real definition) of justice", or proposition about "what justice really is".

343c-e - [THRASYMACHUS] And you must look at the matter, my simple-minded Socrates, in this way, that the just man always comes out at a disadvantage in his relation with the unjust. [For instance] in their relations with the state, if there are direct taxes or contributions to be paid, the just man contributes more from an equal estate and the other [i.e. the unjust man] less, and when there is a distribution the one [the unjust man] gains much and the other [the just man] [gains] nothing.

344a - Consider this type of man, then, if you wish to judge how much more profitable it is to him personally to be unjust than to be just. And the easiest way of all to understand this matter will be to turn to the most consummate form of injustice which makes the man who has done the wrong most happy and those who are wronged and who would not themselves willing do wrong most miserable. And this is tyranny, which both by stealth and by force takes away what belongs to others, both sacred and profane, both private and public, not little by little but at one swoop.

Talking, but not knowing what we're talking about

And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know? (Plato, Meno 80d, tr. Jowett)

... a man cannot try to discover either what he knows or he does not know? He would not seek what he knows, for since he knows it there is no need of the inquiry, nor what he does not know, for in that case he does not even know what he is to look for. (ibid. 80e, tr. Guthrie)

We can ask for an account of how we normally use the words 'justice' and 'just', a description about what is public and therefore objective about our use of those words. But that is not what Plato wants, and indeed in this dialog the Socratic method of induction is not used by Plato, who instead takes aim at whatever the word 'justice' suggests to him, whether the words of a poet (words that cannot defend themselves and therefore may be given most any meaning one likes) or of a Sophist who thinks he knows "what justice is" and is willing to discuss what he claims to know with others.

And this is the fog of metaphysics, that we are talking about "what justice [really] is" without ever having identified what we are talking about. And so it is utterly unclear what if anything we are talking about, although we do seem to be talking about something named 'justice'. But there are no "real definitions" of abstract concepts if by 'concept', as in my jargon, we mean 'rules for using a word' (for how can we have a theory about "what the real rules are" since those rules are public conventions?), and if by 'concept' someone means the "thing" that is the meaning of the abstract concept, then I have no idea what they are talking about: is "justice" some invisible object floating about in space that we can grasp hold of only because we have a name for it?

Plato offers a metaphysical picture to account for how we can look to find even though we "do not even know what we are to look for", namely his theory that knowledge is recollection: we are only looking to remember what we already know but have forgotten (Meno 81a-d). Plato's Theory of Recollection postulates the existence of a realm of experience that is not within our present experience so long as "the soul is in the body". Thus the theory can in no way help us to define the word 'justice', to describe our normal use of that word, much less to say what "justice itself" is. (Plato tries to prove his thesis by proving a proposition from axiomatic geometry -- (but how do we know the proposition is not a false memory? Because the proposition that is proved is not justified by memory but by reasoning) -- but is there an axiomatic system of virtue? As the discussion (332a-335e) above shows, there is indeed an axiomatic system of virtue -- but is a system of logical grammar which requires only reason, not recollection, in order to be known.)

And what I also don't know, if the muddle about the word 'justice' in this dialog lies in our trying to use the word 'justice' as an equivalent to a Greek concept that neither exists in our language nor in our way of thinking -- or in Plato's eccentric notions. (But to see just how difficult it can be to discuss a concept and way of thinking that seems to exist in one language -- in a language in which that concept and way of thinking does not seem to exist, see Plato's Greater Hippias, where the Greek concept kalon, usually rendered by the English word 'beauty', is discussed.)

I elsewhere use the expression 'concept-word' which is my jargon for what are often called "abstractions" or "abstract-words" -- i.e. names of "abstract objects" in contrast to "concrete" objects, as if words such as 'justice' were the names of invisible objects of some unknown nature (cf. "geometric objects"), as if all words had to be names of objects of some kind or other. In order not to suggest such absurd pictures (which are not pictures of how we actually use such words), the best way to classify such words is: non-name-of-object words (in contrast to name-of-object words). For non-name-of-object words, there are only verbal definitions of words that belong to that part of speech -- i.e. only rules or conventions for using "signs". Cf. "What is Socrates' definition of piety?"

And yes, there is a tremendous lot to understand if one is to understand Wittgenstein's logic of language. But without that understanding, one will never emerge from the fog of language created when metaphysics fails to distinguish between a verbal and a factual investigation, from the vagueness and confusion that surrounds all talk about "abstractions" or "abstract objects".

The English word 'justice'

Plato of course did not write in English. And so there is the question of whether Plato means by the Greek word or words his translators render by the English word 'justice' what English speakers mean by the word 'justice'. However, what do we mean by that word? In practice we use the word 'justice' equivocally, unclear about whether we mean 'law' ('legislation') or 'equity' ('fairness') by it.

"Fishes and beasts and fowls of the air devour one another. But to man, Zeus has given justice. Beside Zeus on his throne Justice has her seat." (Hesiod's Works and Days, quoted in Hamilton, Mythology (1942), "Introduction", p. 14)

Justice here has two parts: Themis, meaning 'the right' or 'divine justice', and Dike, meaning 'human justice'. But Justice, unlike Zeus, is a personification only in name, i.e. without personality. (Hamilton, ibid. i, 1, p. 40). Should Themis be identified with equity (fairness), with Antigone's "the law of God", while Dike should be identified with man-made laws (which Antigone dismisses as "the king's writ")?

But in the note to Theogony line 901, its translator M.L. West has: "Themis: the personification of all that is right and proper in nature and society". When Zeus marries Themis, she gives birth to "the Watchers [Horai], Lawfulness, Justice, and flourishing Peace, who watch over the works of mortal men; and the Fates ... who give mortal men both good and ill" (c. lines 901-906). Thus the Greek 'Themis' seems to be a concept of irreconcilable qualities ('rightness' and 'arbitrariness'). Does 'all that is right and proper' have the same meaning as 'equity'?

At one extreme, there are those who use the word 'justice' to mean only legislation; and for these people, when Socrates is found guilty in law justice has been done. They do not use the words 'law' and 'equity' to make a conceptual contrast; according the them, there is no distinction to be made: legal = fair, and fair = legal.

And at the other extreme, there are those who by the word 'justice' mean only 'equity'; and for these people, law has nought to do with fairness: it is simply the more or less arbitrary rule of man. And they contrast man's laws with the equity of God or the gods, as in Sophocles' Antigone, where Antigone says that she must obey God's law even if man-made law punishes her with death for obeying God:

Thy writ, O King,
hath not such potence as will overweigh
the laws of God ....
What though man rage, I must obey that law
.... (tr. C.E. Robinson)

Is justice the aim of law? Well, this is the question, whether by 'justice' we mean 'the judgment of God' (which no man knows) or 'the judgment of man' (as "variable as the shade by the light quivering aspen made"). To believe in God is to believe there is a difference, whereas not to believe is to believe -- what?

[Note that there is as well a third sense of 'justice' or second sense of 'equity': there is the individual's sense of fairness (in contrast to the community's), which may be at variance both with the justice of God and the justice of the law courts.]

What appears clear is that by 'justice' Plato does not mean 'equity'; he is not talking about what is fair and what is not fair. At the same time, he also does not seem to be talking about legislation. So what is he talking about? We cannot say that law-making is the defining excellence of man, nor that being fair is the defining excellence of man, because each of these is too particular: man is not exclusively a legislator, nor is he exclusively fair. And he has many other characteristics that define his excellence; there are various virtues, but there is no one thing that is human virtue. And therefore why does Plato say that "justice is the specific [or, defining characteristic] virtue of man"?

What Plato does mean by the word 'justice' (as well as by 'the just man' and 'the unjust man') in this dialog is not at all clear. Because for us the proposition 'The just man is good' is a tautology, and 'The unjust man is good' is a contradiction. And these propositions are not statements of fact (unless they are facts about the English language; certainly they not facts about the just and the unjust man). The proposition 'The just man is good' is not the result of an investigation of the facts about the just man; it is instead a rule of grammar; the proposition is, as we say, "true by definition".

So again, we are (apparently) talking about something, some X, without knowing what we are talking about. And Plato says as much in 354b, but he still believes that he is making -- not a conceptual-grammatical investigation -- but a factual investigation in this dialog: not "What do we mean by the word 'justice'?" but instead "What is justice?"

In sum, what is Plato talking about in this dialog? He does not seem to be using the word 'justice' in any way that word is used in English. For instance, the just man does not try to outwit the unjust man by means of deceit or trickery [349d]; the just man is just to all -- just as the good man harms no one, and indeed wishes no one harm. So too the just man treats all men justly; deceit, trickery -- that is injustice, not justice, and consequently it is never done by the just man -- as we use the word 'just' in English.

[Has the word 'justice' different meanings for the state than for the individual? Here is one possibility: Is this 'justice' for the state and for man? (but is it a correct grammatical report of our use of 'justice'?)]

What are we calling a 'just man'? Do we mean 'someone who obeys human legislation' (laws) or 'someone who is fair in his dealings with others'? And if the latter, then how is what is fair (or unfair) to be decided? Just as how what (or which) are "the laws of God" (of which Sophocles' Antigone speaks) to be decided. (As in the Euthyphro we are seeking a universal standard of judgment for Ethics to use.)

[The word 'justice'] in one sense covers the whole of virtue, for it is often equated with 'obedience to law', and "the law bids us live according to every virtue and refrain from all forms of wickedness" (EN 1130a23-24).... In its universal sense 'law-abidingness', therefore, 'justice' coincides with 'virtue' ... (Guthrie, Aristotle (1981), p. 370-371)

The problem with speaking of "obedience to the law" is that it leaves unanswered the question: which law, what law, whose law?, and "Can a law be unjust?" (for is that not what Antigone says of the king's legislation). Until that question is answered, it means nothing to say "the law bids us live according to every virtue"; Aristotle's words are without meaning until that first question is answered -- unless we are going to say that any law the bids us to live otherwise (i.e. to live according to vice) is either not a "law" at all or that it is an unjust law.

353b-e suggests that by 'justice' Plato means 'probity'. But elsewhere he seems to mean: correct conduct ("fair play") towards other human beings, just as by 'piety' we often mean 'correct conduct towards God or gods'. (As to what Aristotle means by the word 'equity' see his very humane and clear statement in Rhetoric 1374b4-22 (quoted by Guthrie, p. 375-376). But that statement does not answer the question of whether or not a law can be unjust.)

Thrasymachus changes course

[THRASYMACHUS] - 344c - For it is not fear of doing but of suffering wrong that calls forth the reproaches of those who revile injustice. Thus, Socrates, injustice on a sufficiently large scale is a stronger, freer, and more masterful thing than justice, and, as I said in the beginning, it is the advantage of the stronger that is the just, while the unjust is what profits a man's self and is for his advantage.

Thrasymachus now says [in contrast to what he said earlier in the discussion] that doing injustice [wrong-doing] is being just [right-doing], whereas being unjust [wrong-doing] is doing justice. The stronger are just only in so far as they are unjust. And to think otherwise is to be foolish. Which suggests that by the words 'acting justly' Thrasymachus means 'acting wisely', and that he is not talking about justice but rather wisdom or knowledge of how we should live our life (344e). For by the English word 'justice' everyone means 'right-doing', not 'wrong-doing'; and by 'injustice' everyone means 'wrong-doing', not 'right-doing'.

Does Thrasymachus' not spin around like a weather vane (345b)? That was characteristic of those Plato called 'Sophists', who were willing to use any method to win an argument, without any concern for the truth. However, Thrasymachus, unlike Callicles in the Plato's Gorgias who refuses to admit that he has been refuted, seems to simply be a man, who, like Euthyphro (although until the very end of the dialog Thrasymachus is very rude to Socrates, whereas Euthyphro is sympathetic throughout), thinks he knows what he does not know.

"... no small matter, but how to live"

344d-e - After this [torrent of words] Thrasymachus was minded to depart ... But the company would not suffer him and were insistent that he should remain and render an account of what he had said. - [SOCRATES] I am surprised at you, Thrasymachus. After hurling such a doctrine at us, can it be that you propose to depart without staying to teach us properly or learn yourself whether this thing is so or not? Do you think it a small matter that you are attempting to determine and not the entire conduct of life that for each of us would make living most worthwhile?

That is also the question of the Gorgias: we are discussing no small matter, but how to live [cf. Republic 352d below].

344e - [THRASYMACHUS] Well, do I deny it?

[SOCRATES] You seem to ... or else to care nothing for us and so feel no concern whether we are going to live worse or better lives in our ignorance of what you affirm that you know. Nay ... do your best to make the matter clear to us also ...

Because the ruler in Thrasymachus' "precise sense" only benefits the one he rules and never himself, no one chooses of his own will to be "a ruler in the precise sense"

345b-d - [SOCRATES] Persuade us, then, ... convince us satisfactorily that we are ill-advised in preferring justice to injustice.... But in the first place when you have said a thing stand by it, or if you shift your ground change openly and don't try to deceive us. But, as it is, you see, Thrasymachus, ... that while you began by taking the physician in the true ["precise"] sense of the word, you not think fit afterward to be consistent and maintain with precision the notion of the true shepherd, but you apparently think that he herds his sheep in his quality of shepherd, not with regard for what is best for the sheep, but as if he were ... with a view to a sale of them, as if he were a money-maker and not a shepherd. But the art of the shepherd surely is concerned with nothing else but how to provide what is best for that over which it is set [i.e. for the well-being of the sheep] ... And in like manner I supposed that we just now were constrained to acknowledge that every form of rule in so far as it is rule considers what is best for nothing else than that which is governed and cared for by it, alike and in political and private rule.

345e-346a - [SOCRATES] Do you not perceive that no one chooses of his own will to hold the office of rule? Men demand pay, which implies that not to them will benefit accrue from their holding office but to those whom they rule.

346a-b - [SOCRATES] Tell me this. We ordinarily say, do we not, that each of the arts is different from others because its power or function is different?... And does not each art also yield us benefit that is peculiar to itself and not general, as for example medicine health, the pilot's art safety at sea ...?... And does not the wage earner's art yield wages? For that is its function.

What does Plato mean by 'the wage earner's art'? It may be that all the arts [crafts] earn wages for the craftsman, but is there an art of wage-earning per se? Plato explains his notion in 346b-e. Note that there need not be a wage-earning art that exists independently from the craft that it accompanies -- but the art of wage-earning does no more than accompany the craft, if the craft is defined "precisely" (in Thrasymachus' sense, or way of setting limits).

346b-c - [SOCRATES continues] Would you identify medicine and [or, with] the pilot's art? Of if you please to discriminate "precisely" as you proposed, none the more if a pilot regains his health because a sea voyage is good for him, no whit the more, I say, for this reason do you call his art medicine, do you?... Neither, I take it, do you call wage earning medicine [even] if a man earning wages is in health?... But what of this? Do you call medicine wage earning, if a man when giving treatment earns wages?

346c-e - [SOCRATES] And did we not agree that the benefit derived from each art is peculiar to it?... Any common or general benefit that all craftsmen receive, then, they obviously derive from this common use of some further identical thing.... And we say that the benefit of earning wages accrues to the craftsmen from their further exercise of the wage-earning art.

346d - [SOCRATES] Then the benefit, the receiving of wages, does not accrue to each from his own art. But if we are to consider it "precisely", medicine produces health but the fee-earning art [produces] the pay, and architecture a house but the fee-earning art accompanying it the fee ... But unless pay is added to it, is there any benefit which the craftsman receives from his craft?

346e - [SOCRATES] Does he then bestow no benefit either when he works for nothing?

Thesis or Tautology?

Does the shepherd shear the sheep for the sheep's benefit (welfare)? Does the milk-maid milk the cow for the cow's benefit? Does the fisherman catch fish for the fish's benefit? There seem to be many counter-examples to Plato's thesis, if it is a thesis rather than a tautology (i.e. a proposition so fluid in meaning as to be unfalsifiable), which examples should refute it. They certainly don't confirm (agree to) it.

Question: But is the good done for the sake of a reward?

But to the question "Is there no reward [or, benefit], then?", Epictetus replied: "Seems it to you so small a thing, and worthless, to be a good human being." Does a man do what is the good because it benefits or rewards him -- and must it not if "the good is the useful"? But what is the reward if a man suffers or is harmed by doing what is good? But is not the reward, as the wise man knows, that by doing good a man "cares for his soul" and "grows in goodness" (Xenophon, Memorabilia i, 6, 9; iv, 8, 6)?

Further, may not a physician "of his own will choose to be a ruler" solely because he believes he has a vocation to ease human suffering -- and therefore is not being a physician to his benefit as well as to the benefit of the one he rules -- i.e. his patient? What is or is not 'a benefit' may be measured in many different ways, which is of course a grammatical remark, for wage-earning is not the only thing we call a benefit.

For again, Socrates takes no money for teaching. He instructs and cares for the young and old, Athenians and foreigners, and unlike the "professional philosophers" (professors, Sophists), he demands no wages from them. But instead Socrates is rewarded with friendship and companions -- although not always, for often he makes enemies of vain ignorant men -- and in piety, because by practicing philosophical dialectic, he is responding to the obligation placed on him by Apollo's oracle, and is as well growing daily in goodness (Xenophon, Memorabilia i, 6, 1-9) by living in accord with the human excellence of reason, discussing "no small matter, but how to live".

Following a rule rather than proving a proposition to be true

But Plato is, of course, aware to all this. He is merely following Thrasymachus' rule of "in the precise sense" or "speaking precisely". Consistently following that rule, then, any benefit (no matter of what type) that accompanies a craft must be treated as a separate art, e.g. the art of growing in goodness or the art of fulfilling one's vocation in life. But, again, none of these further arts that accompanies a craft need exist independently of the craft it accompanies.

346e - [SOCRATES] Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself -- but ... what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage of the stronger?

"... immediately apparent"? Yes, it is. But, after all, it is merely "true by definition" [tautological], as we say. And thus, is there a vital point to this distinction and this argument, or is it mere eristic?

346e-347a - [SOCRATES continues] That is why ... I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people's troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in the form of money or honor or penalty if they refuse.

Does Plato say in 346e-347a that no one ever does anything unless he benefits in some way from it, thus denying that there actually are altruistic acts [although such acts were recognized by the Greeks; see Aristotle's definition of 'kindness'], acts of self-sacrifice from which the person who makes the sacrifice does not benefit in the least [quite the contrary], for self-sacrifice does after all require sacrifice, and that is in the nature of the deed itself; it is not a punishment for the deed?

We may always say that the benefit to the one who does an altruistic deed is his "growing in goodness". But that is no more than a way of looking at things. The propositions 'No one ever does anything unless he benefits from it' has the same logical status as 'Everything man does he does from selfishness'. We can look at every deed that way, but neither of those propositions is a statement of fact.

[In 347a - Glaucon asks Socrates what penalty he is speaking of, and Plato's Socrates answers.] 347c - [SOCRATES] ... the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do ...

When Plato makes an assertion he qualifies it by adding a form of expression such "it seems" (347a) or "as it appears to me" (347c). For these assertions have not been put to the test, and philosophy is not mere untested opinion; however, if you do not accept an assertion, then you must refute it, and accept that your assertions may be refuted in turn (See Plato's Gorgias 457e-458b, 461e-462a, 504c, 506b-c, 508a-b). That is the spirit of philosophy, a spirit that must be understood to understand Plato's dialogs.

Plato's view and response to Thrasymachus (Summary)

Note: This is reflection years later based on my memory of this dialog, if I have understood it rightly. (The position of the majority with respect to the minority in a democracy does seem paradoxical, or maybe not.)

Thrasymachus: Justice is the interest -- i.e. what is beneficial to -- the stronger party, and therefore it is just for the weaker party to do whatever benefits the stronger party. But Plato says that the reality is just the opposite.

Plato: The rulership -- i.e. the stronger party -- like the shepherd who rules over his sheep (345c-d), serves the interests -- i.e. works to benefit -- those it rules over -- i.e. the weaker party. Just as sheep are weaker than their shepherd, the minority in a democracy is weaker than the majority (and thus, it seems, that in a democracy justice is for the majority to serve the interests of the weaker). The good = the just man harms no one but benefits all men (335d-e), and therefore as ruler will not act in his own [selfish] interest -- i.e. to benefit himself [alone].


Is the life of the unjust man better than the life of the just man?

But at this point Plato decides to end his discussion of Thrasymachus' first contention that "Just is nothing else than the advantage of the stronger" (338c).

347e - [SOCRATES] ... [although] I by no means concede to Thrasymachus [his assertion] that justice is the advantage of the superior ... we will reserve [our discussion of that assertion] for another occasion. A far weightier matter seems to me Thrasymachus' present statement, his assertion that the life of the unjust man is better than that of the just.

347e-348b - [GLAUCON says that he disagrees with what Thrasymachus has said. SOCRATES replies] Did you hear ... all the goods that Thrasymachus just now enumerated [in 343b-344c] for the life of the unjust man?... [But] If then we oppose him [i.e. Thrasymachus] in a set speech enumerating in turn the advantages of being just ... we shall have to count up and measure the goods listed in the respective speeches and we shall forthwith be in need of judges to decide between us.

[SOCRATES] But if, as in the preceding discussion [i.e. the one preceding Thrasymachus' set speech (343b-344c)], we come to terms with one another as to what we admit in the inquiry, we shall ourselves be both judges and pleaders.

"... we come to terms with one another as to what we admit in the inquiry". What Socrates is going to do, as in the preceding discussion, is to find something in what's been said so far that they both agree with, and then continue the discussion from there. Thus this is another example (cf. 339b) of Socrates obtaining step by step agreement, the method of dialectic rather than of set speeches [debates]. And so he continues:

348b-e - [SOCRATES] Come then, Thrasymachus, ... go back to the beginning and answer us. You affirm the perfect and complete injustice is more profitable [good, beneficial, useful] than justice that is complete.... Tell me then how would you express yourself on this point ... You call one of them, I presume, a virtue and the other a vice?... Justice is the virtue and injustice the vice?

[THRASYMACHUS] Is it likely, you innocent, when I say that injustice pays and justice doesn't pay?... The [very] opposite [of what you have suggested].

[SOC.] What! Justice vice [i.e. the opposite of virtue]?

[TH.] No, but a most noble simplicity or goodness of heart.

[SOC.] Then do you call injustice badness of heart?

[TH.] No, goodness of judgment.

[SOC.] Do you also ... regard the unjust as intelligent [wise] and good [virtuous]?

[TH.] Yes, if they are capable of complete injustice ... [by which Thrasymachus means: if they] are able to subject to themselves [entire] cities and tribes of men....

[SOC.] ... This is what surprised me, that you should range injustice under the head of virtue [i.e., in this context, human excellence] and wisdom [i.e. knowledge of how to conduct one's life], and justice in the opposite class [i.e. folly].... That ... is a stiffer proposition ... and if you are going as far as that it is hard to know what to answer.

348e-349b - [SOCRATES] For if your position were that injustice is profitable yet you conceded it to be vicious and disgraceful [i.e. the opposite of virtuous] as some disputants do, there would be a chance for an argument on conventional principles. But, as it is, you obviously are going to affirm that [injustice] is honorable and strong [i.e. virtuous] and you will attach to it all the other qualities that we were assigning to the just, since you don't shrink from putting it in the category of virtue and wisdom.

[Thrasymachus agrees, and then SOCRATES continues] ... I mustn't flinch from following out the logic of the inquiry, so long as I conceive you to be saying what you think....

[THRASYMACHUS] What difference does it make to you ... whether I believe it or not? Why don't you test the argument?

[SOCRATES] No difference ... but here is something I want you to tell me in addition to what you have just said.

Why the words 'disgraceful', 'honorable' and 'strong' are used here, I don't know. Nor do I know what is meant here by 'conventional principles', unless that means 'common points of agreement'. Because Socrates' reason for asking about "something in addition" is, I think, that he is seeking a point of agreement with Thrasymachus.

Will the just man seek to overreach another man?

349b-c - [SOCRATES] Do you think the just man would want to overreach [i.e. use deceit or trickery in order to outsmart or get the better of] or exceed another just man?

[THRASYMACHUS] By no means ... Otherwise he would not be the delightful simpleton that he is.

[SOCRATES] And would he exceed or overreach or go beyond the just action?

[THRASYMACHUS agrees to SOCRATES' statement that "the just man does not claim or wish to outdo the just man but only the unjust [man]", but "the unjust man will overreach and outdo also [i.e. not only the just man, but also] both the unjust man and the unjust action, and all his endeavor will be to get the most in everything for himself".]

349c-d - [SOCRATES continues] Let us put it in this way ... The just man does not seek to take advantage of his like but of his unlike, but the unjust man of both. [THRASYMACHUS agrees, saying that this way of putting it is admirable.]

But as was asked above, is Plato using the word 'justice' the way that word is used in English? Because the 'just man' does not try to outwit any man by means of deceit or trickery [349d], does he? No, the just man is just to all -- just as the good man harms no one, and indeed wishes no one harm. But on the other hand, the just man does wish to see injustice defeated.

Socrates' Method of Refutation: showing how his companion's assertions contradict a general principle

349d - [SOCRATES states two propositions based on what Thrasymachus had said: (1) "The unjust man is intelligent and good, and the just man is neither", and (2) "The unjust man is like the intelligent and good, and the just man is like neither". THRASYMACHUS' agrees to both, saying of (2), "Of course, ... being such he will be like to such [i.e. being himself intelligent and good, the unjust man will be like anyone else who is [or possibly, anything else that] is intelligent and good], and the other not [i.e. the just man will be unlike anyone who is intelligent and good]." Which SOCRATES restates as the following principle: (3) "Each is such as that to which he is like".]

350a-b - [SOCRATES] Consider then with regard to all forms of knowledge and ignorance whether you think that anyone who knows would choose to do or say other or more than what another who knows would do or say, and not rather exactly what his like would do in the same action. [THRASYMACHUS agrees that the one who knows what to do would do the same as any other who knows what to do.]

[SOCRATES] But what of the ignorant man -- of him who does not know? Would he not overreach or outdo equally the knower and the ignorant?

350b-c - [Then THRASYMACHUS agrees to two propositions: (1) "The one who knows is wise", and (2) "The wise is good". From which SOCRATES draws the following conclusion.] [(3)] Then he who is good and wise will not wish to overreach his like but his unlike and opposite.... But the bad man [who is the opposite of wise] and the ignoramus [the one who does not know] will overreach both like [i.e. both those who also don't know] and unlike [i.e. those who know]?... And does not our unjust man, Thrasymachus, overreach both unlike and like?... But the just man will not overreach his like but only his unlike?... [Having received THRASYMACHUS' agreement step by step on each of these propositions of the argument, SOCRATES concludes] Then the just man is like the wise and the good, and the unjust is like the bad and the ignoramus.

350c - [SOCRATES] But furthermore we agreed that each is such as that to which he is like. [Again THRASYMACHUS agrees, for this was proposition (3) above. And SOCRATES concludes] Then the just man has turned out in our hands to be good and wise and the unjust man bad and ignorant.

Does 'the just man' mean anything more in this discussion than simply 'the virtuous man' -- i.e. the one who has knowledge of the defining excellence of man (and therefore lives virtuously). But if so, is there any distinction in meaning left between the words 'just', 'wise', and 'good'? (In the Charmides, Plato wants to say that all the virtues are not several, but somehow -- he doesn't know how -- one.)

In other words, 'the just man' is the one has obeyed the Delphic precept "Know thyself!" (which has two parts).

350c-e - [When the discussion reaches the conclusion that "Justice is virtue and wisdom" and "Injustice is vice and ignorance", SOCRATES continues] ... let this [conclusion] be taken as established. But we were also affirming that injustice is a strong and potent thing.

[At this point, however, THRASYMACHUS says "I don't agree with what you are now saying" (Apparently he does not agree to the proposition: Justice is virtue and wisdom, and injustice is vice and ignorance) "... and I have an answer to it", and he wishes to reply in a set speech, but, as he says, since Socrates "won't allow me freedom of speech" (i.e. the freedom to make a set speech), he simply replies: "if you prefer to ask questions, go on questioning and I, as we do for old wives telling their tales, will say, "Very good", and will nod assent and dissent." However, THRASYMACHUS does agree to SOCRATES' request that he not agree or disagree "contrary to your own belief".]

351a-d - [Plato now argues that "the unjust" must of necessity combine their "injustice" with "justice", because if they did not they would be unable to work together because each "unjust man" would be trying to overreach every other "unjust man" as well as "just man". And therefore justice is stronger than injustice. SOCRATES] ... the outcome of injustice [is factions,] hatreds and internecine conflicts, but justice brings oneness of mind and love.

352b - [And so, after further, discussion SOCRATES concludes that] ... the just appear to be wiser and better and more capable of action and the unjust incapable of any common action ...

352d - But whether it is also true that the just have a better life than the unjust and are happier, which is the question we afterward proposed for examination, is what we now have to consider.... we must examine [that proposition] more carefully. For it is no ordinary matter that we are discussing, but the right conduct of life. [cf. 344e; Jowett translates 352d: "... but still I would like to examine further, for no light matter is at stake, nothing less than the rule of human life."]


How is the excellence (or, virtue) of any particular type of thing to be determined?

Premise: Everything has a defining excellence (virtue or areté), an excellence that is specific and unique to it and says what it is. "Know thyself" means: seek out the excellence (or, virtue) that is specific and proper to man.

352e-353a - [SOCRATES] Tell me then -- would you say that a horse has a specific work or function?... Would you be willing to define the work of a horse or of anything else to be that which one can do only with it or best with it?

[THRASYMACHUS] I don't understand ...

[SOCRATES] Well, take it this way. Is there anything else with which you can see except that eyes?... could you hear with anything but ears?... Would you not rightly say that these are the functions of these organs?... [SOCRATES gives a further example: that if you wanted to trim vine branches, there are many instruments you could use but none works so well as a knife which has been] fashioned [or, made, i.e. designed] for this purpose.... Must we not then assume this to be the work or function of that [tool]?... You will now, then, I fancy, better apprehend the meaning of my question when I asked whether that is not the [specific] work of a thing which it only or it better than anything else can perform.

[THRASYMACHUS agrees, saying that he now understands.]

353b - [SOCRATES] Do you not also think that there is a specific virtue or excellence of everything for which a specific work or function is appointed? Let us return to the same examples. The eyes we say have a function?... Is there also a virtue of the eyes?... And was there not also a function of the ears?... And so also a virtue?... And what of all other things? Is the case not the same?

The particular work it alone can do, or do best, is the specific excellence proper to a thing, what it is good for and the good for it

353b-c - [SOCRATES] Take note now. Could the eyes possibly fulfill their function well if they lacked their own proper excellence and had in its stead the defect?

[THRASYMACHUS] How could they?... For I presume you meant blindness instead of vision.

For example, if the excellence proper to man is knowledge, then its defect is ignorance; and if a man is ignorant (i.e. if he does not have knowledge), then he cannot "fulfill his work or function well" (353b). However, Socrates says that Thrasymachus is anticipating him.

353b-e - [SOCRATES] Whatever ... the excellence may be. For I have not yet come to that question, but am only asking whether whatever operates will not do its own work well by its own virtue [or, excellence] and badly by its own defect.... Then the ears, too, if deprived of their own virtue will do their work ill?... And do we then apply the same principle to all things?... Then next consider this. The soul, has it work which you couldn't accomplish with anything else in the world, as for example, management, rule, deliberation, and the like? Is there anything else than soul to which you could rightly assign these and say they were its peculiar work?

[THRASYMACHUS] Nothing else.

[SOCRATES] And again life? Shall we say that too is the function of the soul?... And do we not also say that there is an excellence or virtue of the soul?... Will the soul ever accomplish its own work well if deprived of its own virtue, or is this impossible?... Of necessity, then, a bad soul will govern and manage things badly while the good soul will in all these things do well.... And did we not agree that the excellence or virtue of soul is justice and its defect injustice [335c]?

Again, Plato mistakes conceptual investigations for investigations of fact. But the only "of necessity" here is logical necessity: for Plato is merely describing the interconnections of grammatical rules [definitions], deriving one grammatical proposition [or, rule of grammar] from others.

353e-354a - [SOCRATES] The just soul and the just man then will live well and the unjust ill?

[THRASYMACHUS] So it appears ... by your reasoning.

[SOCRATES] But furthermore, he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who does not the contrary.... Then the just is happy and the unjust miserable.... But it surely does not pay to be miserable, but to be happy.... Never, then, ... can injustice be more profitable than justice.

But that is not necessarily true, unless by 'happy' Plato means "true" or "real" happiness -- i.e. what the wise man knows to be happiness (or, the good) for man; and that one can be miserable without knowing that he is miserable -- i.e. happy only because he is ignorant that he is "really" miserable.

The Conclusion of Republic Book I

354b - [But at this point in the discussion SOCRATES has to admit that] before finding the first object of inquiry -- what justice is -- [we] let go of that and set out to consider something about [justice], namely whether it is vice and ignorance or wisdom and virtue.... So that for me the present outcome of the discussion is that I know nothing. For if I don't know what the just is, I shall hardly know whether it is a virtue or not, and whether its possessor is or is not happy.

And so this dialog ends where it should have begun, and perhaps ended as well: 'I don't know what the just is' = 'I don't know what we're talking about'. The topic of the discussion is named 'justice' ... But 'justice' is merely a word, merely spoken sounds or ink marks -- now, what gives that word meaning? That is the question of logic of language, of Wittgenstein's grammatical investigations.

But where or how has Thrasymachus' thesis that "Justice is the advantage of the stronger party" been refuted in this dialog? Or is it not true that, as in the beginning, the strong has imposed itself on the weak, and then given a noble-sounding title to its imposition, 'justice' for example? But tell me, which is the greater evil, to kill a man outright or to bang him up in a cage for years on end?


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