Thrasymachus discounts traditional moral values on the basis of what he sees as “reality.” Socrates does not dispute Thrasymachus’ version of the way things are, and even demonstrates that Cephalus’ conventional definition of virtue is insufficient. Yet Socrates’ defense of justice, (like Thrasymachus’ attack) is equally grounded in what he sees as the “reality” of politics and human motivation. Given that both see themselves as “realists,” and that both reject the traditional basis for the good life, why are Socrates and Thrasymachus so far apart on the question of justice?
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In Plato’s Republic various views on justice and virtue are narrated by Plato through the voices of the characters. Thrasymachus, the sophist introduced in The Republic has a very strong, and radical view of justice. His definition of justice is very different from the definition of justice given by other characters such as Cephalus, Polemarchis, Glaucon, Adeimantis, and Socrates himself. (Both) Socrates and Thrasymachus refused to abide by traditional moral values simply on the basis of what they saw as “reality”. Although both Thrasymachus, and Socrates rejected the traditional basis for the good life, and both (also) considered themselves as “realists”, their individual definitions of justice are very far apart from one another, and are rather unique.
In book II of The Republic, Socrates posed(poses) the (a) very complicated but simple question: what is justice? At the beginning he asked (asks) others but gave(gives) no definition of his own. Cephalus, a rich and elderly man began with his definition of justice as he was conversing with Socrates. According to Cephalus, justice is simply living up to legal obligations and being honest with them. His definition unlike Thrasymachus or Socrates focused greatly on give and take, or rather legal obligations according to him. Cephalus’s son Polemarchis also attempted to give his definition of justice which according to him meant (means) that you owe friends help, and enemies harm. Once again this definition regurgitated the older definition of getting what is due and giving to each what is necessary. Socrates expressed disagreement, which allowed for the understanding that his view of justice was substantially different from those of Cephalus and Polemarchis. Socrates felt that the definition of justice referred by Cephalus and Polemarchis would harm the good and help the bad because people themselves do not have good judgment. By this Socrates meant that sometimes friends are not virtuous as we (they) see them to be, and our enemies are not as bad as we think of them. Also Socrates mentioned that according to him, one should not harm in the name of justice. This was a response to Polemarchis’s definition because justice according to him meant “to owe friends help, and enimies harm”. Socrates strongly disagrees with “owing harm”, which helped give clues to the reader’s understanding of Socrates’s definition of justice.
It is then Thrasymachus, who proudly declares in front of everyone that he has a better definition of justice to offer. According to Thrasymachus the sophist, “justice is the advantage of the stronger”. According to Thrasymachus, there are no rewards or benefits to be just, or to act justly. Those who do not behave justly, are benefited more than those who do. Unlike Socrates, Thrasymachus claims that there is no benefit for people to be justly, and justice itself is something which society has imposed on us. Once Socrates hears of Thrasymachus’s definition of justice he immediately expresses his dislike, and disagreement for it. According to Socrates, this view actually(don’t need the actually) allows for injustice to occur, as people then would never want to be just or act justly. Socrates believes it is wrong of Thrasymachus to make money, and power as the greatest possible virtue. Since Thrasymachus’s definition according to Socrates actually promotes injustice, Socrates then concludes that injustice can’t be a virtue because it is against wisdom, which is actually a virtue.
Socrates then began offering his version of what justice should be. According to Socrates, justice is the virtue of the soul. The virtue of the soul is equivalent to the health of the soul. Justice therefore should be a desirable object as it means good health of the soul, which is something positive that people desire. Socrates makes justice seem appealing, and good at the same time. This view is very far apart from the view of Thrasymachus because Socrates makes justice seem beneficial and appealing while Thrasymachus makes justice appear useless or even harmful to whoever uses it. Thrasymachus’s definition of justice presents a sophistic view considering he is indeed a sophist. According to him one who acts justly loses out on power, money, is weak, and disadvantaged in comparison to one who acts unjustly. Socrates on the other hand, proves that justice is something moral, and beneficial unlike Thrasymachus.
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Socrates’s mission was in many ways to prove that one should be just even if it did not offer benefit at the time. This was to get others to believe the opposite of the view people like Thrasymachus were spreading. Socrates used philosopher kings to portray what the most just man is like, according to him. Socrates says that justice is a techne, or a specialized skill which is always present to benefit not to harm. He also pointed out the subject of appearance vs. reality which questioned can a friend really be your enemy? He used this to highlight the flaws of those who offered their “faulty” definitions, and view of justice. In book IX, Socrates presented some arguments that showed the rewards of being just. Firstly he mentioned that injustice itself, makes a person so wretched that there is no for it to be worth it as the soul would be troubled and uncalm. After which he points out only “philosophical pleasure” is true pleasure, everything else such as money, power, honour, and strength are not true pleasures.
Thrasymachu’s defined justice as the interest of the stronger, and Socrates promoted justice as the interest of all in order to be good, and healthy. A just man would try to imitate what Socrates reffered to as the Forms, in order to make his own soul orderly and balanced as the forms themselves. Perhaps it can be argued that Thrasymachus and Socrates views of justice are complete opposite from one another due to their experiences in life. Thrasyamachus was a wealthy sophist. He was a sort of teacher that was hired to teach wealthy sons of wealthy men in the Athenian society. As a sophist he did not believe in the objective truth, or moral objective truth. He did not think of things as “right” or “wrong”. Rather he clearly viewed all actions as an advantage or disadvantage. He claims that the idea of justice was put forth by rulers (the stronger) for the purpose of furthering their own interests. Socrates on the other hand insists that justice is something good, and desirable. Justice should be connected to objective standards of morality, and it is beneficial to those who abide by it
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