The Virtue Of Justice, Ethics And Politics In The Republic

Plato’s Republic outlines the formation of an ideal human society, defines justice, and its role in governing a city. This work offers Plato’s view of the virtue of justice and why people should be just. Since the Republic includes how the just city will be constructed, it offers multiple interpretations on the politics and ethics of the just city. The focus of my interpretation of The Republic lies in examination of the virtue of justice, ethics and politics.

The basic teaching of the Plato’s Republic is that individuals should pursue wisdom if the opportunity is available, and if it is not, they should follow the wisest person they can find. Plato frames philosophy in a different light than traditionally. In lines 534b-c, Plato outlines that wisdom must satisfy Socratic examination, but it also demands self discipline in order to keep desires in check, as many are in conflict with each other. Further, the spirited and appetitive desires must give way to the true desires of philosophy, continuing to attend to the desires that arise from the parts of the soul that do not require mathematics. In the Republic, Socrates states that wisdom requires understanding of how the world works, rather than accepting ignorance, believing that the world is in good condition, being ruled fairly enough. He continues to state that the philosopher should prefer and choose to be completely uninvolved in politics. In examining the advice Plato gives here, it is important to notice the influence of others. Plato writes that the quality of life depends on the people who surround you and society as a whole. This is especially true for those who are not able to pursue wisdom on their own and have to follow someone wise. These people will live as well as they are lead to live by those who are wise.

The ideas proposed in the Republic are based on the idea that individuals should act with the intentions of achieving their own happiness and success. Socrates introduces this idea, but doesn’t quite argue for it. He states that the success of an individual gives them the concrete reasons for their actions and that it takes virtue to achieve success. In this sense, acting with the intentions of achieving success should be regular, as individuals should seek situations that make them happy and or successful. However, this precedent is contradicted in Book One, where it is stated that virtue is bad because virtue in itself is success.

When Thrasymachus challenges Socrates’ thought that it is good to be just, Socrates attempts to change the subject and curve Thrasymachus’ argument. Glaucon and Adeimantus were not satisfied with the answer, so they continued to press on, arguing that justice is only worth respecting if an individual is not strong enough to do injustice and get away with it. They will only accept Socrates’ view if he can convincingly prove that justice is worth choosing regardless of the penalty or reward. In Book One, Socrates lays out the idea that justice causes the soul to operate well, and that a person whose soul operates well is blessed. Continuing to Book Two, he continues to talk about the person who attempts to be well. He believes that pursuing what makes you happy always requires acting just, creating a correlation that says being justice is equivalent to being happy. However, this would mean that justice is both anything and everything that it takes to achieve happiness. Since Glaucon presented a challenge to this ideology, it seems to make Socrates less firm in his argument, as plausible instances where a just individual would act justly, but afterwards not be happy. When investigating morals, the Republic lays out standard as to how individuals should live. Socrates cites a study of human psychology to determine the health of individual souls, using an example of what someone who is in good psychological standing would operate. Socrates goes on to suggest that “good” actions are those which prolong a virtuous soul and that this soul houses an infinitely large group of commitments. In Plato’s eyes, actions are good in their relation to good itself. However, the good itself is divine property, it cannot exist in the natural world. Thus, Plato’s view on morals opposes naturalism, denying the sentiment that objective facts and properties are natural facts.

Totalitarianism is very prevalent in Plato’s Republic. The goal of the just city is unity among its citizens. However, the ruler of this city is responsible for the unity of the city all together, not taking into account the interests of individual citizens. That being said, the initial goal of the just city is happy citizens, as well as a happy city as a whole. In Book One, Socrates states that it is the job of a ruler to benefit the ruled. In this sense, how would it be possible for the ruler of the just city to turn a blind eye to the good of the citizens. The definition of the city’s “good” has multiple ways of being interpreted. The good of the city can be simply viewed as the “good as a whole” of the city, with each citizen contributing to the happiness and success of the city in order to contribute to fulfill the happiness of the other citizens. This view of the good city can not be credited in the Republic, as Socrates lays out a more complex, “maximally unified” city which cannot be minimized to the “good as a whole” of the city’s citizens. In Socrates argument of politics, I interpreted the way the just and unjust cities are described exactly as he states them. The just city has pretty clear totalitarian structure. This type of government offers one political group without offering an alternative or opponent. The Republic questions a majority of the political ideas that were proposed, leaving it up to the reader’s individual interpretation of Plato’s thoughts as to if he is actually suggesting these ideas as plausible, or if he is suggesting a completely different solution. Along with this, the fact that Socrates is prepared to demonstrate that it is more beneficial to be just before he suggests that the just and wise be philosophers, and that this city must be rule by those philosophers. Adeimantus suggesting that women and children be taken from families and “held in common”, but later asking Socrates to clarify and explain it creates difficulty determining the seriousness of this sentiment. Finally, the fact that Socrates acknowledges that Greek citizens would surely ridicule the idea that women learn the art and skill of war. Through these instances, I think that Socrates is calling for readers to reconsider what Socrates says without flat out saying he finds flaws in Socrates ideas.

The political structure spelled out in the Republic should be separated from a true ideal city. To start, philosophers must be motivated to rule the city. Whoever constructs the city would most likely have to force the philosophers to rule. If these philosophers had to be forced to manage this ideal city, the city will not generate maximum happiness and idealness. Along with this, the rulers would not have a reliable way of calculating the marriage number. There would be no way to control human desire under the perfect mathematical amount of people the rulers calculated. This ideal city is no way finalized or concrete, rather it its proposed by Socrates through a long Socratic dialectic. However, this does not elude to the idea that Plato rejects the ideals Socrates has constructed.

After comparing the ideas he lays out in The Republic to the basic ideas he endorses in other works, Plato demonstrates many parallels through Socrates’ political ideas. Plato is firm in that the best rulers are wise. He also believes that those in power rule for the sake of those that they rule, rather than their own personal advancement. Plato also says that a city is not likely to have the most just individuals ruling, as the values of common people and values of rulers differ significantly. Disagreements over who should rule a city is the greatest harm according to Plato. Since competition is inevitable, groups will oppose each other in order to gain power, likely disregarding moral standards. Because of this, he proposes that the citizens should confer and agree on who should rule the city. These messages are prevalent in the Republic as well as Plato’s other works, which raises the thought that these ideals are actually what Plato wants readers to gather from the Republic. 

16 August 2021
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