The Concept of Justice in Plato’s Republic

683 words | 3 page(s)

The Republic by Plato remains one of the most well-known philosophical works. In the work, Plato and Socrates (through Plato) examine the concept of justice. The philosophers consider the issue of why men behave justly. They wonder if men act in a just manner because they are scared of the punishment for misbehaving or if they truly want to be good. In Book IV, Socrates and his companions examine the issue of the rulers of their city. Socrates’ companion, Adeimantus, does not believe that being a ruler is a good lifestyle. He argues that the ruler has no money of his own; without independent wealth, the ruler cannot travel, buy things or have a mistress. Adeimantus believes that these are the things in life that bring a person happiness. Socrates believes that the goal of the men who established the city is ensuring that all people in the city are happy; this is their accomplishment. If the city is well-established, then the members of the city are happy. He argues that things cannot be piecemeal. Socrates uses the color of purple eyes as an example; he believes this is the most beautiful color. If the only goal was to make parts of things perfect, the eyes of a statue should be purple. However, since humans do not have purple eyes, a statue with purple eyes would not be attractive. Every part must be done in accordance to its actual function or truth; in this way, the entire statue is made beautiful. Socrates believes that this is the same for a city. If every individual functions according to his or her ideal purpose, the entire city functions.

The book then examines the actual definition of justice. While others explained justice in a number of ways, Socrates believes that justice occurs when everyone engages in the position to which he or she is best suited. A just society allows all members to function in their best roles. Obviously, this is not the normal definition of justice. However, if all people are functioning in their best roles, it is less likely that there will be discord in a society. A society that does not have much discord is less likely to have difficulties, such as crime and aggression, in the society. While Socrates view of justice may not seem the common one, he has designed a concept of justice that allows the true administration of justice to occur.

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One of the most interesting scenes in the book is when Socrates discussed the idea of the color purple. He believes that purple is the best and most ideal color. I found this interesting because he does not give any explanation as to why this is the ideal color. Since Socrates tends to question everything, as well as to debate everything, I found this to be quite interesting. It appeared that Socrates just accepted that purple is the ideal color. This statement appears contradictory with everything else about Socrates. Perhaps this was just a personal preference on his part, or perhaps he had a reason to believe that purple is the ideal color. However, I would have thought this would be discussed in greater detail.

The other part I found interesting was Socrates’ definition of justice. Socrates saw that the people in a city are similar to an ideal city. Both have to fulfil a number of roles. Both the city and the man have different functions for their different parts. I find it interesting that Socrates sees both men and government as essentially the same thing; I believe this may have been one of the reasons that Socrates viewed a city where everyone has the correct role as the just society.

I have two questions for my classmates based upon these aspects.
1. Why do you think Socrates did not elaborate with regards to something that he considered perfect? Socrates and Plato believed that there was an essence of everything. Is purple the ideal essence of a color?
2. Do you agree that everyone should be allowed to engage in a specific role or does this sound too boring?

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