Glaucon vs. Socrates

7 July 2016

In Book Two of The Republic, Glaucon tests Socrates view of justice. Socrates believes that “injustice is never more profitable than justice” (31). With this, he describes how the good life is determined by whether you are just or unjust. Socrates explains how justice is observed through the genuine acts of human character; justice is evaluated by how morally right one is. Glaucon however challenges this idea, as he wishes to be shown why being just is desirable.

He trusts that we as humans naturally act just because the scare of punishment. Glaucon reasons that if the fear of getting penalized was removed, if punishment was not at all possible, then we would do anything we wanted whenever we wanted to without hesitation. Glaucon argues that it is always and only external constraints that keep us from acting unjustly. To emphasize his point, Glaucon uses an example of two men and two magic rings. Both men are given the rings in which make them invisible.

Once the just man is in possession of this ring, he is able to act unjustly with no fear of retaliation, the same as the unjust man would. With this, Glaucon states that the “actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point” (526). Therefore, the just man would be no greater than the unjust man. If you are never going to receive punishment, then who truly is living the “good life? ” The unjust man who never gets caught or the just one?

Glaucon claims that even the most just man would behave unjustly if he had owned such ring. This point proves that people are just only because they are afraid of punishment for being unjust, not because justice is desirable in itself. Secondly, Glaucon argues that it is really only the appearance of justice that matters- not actual justice. As stated by Glaucon, he explains “that it pays for a man to be perfectly unjust if he appears to be just” (528). He presents the idea that the perfectly unjust life is more pleasant than the perfectly just life.

In making this claim, Glaucon compares the two lives of the just and unjust man. The completely unjust man who appears to be just is in the end honored and rewarded even though not deserved. This is a clear example of psychological egoism. Psychological egoism is the view that given the opportunity, we will always act in our own self-interest. However, the completely just man who is morally right is honored and rewarded but is still considered second best to the unjust man. The unjust man is getting away with such unmorally things because he is perceived just.

Socrates responds to Glaucons arguments by examining what the just or “well-functioning state” looks like. He states that “justice is defined as a harmony of the soul when each part fulfills its proper function- reason ruling, the spirit courageously serving reason, and the appetites living in temperance, being guided by reason” (57). Socrates describes the three broad classes for a well-functioning state of justice as rulers, guardians and merchants. A ruler has power over a society and is able to pass laws, which entails wisdom and temperance.

Guardians protect and serve, which requires courage and temperance and merchants develop wealth and culture which involves temperance. In this, justice is defined as doing the work you are best suited for and not meddling in the affairs of others. A merchant cannot do a rulers job and vice versa because it would be consider unjust. Based on the view of a well-functioning state, Socrates is able compare a well-functioning city and a well-functioning soul. He claims that the “soul is made up of three parts: a rational part, spirited part and a passionate part” (57).

A just man has a balance of reason that aims at knowledge and what is best, serves honor and courage and targets for gratification and to please, all in which include wisdom and temperance. As a result, a well-functioning soul is one in which reason rules, emotions courageously server reason and desire obeys reason. These are fulfilled with moderation or temperance. A just human being is influence most by reason rather than emotions and desires. On the other hand, an unjust human being is influenced most by emotions or desires, leaving reason overlooked.

This helps make Socrates argument because a just human, having reason, would not want to participate in work that is not rightly suited for them, resulting in an unhappy life. Socrates believes that the “appearance of justice” is not the best measure of actual justice because it is best for everyone to be ruled by actual reason, not pretend reason. Whether it be within oneself, or from an outside source, a just human would always have the reinforcement of reason. This is the purpose to why laws are made.

Socrates claims that the ultimate result of laws is to help people not harm them, as some might think. Laws enforce reason on those whose rational parts are unjust. People such as the ones who are influence mostly by their emotions and desires are not nearly as strong as the ones who are inspired by their reasons. A just person appears human, as an unjust person can perceive himself to be human as well. This provides that basing justice off of appearance is not a true measure. I agree that Socrates has offered a solid response to Glaucon’s argument.

Provided with detail, Socrates explains how a balance between reason, emotion and desire creates a perfectly just human. Previously identified, Socrates believes that “justice is defined as a harmony of the soul when each part fulfills its proper function- reason ruling, the spirit courageously serving reason, and the appetites living in temperance, being guided by reason” (57). He believes in an all-around, moral human being must also not participate in work that is not rightly suited for them. I strongly approve Socrates argument of justice.

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