Definitions Of Justice In Plato’s Republic By Socrates
Justice is essential for peace and harmony in the society. Everyone in this world wants equal and fair treatment. Whether it is on the streets, in courts, or in work places, justice is necessary in everyone’s daily life. But what really is justice? In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and his counterparts each have their own definition of justice and fail to reach a consensus regarding the definition of justice. Justice is a concept which is speculative and not conclusive. Plato not only talks about the virtues of justice of an individual but also a society. He highlights a just society and the role of a just individual in that society. Despite their limitations, many of Plato’s ideal principles in the Republic continue to hold relevance in today’s world. For example, Plato brings up the point that leaders should be qualified through education and that voters should be empowered to make informed decisions. Most societies also follow the idea of a meritocracy, where people get success or power because of their abilities, not because of their money or social position. Plato’s theories on justice have influenced the current justice system we have today by providing foundational cornerstones that have been consistent throughout history.
The different definitions of justice mentioned by interlocutors in the Republic have influenced the modern justice system in place today. In book one of Plato’s Republic, Thrasymachus says, “. . . each type of rule makes laws that are advantageous for itself: democracy makes democratic ones, tyranny tyrannical ones, and so on with the others. And by so legislating, each declares that what is just for its subjects is what is advantageous for itself—the ruler—and it punishes anyone who deviates from this as lawless and unjust. That, Socrates, is what I say justice is, the same in all cities: what is advantageous for the established rule. Since the established rule is surely stronger, anyone who does the rational calculation correctly will conclude that the just is the same everywhere—what is advantageous for the stronger.” Thrasymachus claims that justice is the advantageous of the stronger in all cities. He backs up his argument by giving a clear example. Rulers only make laws that will benefit themselves. By doing so, they declare what is just and unjust, and people are unjust if they do not follow the laws. Many countries still follow this justice system. Currently, there are many nations that are under classic dictatorship, hybrid regime, absolute monarchy, or undemocratic constitutional monarchy. A single leader or group of leaders have the absolute authority and use their supremacy to keep themselves in power. One example is in North Korea. The leader, Kim Jong-un, persecuted his own uncle for sleeping in a meeting.
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According to Thrasymachus’s definition of justice, Kim is being just because he did what he believed was right and took the advantage of being stronger. Thrasymachus’s definition of justice can not only be applied to nations with leaders who have the absolute authority, but also democratic countries. Democracy is a system of government in which people choose their rulers by voting for them in elections. The citizens hold the power. Therefore, in this case, the people have the advantage of justice in a democracy according to Thrasymachus’s definition of justice. Thrasymachus’s definition of justice reveals that justice is relative to the rulers of the regime. An example is the different connotations of justice in communist nations such as China and democratic nations such as America. Several basic liberties such as the freedom of speech, religion, and press are very limited in China, but ample in America. Just how there are many different types of governments today like communism and democracy, Plato talks about five different types of regimes in the Republic. Although the understanding of all five regimes have progressed drastically from Plato’s time to now, the different types of governments in our world today are derived from Plato’s original five regimes. Socrates says in book six, “Truthfulness; that is to say they must never willingly tolerate falsehood in any form. On the contrary, they must hate it and have a natural affection for the truth.” Socrates claims that people must speak the truth in every situation and falsehood leads to injustice. Plato’s principles of justice have provided a foundation of values that have been consistently remained unchanged throughout history. For example, in ancient Athens, hundreds to thousands of citizens would appear in court to be a juror. This was done to get unbiased views on cases. Ancient Athens believed that all free men should speak up against injustice and yearned for the truth in everything which is what Plato presents. The court system in many nations, such as America, parallel the court of Athens in many ways. Although there are far fewer jurors, every citizen is obligated to go on jury duty.
The court system in America has a similar structure to the court of Athens in the aspect that they both only listen to the truth. Plato’s five forms of regimes not only are the origin to the types of governments in today’s world but also have a greater point still relevant today. In the ideal regime of aristocracy, Plato divides the population into three categories based on the purity of their soul. Golden souls are selfless. They are the ones who have turned the mind into an effective tool of reason and logic and understand that money, power and other degenerative pleasures like that are a fool’s pleasure. An individual with a golden soul can be seen as a king philosopher, the ultimate governor who acts out of selfless interests and with the purity of their heart. Making balanced decisions that may truly benefit all. The silver souls can be regarded as the nation’s soldiers. They enforce the rules set by the philosophers on the population with bronze souls. Bronze souls are allowed to have property whereas silver and gold souls are not to in order to ensure these pure men do not become corrupted by false pleasures. The bronze souls in return for their merit to sustain themselves, own land, produce goods have to support their ruling class. Plato sets the five regimes as inherently connected to each other. Each following regime is a degenerative of the previous one. Democracy is the fourth regime and democracy would fall into tyranny. Plato assumed democracy where freedom is the main good is also its slavery. As the poor classes become larger and larger, a state very similar to anarchy starts to reign as people start breaking laws.
In book eight of the Republic, Plato introduces various representatives of different regimes such as aristocrats, oligarchs, and democrats. Those in the higher regimes, such as the aristocrats and timocrats, have a hierarchy of values. For example, timocrats value honor, victory, and wealth more than the refinement of an aristocrat. However, the democratic man is dominated by two ideas: freedom and equality. He has no hierarchy of values because his highest value is equality which is a shift from the higher regimes. Socrates says, “Then in his subsequent life, I suppose, someone like that spends no less money, effort, and time on the necessary pleasures than on the unnecessary pleasures. But if he is lucky and does not go beyond the limits in his bacchic frenzy, and if, as a result of his growing somewhat older, the great tumult within him passes, he welcomes back some of the exiles and ceases to surrender himself completely to the newcomers. Then, putting all his pleasures on an equal footing, he lives, always surrendering rule over himself to whichever desire comes along, as if it were chosen by lot, until it is satisfied; and after that to another, dishonoring none but satisfying all equally. ”The democratic man is consumed by unnecessary desire. He takes great interest in his money and all the things he can buy. He does whatever he wants whenever he wants as long as money stretches his needs. There is no order and no priority. This shows the degeneration of morals and ethics.
In democracy, there is an endless, pointless pursuit for riches and to be exempt from worldly obligations to pursue pleasures and desire. Democracy then soon degenerates into tyranny. In tyranny, chaos reigns. There is no discipline. Democracy was taken over by the longing of freedom. In tyranny, stability through power must be maintained and along comes a person that experiences absolute power. The individual soon transforms in a tyrant and comes closest to be fully lawless. He can murder and plunder at will. Such a man is consumed by beastly desires, whether rich or poor, his lawless actions ensure his claim of power and he becomes absorbed by paranoia in fear of retaliation for the many unlawful acts he has committed. Eventually, he becomes secluded and trapped within an environment like his room, trapped in his own fearful mind. An example of this in today’s world is Turkey which is degenerating into a tyranny from a democracy. Erdogan accuses innocent civilians of conspiring against him and is slowly turning into a tyrant as prophesized by Plato.