Book 1 Chapter 3

Justice is the Interest of the Citizens Icon

September 3, 2015
Socrates

To Thrasymachus: Is the attempt to determine the way of man’s life so small a matter to you?

I do not believe that injustice is more gainful than justice, even if injustice is uncontrolled and allowed to have free play. If an unjust man can commit injustice by fraud or force, it still does not convince me of the superior advantage of injustice. You should convince us that we are mistaken in preferring justice to injustice.

Thrasymachus How can I convince you if you are not already convinced?
Socrates

I only ask you to be consistent. If you change, change openly and let there be no deception.

You defined the true physician but did not define a true shepherd. You defined a shepherd that treats his sheep as food. But that is a definition for a trader of meat, not a shepherd.

A true shepherd is concerned only with the good of his flock. He must provide the best for them. Likewise, the ruler could only regard the good of his flock or subjects.

But you think that the definition of a true ruler is to be in authority. Then why do people never work in government for free, unless they think that they govern for the sake of others and not of themselves? The several arts are different because each art has a separate function.

Thrasymachus Yes, that is the difference.
Socrates

Each art gives us a particular good and not merely a general one. For example, medicine gives us health and navigation gives us safety at sea, and so on.

The art of payment has the special function of giving pay. But we do not confuse this with other arts.

The art of the pilot is not to be confused with the art of medicine even if the health of the pilot may be improved by a sea voyage. You do not say that navigation is the art of medicine.

If a man is in good health when he receives pay, you do not say that the art of payment is medicine. You also do not say that medicine is the art of receiving pay because a man takes fees when he is engaged in healing.

The good of each art is specially confined to the art.

Then, if there is any good which all artists have in common, that is to be attributed to something of which they all have the common use. When the artist is benefited by receiving pay, the advantage is gained by an additional use of the art of pay. This art of pay is not his art.

He gave a reluctant assent to this.

Socrates

Then the pay is not derived by the several artists from their respective arts. But the truth is:

  • the art of medicine gives health,
  • the art of the builder builds a house, and
  • the art of pay attends them both.

The various arts may be doing their own business. But the artist receives the benefit from his art when he gets paid. Thus, the art does not provide for the interest of the art. The government does not provide for the interest of the government. The art providers for the interest of the artist just as the government provides for the interests of its citizens who are the weaker and not the stronger.

This is why no one is willing to govern, because no one likes to reform evils without remuneration, just as the true artist does not regard his own interest when he creates his art. Instead, he always regards the interests of the citizens, just as the artist regards his customers.

Thus, for rulers to be willing to rule, they must be paid in one of three modes:

  • money,
  • honour, or
  • a penalty for refusing.
Glaucon What do you mean, Socrates? How can a penalty be a payment?
Socrates

Ambition and avarice are a disgrace. This is why money and honour have no attraction for rulers.

Good men do not wish to openly demand payment for governing or to get employees.

  • They do not secretly help themselves to the public revenues to be called thieves.
  • They are not ambitious and do not care about honour.
    • Therefore, necessity must be laid on them.
  • They must be induced to serve from the fear of punishment.
Socrates

This is why the forwardness to take office is dishonourable. The worst part of the punishment is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself. I think that this fear induces the good to take office, not because they would, but:

  • because they cannot help it, and
  • because they are not able to commit the task of ruling to any one who is better than or as good as themselves.

If a city were composed entirely of good men, then to avoid office would be as much an object of contention as to obtain office is at present.

This is proof that the true ruler is not meant by nature to regard his own interest, but that of his subjects. Every one who knew this would choose rather to receive a benefit from another than to have the trouble of giving benefit. It is more serious for Thrasymachus to say that life of the unjust is more advantageous than that of the just. Glaucon, which do you prefer?

Glaucon The life of the just is the more advantageous. Thrasymachus has not convinced me.
Socrates We could make a list of all the advantages of being just, and in the end we shall decide. Thrasymachus says that perfect injustice is more gainful than perfect justice Is justice is a virtue and injustice a vice?
Thrasymachus Thrasymachus= No, justice is sublime simplicity and injustice is discretion. To me, the unjust appear as wise and good. The perfectly unjust are those who can subdue states and nations. I class injustice with wisdom and virtue.
Socrates I realize that you call injustice as honourable and strong. The qualities that we attribute to the just, you attribute to the unjust. But does the just man try to gain any advantage over the just?
Thrasymachus No. If he did, he would not be the simple amusing creature that he is.
Socrates He would not try to go beyond just action. How would he regard the attempt to gain an advantage over the unjust? Would he consider it as just or unjust?
Thrasymachus He would think it just, and would try to gain the advantage. But he would not be able to.
Socrates

Whether he would or would not be able is not the point. Does the unjust man:

  • claim to have more than the just man, and
  • to do more than is just?
Thrasymachus Of course. He claims to have more than all men.
Socrates So the unjust man will strive to obtain more than the just man. Therefore, the just does not desire what is similar to his nature but more what is opposite. Whereas the unjust desires more than both what is similar and opposite to his nature. So the unjust is good and wise, and the just is not. In the case of the arts, the unjust man is a musician and just man is not a musician. Which is wise and which is foolish?
Thrasymachus Clearly the musician is wise, and the non-musician is foolish.
Socrates

A musician would stay within the same limits as other musicians would, but can go beyond the limits of a non-musician. Likewise, a man who has knowledge would not want to say more than another man who has the same knowledge. The wise and good will not desire to gain more than the wise and the good, but will want to gain more than the unwise. Whereas the bad and ignorant will desire to gain more than the ignorant and the wise.

But didn’t you say that:

  • the unjust goes beyond both what is similar and is opposite to his nature?
  • the just does not go beyond what is similar, but goes beyond what is opposite?
  • the just is like the wise and good, and the unjust like the evil and ignorant?

Then the just has turned out to be wise and good and the unjust evil and ignorant.

Thrasymachus admitted these with extreme reluctance. It was hot and perspiration poured from him. He blushed. We agreed that justice was virtue and wisdom, and injustice vice and ignorance.

Socrates But you also said that injustice was stronger than justice. But we identified justice with wisdom and virtue. If injustice is ignorance then justice is stronger. A state may be unjust and enslaving other states. Can the superior state’s power be exercised without justice or only with justice?
Thrasymachus If justice is wisdom, then only with justice. But if I am right, then without justice.

Unjust People are Incapable of United Action

Socrates

An evil state, army, or a band of robbers could act together better if they abstained from hurting each other. This is because injustice creates divisions, hatreds, and infighting. Justice imparts harmony and friendship. Injustice has this tendency to arouse hatred.

This hatred will make the hate each other and render them incapable of common action. Two unjust people will quarrel and fight. They become enemies to one another and to the just. If injustice were in a single person, would you say that she loses or retains her natural power?

Thrasymachus Let us assume that she retains her power.
Socrates Wherever there is injustice, that people are rendered incapable of united action by reason of sedition and distraction. It becomes its own enemy. It is at variance with all that opposes it, and with the just. Is not injustice equally fatal when existing in a single person? It renders him incapable of action because he is not at unity with himself. It makes him an enemy to himself and the just Surely the gods are just.
Thrasymachus Granted that they are.
Socrates

But if so, the unjust will be the enemy of the gods, and the just will be their friend. Therefore:

  • the just are clearly wiser, better, and abler than the unjust, and
  • the unjust are incapable of common action.

Evil men acting at any time vigorously together, is not strictly evil. If they had been perfectly evil, they would have laid hands on one another. So there must have been some remnant of justice in them to enable them to unite. They were but half-villains in their enterprises. Had they been whole villains, and utterly unjust, they would have been utterly incapable of action.

Socrates

I think that the just have a better and happier life than the unjust. Is the purpose of anything something which could not be accomplished, or not so well accomplished by any other thing?

What is the goal which the thing is supposed to excel in? For example, an eye which sees has an excellence.

The eyes can fulfill their purpose even if they have a defect. Likewise, the soul has a purpose which nothing else can fulfill. For example, to superintend, command, deliberate, etc. Are not these functions proper to the soul, and can they rightly be assigned to any other. Life is one of the purposes of the soul.

Socrates

The soul also has excellence. Without such excellence, the soul cannot fulfill its purpose. Therefore:

  • an evil soul must necessarily be an evil ruler
  • a good soul is a good ruler.

Justice is the excellence of the soul. Injustice is the defect of the soul. Therefore, the just soul and the just man will live well, and the unjust man will live ill.

He who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who lives ill the reverse of happy. Then the just is happy, and the unjust miserable. But happiness is profitable, not misery. Then injustice can never be more profitable than justice.

Thrasymachus Let this be your entertainment at the Bendidea.
Socrates

I am indebted to you for this entertainment now that you have grown gentle towards me and have left off scolding. An epicure snatches a taste of every dish which is successively brought to table. He does not give himself time to enjoy the one before. So have I gone from one subject to another without discovering what I sought at first which is the nature of justice.

I left that enquiry and turned away to consider whether justice is virtue and wisdom or evil and folly. When a question arose about the comparative advantages of justice and injustice, I had to divert towards it. I realize I know nothing at all because I did not know what justice is. Therefore, I am not likely to know whether justice is a virtue or not. Nor can I say whether the just man is happy or unhappy.