The Republic: Book One

(This was written in 20 minutes, so please excuse any mistakes).

One of the big themes in Book One of Plato’s The Republic is justice. Socrates gets this groups started on this long one-sided argument about what is just, what is unjust, who is a just man, and who is an unjust man and so thoroughly confuses the group that a few start agreeing with the opposite of their original argument (and really, any time I write “they” or “their” read “Socrates” because he was basically the only one doing the talking and everyone else was just agreeing like parrots).

It’s rather hard to discuss what Socrates and the group decide is just and what is not just because the conclusion is pretty terrible, but there are enough different versions of what justice could be sprinkled throughout the pages that you get to form your own opinion created out of a mashup of the various stated facts. I would say that is what Anya and I discussed in our 20/20 today.

The biggest problem I had with Book One, however, is not how turned around and upside down and contradictory the arguments became, but rather how subjective and situational their definitions are.

For example, one of the things they talk about is whether we’re just to a friend (someone who is good) and unjust to an enemy (someone who is bad), but what if you’re the bad one? They have this assumption that the “you” is a good person and is handing out punishments and rewards for the right things. And also, if you’re bad, would that mean that you never give out rewards? Do you just punish everyone until you’re alone in the world? I’m not saying that the bad person doesn’t have enemies, but rather that the enemies aren’t always bad.

But this argument of what is just and what is unjust got me thinking, so I have some definitions for this:

  • Just Man – someone who, in every situation they are ever placed in, acts in the way that results in the best possible compromise for everyone, leaving no one person or group better off than another person or group.
  • Unjust Man – someone who, in every situation they are ever placed in, acts in the way that results in the best possible outcome for themselves and pays no mind to making the life better of the other person
  • Justice – acting in the way that endeavors to create the best compromise for everyone, leaving no one person or group better off than another person or group
  • Injustice – acting in the way that endeavors to create the best situation for one person or group

I make this distinction between who is a just man and what justice is, and who is an unjust man and what injustice is because I don’t think anyone is either just or unjust all the time, thereby making the argument of a just man versus an unjust man absolute because we are humans and we make mistakes. You can, however, choose to use either justice or injustice in a certain situation, and that’s the important part.

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2 thoughts on “The Republic: Book One

  1. Regarding your definitions, do you suppose Justice and injustice to be polar opposites? If so and assuming your definition for justice is sufficient, I would have thought injustice to be defined as: acting in the way that endeavors to create the worse compromise for one person or group. I think this is better because if there is justice, there is that endeavor for all while if there is not an endeavor for all, there is not justice. What do you think?

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