Monday, August 15, 2011

Notes on Plato's "The Republic"- Part 1

In Book I Socrates has the dialectic discussion with Thrasymachus, on the subject of Justice. While Socrates keeps to his notions that Justice is beneficial and Injustice will eventually be damaging, Thrasymachus on the other hand argues that at the end, the Unjust wins and the Just loses.

Examining some of the important ones from the dialogue:

*Thrasymachus (Thr): "First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust man has always more and the just less. Secondly, in their dealings with the State: when there is an income-tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same."

--Note 1: Although Socrates with all his ideals and morality proves perhaps in the later parts of the argument that Unjust will eventually lose and the Just wins, this arguing statement above from Thrasymachus holds a lot of truth to it, atleast in imperfect societies. And most of the contemporary events in India, and elsewhere in the world seem to prove Thrasymachus' point of view above. Consider the case of scandals surrounding the 2G, Commonwealth Games etc and how there is scapegoating
done, often hiding some of the high profile culprits who are in safe havens of power. Also, throughout his argument Thrasymachus notes that the unjust are usually more powerful and superior because they can cheat, and claim that they are just. It does have a ring of truth to it in the non-Socratic real world for sure.

*Thr: "..But when a man besides taking away the money of the citizens has made slaves of them, then, instead of these names of reproach, he is termed happy and blessed, not only by the citizens but by all who hear of his having achieved the consummation of injustice"

--Note 2: It is not too transparent, but we have seen in our times, that often people considered to be of great stature and highly influential have been found out to be fraudulent and cheating people. For example, the recent closure of the News of the World run by Rupert Murdoch is a well-known event, for years the number 1 news agency in the world had had its share of praise and earned wealth by cheating the people. As the dialogue continues, Thrasymachus further mentions that "mankind censures injustice for fear of being victimized, not because they shrink from committing it". In deed, the people of integrity, honesty and values is a limited lot.

In a rather incomplete discussion, Socrates does make Thrasymachus agree that his argument is ill-begotten and unproved.
However, making it a continuation to Book-II this is how he concludes the discussion:

Soc: "For I know not what justice is, and therefore I am not likey to know whether it is or is not a virtue, nor can I say whether the just man is happy or unhappy."

This note is a precursor to further dialogues in the succeeding Books and paves way to building an imaginary State, "the Republic" which will eventually define the justice system along with other aspects like administration, education, military etc.

So, until the notes from next Book, adios!

Reference: The Republic by Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett