Justice

.. o the just and that individuals in the society do act and should act so as to dupe their fellow neighbor. On the one hand, the stronger individual is clever enough to exploit the many as in Thrasymachus’s example of the broken contract at 343d. Again, we are told that as a result of such a contractual relationship, the just man does not have more than the unjust man. But on the other hand, the stronger individual is clever enough to dupe the many along with the tyrant as in the case of the tax evasion mentioned in the same section: in matters pertaining to the city, when there are taxes, the just man pays more on the basis of equal property, the unjust man less (343d).

This again shows the distinction more explicitly among the types of individuals (i.e., the many, the stronger and the tyrant) that can be found in Thrasymachus’ presentation of the just versus the unjust. And further, the stronger is shown to clearly and consistently conform to Thrasymachus’ description of the unjust individual. IV. We are now in a position to address the issue of consistency in Thrasymachus’ position. Commentators concerning Thrasymachus’ position are divided. There are those, like G.

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F. Hourani, who see Thrasymachus as advocating a legalism.(11) And there are those, like G. B. Kerferd, T. Y. Henderson and Julia Annas who maintain that Thrasymachus holds to an immoralism.(12) Many commentators are in agreement, however, that Thrasymachus position concerning justice and injustice is lacking in self-consistence.(13) The reason commentators see a lack of consistency in Thrasymachus’ position has to do with the fact that Thrasymachus says three distinct things about justice in the course of his conversation with Socrates and company.

Justice is at once: 1) nothing other than the advantage of the stronger (338c) 2) obeying the laws of the ruler(s) (339b) 3) really someone else’s good, the advantage of the man who is stronger and rules (343c) The inconsistency arises precisely because both the ruled and the ruler must be taken into account when considering justice and injustice. Thrasymachus ultimately reveals that justice is another’s good and it is this statement that involves him in a logical contradiction and much controversy from Socrates onward. Some commentators, such as Henderson, maintain that these three statements are consistent when seen from the standpoint of the many.(14) Considered from this standpoint, Thrasymachus’ three statements about justice and its opposite are consistent because the other that Thrasymachus refers to is the ruling tyrant: justice is obeying the laws set up by the ruler (statement #2 at 339b), and in obeying these laws the many are concerned for the other (statement #3 at 343c), i.e., the tyrant who has set up these laws with the advantage going to the tyrant as the stronger of the two parties (statement #1 at 338c). From the standpoint of the tyrant, however, the statements regarding justice and injustice are inconsistent. Kerferd and Annas are examples of commentators who have maintained that Thrasymachus’ position is not consistent overall. Despite the inconsistency, they think that Thrasymachus is ultimately advocating an immoralism since justice is defined as another’s good, i.e., the advantage of the stronger tyrant. From what he says at 343b, Thrasymachus makes it clear that the life of justice as another’s good is to be rejected and that the life of injustice is to be accepted; thus, the immoralist position. However, when this definition of justice is applied to the ruled as well as to the ruler, there arises the problem of consistency in the definition itself. Statements 1)-3) hold from the standpoint of the ruled in society.

In this sense, the another’s good which the ruled promotes in being just or violates in being unjust is precisely that of the ruling tyrant. But the injustice of the second part of the statement implies that the other in the first part is not the ruling tyrant, but the ruled many. Herein lies the problem of inconsistency, and, as Annas points out: The same situation is described as both being just, form the point of view of the subjects who are serving the interests of another, and as unjust, from the point of view of the ruler who is exploiting them in his own interests.(15) From the standpoint of the ruled, the another is the ruler; from the standpoint of the ruler, the another is the ruled. So, it is clear that the praising of injustice from the ruler’s perspective rests upon a standard of justice that is found to be the case from the ruled’s perspective and therefore, the ruler never really escapes the standards of justice and injustice as Thrasymachus would want us to believe. Annas notes that Thrasymachus starts off with a muddled position and, once in dialogue with Socrates, makes his position clearer.

The three statements Thrasymachus makes strictly speaking conflict with one another in the end. Thrasymachus began by thinking only of strong and successful rulers(16) and, because of this, he first defines justice in a way that strictly applied only to their subjects, who by acting justly are serving the interests of their rulers, the stronger, and who are acting in a way that is to the interests not of themselves but of others.(17) Likewise, Kerferd maintains that if all the statements that Thrasymachus makes regarding justice are to be taken seriously, then he cannot have an overall consistent account of justice to offer.(18) In light of this overall inconsistency, Kerferd and Annas feel justified in holding that the third statement, i.e., justice is another’s good is the real Thrasymachean position. Kerferd holds this view because he envisions Thrasymachus as trying to give an account of justice that will take into account the ruler and the ruled in society. According to Kerferd, the ruler is the stronger other in the society who lays down laws specifically for the interest of exploiting the ruled. Kerferd continues to state that Thrasymachean justice always entails seeking another’s interest and therefore must be scorned as something silly. The true ideal is for everyone to seek his own interest by leading a life of injustice.(19) To this extent, it would be just for the ruled in a society to obey the laws because these laws are set out for the good of another – namely, the tyrant.

Kerferd does not see an inconsistency between the statements justice is the interest of the stronger and justice is another’s good when considered from the standpoint of the ruled. In this case, when the ruled act justly, they do so for the stronger other’s benefit who happens to be the ruling tyrant. But justice as obeying the laws is viewed by Kerferd as being inconsistent with justice as another’s good or the interest of the stronger because the laws that are laid down by the tyrant for the ruled to follow could be mistakenly laid out and found to actually not be in the interest of the other, i.e., the ruling tyrant. Annas and Kerferd’s concerns are well noted and justified. The inconsistency might be reconciled if we hold the view that the tyrant remains unjust in the concern for self only if the third statement about justice as being a concern for the other reveals that the other is merely the many. We really cannot maintain that the other Thrasymachus speaks of at 343c is the many because this other is immediately qualified as the man who is stronger and rules or the tyrant.

(343c) And again, we see that outside of this limited interpretation of the other as the many, the tyrant would be mitigating against the personal advantage that is sought whenever the tyrant acted unjustly. When taking Thrasymachus’ three statements regarding justice and injustice in their entirety, it seems to follow that if justice is what is advantageous for the tyrant, then injustice, as its opposite, would be disadvantageous for the tyrant. The tyrant, in acting unjustly towards the many, wants the many to act justly towards the tyrant. However, from the standpoint of the tyrant Thrasymachus cannot endorse the injustice he defines. When all is said and done, it seems apparent that Thrasymachus was not concerned with this inconsistency and that the utter power and strength associated with the notion of injustice became his real concern.

That the strength and power associated with injustice became Thrasymachus’ ultimate concern is upheld by Annas and Kerferd,(20) but also verified in the text when Thrasymachus rejects Cleitophon’s suggestion that what Thrasymachus meant by the advantage of the stronger is really what the stronger merely believes to be an advantage. (340b) At this point in the dialogue, Cleitophon’s suggestion has given Thrasymachus the option of choosing to adopt a legalist position whereby justice is defined as obeying the laws, or the position more conducive to the immoralist one whereby justice is defined as what is in the interest of the stronger. If Thrasymachus had adopted Cleitophon’s suggestion, then he would be advocating the legalist view that justice is obedience to the laws and a commentator such as G. F. Hourani would have a clear case for his position.(21) This is so because the tyrant in a society would be laying down laws regardless of whether they would be truly in the interest, or merely seem to be in the interest of the tyrant. In either case, justice would be defined legalistically as an obedience to the given laws of the tyrant at a given time and place. However, Thrasymachus specifically denies Cleitophon’s suggestion and thereby denies the legalist position in favor of defining justice as the interest of the stronger. (340c) What this means is that a distinction between the concepts of the tyrant (qua ruler) and the stronger is made explicit.

In Cleitophon’s view, the tyrant enacts laws that would be just for the many to obey whether they were in the interest of the tyrant or not. If this were the case then justice would be defined as the ruled many obeying the laws of the tyrant. But Thrasymachus is interested in the tyrant only insofar as such an individual is understood as the stronger. (343c) Thrasymachus assumes that the strongest person will become the tyrant and when such a tyrant enacts laws for the many to follow, these laws are enacted with an eye to the many’s exploitation. In this way, justice is the interest of the stronger, tyrant who happens to be the ruler of the society. Thrasymachus’ rejection of Cleitophon’s suggestion commits him to a position of immoralism and draws out the distinction between the conceptions of the tyrant and the stronger.

Thrasymachus’ commitment to this immoralism also saddles him with the charge of being inconsistent when proffering a definition of justice. Both Thrasymachus’ immoralism and the inconsistency in Thrasymachus’ position concerning the status of the tyrant as living the life of injustice give credence to my claim that there is this third type of individual in society, distinct from the tyrant and the many – namely, the stronger. When we consider the definition of justice and injustice form the standpoint of the stronger, Thrasymachus’ three statements actually remain consistent. The unjust life of the kreitton entails violating the laws of the ruler at all costs since the concern and advantage would be for the stronger’s own self-interest. Once the stronger individual is recognized as a part of Thrasymachus’ schematization, then it is possible to see how, from the standpoint of the stronger, the three statements that Thrasymachus makes regarding justice and its opposite remain consistent. Unfortunately, the problem of envisioning the same situation as being both just and unjust at the same time from the points of view of the many and the tyrant remains.

When taking Thrasymachus’ three statements regarding justice and injustice in their entirety, it seems to follow that if justice is what is advantageous for the tyrant, then injustice, as its opposite, would be disadvantageous for the tyrant. However, if we take what Thrasymachus is saying regarding justice and injustice as applicable to the stronger, the inconsistency issue is skirted. This is to say that from the standpoint of the stronger, what is unjust would be disadvantageous both for the many as well as for the tyrant. The other which was the cause of inconsistency and concern for Kerferd and Annas can be either the ruled or the ruler or both. It makes no difference as both the ruled and the ruler are exploited by the kreitton.

The many follow laws and are exploited by the tyrant. The stronger individual realizes this and does what is unjust, in terms either of breaking the laws or of exploiting the many. So, in this sense, the stronger individual, if he or she can get away with it, always seeks to exploit the exploited as well as exploit the exploiter. V. What I have attempted to do in this paper is to draw out of Thrasymachus’ account a genesis of the tyrant from the many in a society.

A tyrant just does not come out of nowhere and rule over a group of people. I believe that, in his conversation with Socrates and Cleitophon, Thrasymachus is offering us a developmental account of how the stronger individual detaches from the many to rise to the ranks of tyranthood by leading a life of injustice. At the same time, this life of injustice must be buffered, I believe, by a seeming or an appearance of justice whereby the stronger individual can dupe both the tyrant and the many in the ascent to tyranthood. I have tried to argue for this double life of justice and injustice through the support of Thrasymachus’ own words coupled with the suggestions of Glaucon in Republic II and Professor Henderson’s account of Setarcos. I have also tried to show how the inconsistency issue can be skirted if we take Thrasymachus’ three statements regarding justice from the standpoint of the stronger.

Both the ruler and the ruled become exploited by the kreitton. The task, then, for the stronger individual becomes devising ways in which to always get away with the exploitation. For it seems possible that the many and the tyrant, if confronted with the stronger’s activities, would not allow themselves to be exploited. Thrasymachus suggests that stealth be used by the perfectly unjust tyrant who possesses unlimited strength. (344a) But this stealth seems to be an option also for the stronger individual in the exploiting process. Stealth offers the path of least resistance as was pointed out in Henderson’s example of Setarcos.

Furtive and covert unjust activity masked by outward signs of justice and integrity would enable the stronger individual to get away with exploiting the exploited and the exploiter. I have suggested that seeming or appearing to be just in the public realm while privately pursuing injustice would be conducive to this stealth that is endorsed by Thrasymachus. Thus, the double life of justice and injustice that the stronger individual leads. Leading the stronger’s life of pleonexia, whereby an individual seeks to overpower and dupe another for the purpose of personal advantage and happiness is possible – certainly, Henderson’s Setarcos and Thrasymachus think so. But such a life would entail an individual’s leading double roles. One would find it necessary to put up a deceptive front or an appearance of leading a life of justice so as to have the freedom to pursue what is entailed in the unjust life.

Such a double-rolled life can be applied both to the stronger, imperfectly unjust individual who seeks tyranthood and to the strongest, perfectly unjust tyrant as in Henderson’s example of Setarcos. However, when all is said and done about the kreitton or the tyrant who spend so much of life in the realm of appearance, the question arises as to whether such individuals are truly most blessed and happy. Is such blessedness and happiness worth the price given all of the deception and one-upmanship entailed in such a livelihood? Consider what Socrates says about those afflicted with a tyrannical nature in Republic IX: Therefore, they live their whole life without ever being friends of anyone, always one man’s master or another’s slave. The tyrannic nature never has a taste of freedom and true friendship. (576a) Philosophy.