Plato on Justice and Injustice

Plato on

Justice and Injustice

In The Republic, Plato attempts to demonstrate
through the character and discourse of Socrates that justice is better
than justice is the good which men must strive for, regardless of whether
they could be unjust and still be rewarded. His method is to use dialectic,
the asking and answering of questions which led the hearer from one point
to another, supposedly with irrefutable logic by obtaining agreement to
each point before going on to the next, and so building an argument.

Early on, his two young listeners pose
the question of whether justice is stronger than injustice, what each does
to a man, and what makes the first good and the second bad. In answering
this question, Socrates deals directly with the philosophy of the individual's
goodness and virtue, but also ties it to his concept of the perfect state,
which is a republic of three classes of people with a rigid social structure
and little in the way of amusement.

Although Socrates returns time and again
to the concept of justice in his discourse on the perfect city-state, much
of it seems off the original subject. One of his main points, however,
is that goodness is doing what is best for the common, greater good rather
than for individual happiness. There is a real sense in which his philosophy
turns on the concepts of virtue, and his belief that ultimately virtue
is its own reward.

His first major point is that justice is
an excellence of character. He then seeks agreement that no excellence
is achieved through destructive means. The function of justice is to improve
human nature, which is inherently constructive. Therefore, at a minimum,
justice is a form of goodness that cannot be involved in injuring someone's
character. Justice, in short, is a virtue, a human excellence.

His next point is that acting in accordance
with excellence brings happiness. Then he ties excellence to one's function.

His examples are those of the senses -- each sensory organ is excellent
if it performs its function, as the eye sees, the ear hears. Therefore,
the just person is a happy person is a person who performs his function.

Since these are tied together, injustice can never exceed these virtues
and so justice is stronger and is the good.

However, Socrates does not stop there.

He goes on to examine the question of the nature of justice and the just
life. He identifies the four of the Athenian virtues: wisdom, courage,
moderation, and justice. For the bulk of the book, he looks at each virtue
separately in terms of the perfect city state, but our focus is on justice.

But he makes the point that justice, of the virtues, resides in man's relations
to other men, not just in man as an individual. Thus, it is an excellence
in social organization and in the organization of the human soul. So justice
is a virtue which must be connected to the function of efficient and healthful
cooperation. Justice is in one sense the greatest virtue for it is key
to making the other virtues work together for the common good. If all the
parts are to work together as a whole, each must have on function to excel
at. Like the organs of the body, all contribute to the whole, but the eyes
only see, the ears only hear. They do not share functions. Using this analogy,
justice would be something like the moral mind which guides the body in
its activities. Justice, then is the head, at the top of the hierarchy
in social terms. When the other three virtues work together in orderly
fashion within the state, justice is produced. But for justice to be produced,
it must come from everyone doing his assigned function under the excellent
guidance of the ruling class.

Despite his emphasis of justice as a function
of the perfect state, Socrates also deals with justice as a personal virtue.He
finds that there is a parallel between the organization of the state and
the organization of the individual. Just as there are three virtues other
than justice, Socrates finds three parts in the individual soul -- sensation,
emotion, intelligence. The just person, then must have balance between
these aspects. Each must function in moderation to contribute to the health
of the whole. Appetite and sensation are matters of desire. Desire must
be subordinate to reason, or else they will throw the individual out of
balance and lead him into injustice and unhappiness. Emotion (spirit and
will) also can master desire.

The alliance of emotion and reason is similar,

Socrates says, to the rulers and the guardians in