Eugene de Blaas
Glaucon protests that Socrates has not made a reasonable enough explanation of why Justice is preferable to injustice. First, he says, there are three classes of good:
- Pleasures that are enjoyed for themselves
- Good that is valued because of its consequences
- Good that is desirable both for itself and what comes out of it.
Then he tells a story of a shepherd called Gyges and his magic ring that helped him to become king (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I). If one could act however one wanted without threat of punishment or recrimination, wouldn’t everyone act thus? Why should Glaucon be just if he can get away with being unjust? (Essentially he is asking: What is Justice on the level of an individual?) It’s only our fear of getting caught that holds us to the course of Justice, and Justice itself is a social construct. The Social Contract theory implies that people don’t really want to be just but because chaos would result from such a “free-for-all” society and therefore we enter into a “social contract” where we give up free reign on our desires for a greater good; certain rules are imposed on an individual that aren’t part of their nature for a common good.
|King Candaules of Lydia (1858)
|The Soul Breaking the Bonds …
Glaucon is perplexed. What about the luxuries? What Socrates has described only meets basic animal needs. Socrates allows Glaucon his desires and adds in his wishes, but emphasizes that adding meat and sweets will cause inflammation and surely the physicians will be in more demand — he was obviously initially advocating vegetarianism for health. Interesting …. In any case, all these luxuries will increase competition, and therefore eventually war is inevitable. Socrates will not say whether war is good or bad, he only examines the effect it will have on the Republic. The city will therefore need an efficient soldier but they too must be specialists in their field. However, they must also exhibit a certain temperament, one that is combative and even aggressive, yet tempered by courage of spirit and controlled by rational behaviour. Given their character and profession, they must be trained carefully to ensure they do not harm their own people. How is that to be done? Through education. They must be trained to be hostile to their enemies and benevolent to their people, not indiscriminate with their behaviour.
I had to admire Socrates in this section. Even though he at first appears to advocate a simplistic city that he feels is the most healthy and functional, he bows to Glaucon’s wishes for luxuries, perhaps realizing that it would not be sensible to attempt to eradicate these human desires, and therefore, gives up his “perfect” city for one that is more realistic. Plato is realizing the flaws in human nature and attempting to work within them. Quite wise, I would say.
⇐ Book I Book III ⇒