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The Meaning of Justice in Plato’s Republic

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Plato Republic’s classification of justice was to understand how what its true meaning is. Socrates and his colleagues divulge into a deep discussion on what justices means with Socrates trying to converge the message behind it. In Book IV Socrates has finally stated the definition of justice conveyed behind the virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation.

Wisdom seems to be plainly discernible in our subject; and in connection with it a paradoxical fact presents itself.

Book IV’s take on wisdom is very interesting, in the beginning, first, we find wisdom. If the guardians did not rule, say, if it was a democracy, their virtue would not translate into the city’s virtue. Wisdom is with the guards because they know how to run the area, also states that wisdom must be said to reside in the rulers ‘ class, since they govern by default by advising the other classes and themselves. We are the strongest of the Guardians, having been nurtured and trained to take their place as leaders in all their lives, and they are the people ‘ most seasoned and youngest. But their wisdom becomes the virtue of the city since they are in charge with the state’s wisdom being found in their advice.

In Book IV, Courage rests with the assistants. It is only their bravery that counts as the city’s virtue, because they are the ones that must fight for the city. A brave farmer, or even a ruler, would do no good for the city. Courage can best be found in the class specifically inculcated with courage throughout the career of the members of that class: these are the auxiliaries who, in their capacity as soldiers, have become courageous carriers, to reflect Socrates ‘ comparison. The state’s courage is reflected in its very being.

Do so, at least as an account of the courage of citizens, and you will be right. On a future occasion, if you like, we will go into this question more fully: at present it is beside our inquiry, the object of which is justice: we have done enough therefore, I imagine, for the investigation of courage.

In Book IV, Moderation or be known by Socrates as Temperance is synonymous with the consensus that the city will govern, and justice is essentially its complement, the concept of specialization, the law that all do the job they are best suited for. It is a bit harder to examine because it tends to inseminate the other virtues. In ordering or managing (tempering) certain pleasures or desires in the person, temperance is found; it is said that the temperate man is master of himself.

When we apply this to the economy, we see that the government must operate harmoniously for it to govern itself. The class in the state must comply with the other classes; the classes agree with the duties of all classes in the state and actively support them.

Therefore, the state can be said to be the Master of Itself, in that the three classes will function smoothly as a whole (the state) due to class concord and harmony. The ruling class, in which the virtue of wisdom is to be found in counsel, agrees to rule in the name of the other classes and of themselves; the ruled classes agree to serve and be wisely governed. Thus, in the society the principle of temperance is accomplished.

Thus, it appears that in promoting the virtue of a state, the power that makes each member of it do his own work may compete with its wisdom, and its temperance, and its courage.

Only the fourth virtue, justice, remains, having determined three of the four virtues. They would like to point out that the responsibility of each member of each class is that he attends strictly to the business of that class, that each member performs the task assigned to him. Since we have agreed that each citizen is rewarded within the boundaries of his class by the very virtue of carrying out his class duty in a patriotic manner, it follows that by force no other citizen may deprive him of the rewards the class guarantees.

Whether we protect a member of a given class by upholding his or her ‘rights’ as a matter of course, or if we protect him or her by securing his or her ‘rights’ in the event that someone tries, by whatever means, to deprive him or her of his or her ‘rights,’ then we have done justice and can recognize it as justice in the state. 

Citations 

  • Davies, John Llewelyn, and David James Watt. “Book IV.” In Plato Republic, Wordsworthed., 113–45. London , UK: Wordsworth, 1997.

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