In Plato’s Republic he attempts to break down the complex idea of Justice, what it means to be just, and if man is just willingly or unwillingly. In Book II of the Republic, Plato uses Glaucon’s Challenge to discuss what it means to be good and just. Two stories are present in the explanation: one of the ancestor of Gyges of Lydia that involves an invisibility ring and what the just person versus the unjust person would do with the power the ring possesses and another of a just man and an unjust man and which one is the preferred life to live.
Before Plato explains what it means to be just and unjust, he categorizes types of goodness: there are things that are good-in-itself, things that are good-in-itself and good-for-its-consequences, and then there are things that are just good-for-its-consequences. The revealing of this emphasizes the difficulty of determining what it means to be just. To sum it all up, to be just is someone who does good things, and follows their morals and laws whole-heartedly, while the unjust person does these things to cover up their hidden agenda. Plato states how we practice justice, not because we necessarily want to but because we feel it is necessary.
Plato writes, “if in our thoughts we grant to a just and unjust person the freedom to do whatever they like. We can then follow both of them and see where their desires would lead. And we’ll catch the just person red-handed travelling the same road as the unjust” (Republic II 359 c). As demonstrated in the “just man vs unjust man” example, the unjust man wants the same reputation and benefits as the just one, but because it’s so common for people to want to be unjust, it is assumed that the most just person is really unjust thus leading them to a bad eputation.
So, Those who practice justice, do so unwillingly, as something that’s necessary rather than good, and having a just reputation is only really good for it’s benefits, the conclusion is clear, that those who practice justice do so unwillingly (Republic II 358 C, 359 c). Plato is opening the door to human nature as he discusses the topic of justice. It is part of the nature of man to crave the desire to outdo one another (Republic II 359 c). As humans we all have the same drive and desire to be competitive and get what we want.
This nature justifies why we are all, in some way unjust. Being unjust is like taking a shortcut to something that would naturally be rewarded to you if you followed the just path. However, because no one likes an openly unjust person that part of a person’s identity is usually kept a secret. For a text that was written almost twenty-four centuries ago it still holds true to today’s society. Plato presents the most just man versus the most unjust man to aid the two separate paths man can take that ultimately lead to the same destination, “Here’s the separation I have in mind.
We’ll subtract nothing from the injustice of an unjust person and nothing from the justice of a just one, but we’ll take each to be complete in his own way of life” (Republic II 360 e). The unjust person is clever and is able to hide their bad tendencies while on the surface they appear just, when they get in trouble they are able to get out of it and save their reputation in process. unjust person is simply attempting to be believed as just without actually being just (Republic II 361 b).
The just person doesn’t just want to be believed as being goo but actually wants to be good just for the sake of being good. Even though the truly just person has good intentions, because being just comes with high honors and regards, it appears that they are being just merely just to reap the benefits of being so. An idea that seems baffling at first but actually begins to make sense as you dig deeper and think about how this could be true. In a more relevant context, lets consider academic integrity nd a student who decides to cheat (the unjust man) and a student who decides to do the work whole-heartedly (the just man).
Just because a student cheats on a test or copies work doesn’t mean that they lack intelligence, it could simply mean that they are lazy so they choose to take a shortcut to get the grade that they are looking for. So, if they are an A average student and they cheat on one paper or test simply because they wanted the top grade but didn’t want to do the work they could get away with doing that injustice because they have a record of demonstrating ‘A Average’ work.
If, however, they were caught they could plead that they simply forgot to cite their sources correctly and their teacher or professor may over look it. Now, the just student may have wanted to truly help out a friend who needed a certain grade so the student let them copy their homework. The just student was only helping a friend but such an action is frowned upon when both students turn in their homework with the same answers. The just students just reputation is then tarnished for something they thought would just help a friend out.
At the end of the day, determining who is just or not is dependent on how a society as a whole views a person, not the individual. Considering the premises presented, I would say that the conclusion is true. When traveling the path towards a just life and reputation a shortcut may pop up, most likely the unjust path, and sometimes a person may detour and end up on that path but will easily jump back on track so no one see’s them cheating. Everyone wants to have a good reputation, and being just is a way of having that preferred reputation, and because this is something everyone wants it becomes a necessity.
The structure of Plato’s argument is valid because his premises appear to be sound. It can be argued that Plato’s argument is too generalized, inherently making his premises false. However, there are genuinely good people in the world, take Mahatma Gandhi for example, a man who is reveled for his promotion of peace and equality for all – the man who inspired Martin Luther King Jr. | wonder, would Plato say that Gandhi was unwillingly just? I don’t believe Gandhi had ulterior motives while he was fighting social injustices in India; I believed he truly wanted equality.
Plato’s claim is that a man who is just simply for the pleasure of being just must have his reputation stripped from him so that there is no misunderstanding as to whether or not someone is being just to be goo or being just purely to reap the benefits. There re examples of many figures in society who want to do good just for the sake of being good, not so much the reputation and benefits (e. g. Monks, nuns, priests, social activists). So, if Gandhi is an example of someone who is truly just to be just, does this prove that Plato’s conclusion is false?
I’m not convinced. Exceptions will arise, statistically outliers naturally occur in a society. I agree there are exceptions to Plato’s argument but in general no one truly knows the true and inner intentions of others. The American government, for example, is suppose to be our model for justice, yet there are many times in our history – and even in our most recent past – that make the government’s intentions seems questionable. There are times when you want to believe someone is truly just but you honestly never know the reasoning behind someone doing something.
I think Plato’s argument is more centered on the average man and in every society census there are bound to be some exceptions. The order in which Plato presents his argument may raise some confusion as to whether or not his argument is valid or not. He starts off with the conclusion and then divides his argument into two separate stories and examples, making it fuzzy where his premises are and if the overall justification of his argument is set up in the proper form. I can understand where this confusion may arise, especially if only read once.
It can take a few tries to understand where Plato is coming from and how he is actually setting up his argument. Through reading and class discussions, to my understanding, Plato states the conclusion early on and then explains his conclusion through premises and examples. After picking a part his argument I found the basic set up of ‘if a then b, b, so a. Plato argues that man only practices being just for it’s benefits, and because seeming just is necessary for the benefits, no one actually practices just willingly.
I found two premises to Plato’s argument, which validate his conclusion and fit into the valid argument formula. An argument is likely valid if the premises are true, and cohesively lead up to the explanation of the conclusion. I think Plato’s argument exhibits these features thus making his argument valid. Personally, I believe that at the end of the day everyone wants to live in a world that is seemingly just. I don’t think man realizes, in depth at least, how common injustices are.
A person could be raised in a strict religious household and have their own set of morals that someone else from another background may not necessarily agree with. Justice, it’s ambiguous and hard to decipher sometimes. Plato’s argument through Glaucon’s challenge looks into the view that we are all inherently unjust; part of what makes us unjust is the facade that we want to be just. In my opinion, we all accept that injustices exist and we put on a just mask to promote our individual justices and save face from the ugly truths we hold within.