Justice

Justice ABSTRACT: This paper has a two-fold task. First, I show that there are three types of individuals associated with the Thrasymachean view of society: (a) the many, i.e., the ruled or those exploited individuals who are just and obey the laws of the society; (b) the tyrant or ruler who sets down laws in the society in order to exploit the many for personal advantage; (c) the stronger individual (kreittoon) or member of the society who is detached from the many and aspires to become the tyrant. Second, I argue that if Thrasymachus’s account of the perfectly unjust life of the tyrant is to be more than a theoretical ideal, then the stronger individual who aspires to the tyrant’s position would do well to lead a double life – namely, pursuing private injustice while maintaining the public ‘appearance’ of justice. My interpretation accords with that of Glaucon, noted at the beginning of Republic II. I want to extend Glaucon’s interpretation to include the stronger individual as well. I argue that the standpoint of the stronger individual, as distinct from the standpoints of the tyrant and the many, shows Thrasymachus’s three statements regarding justice to be consistent with one another.

I. In the beginning of Republic II, during a conversation with Socrates and Adeimantus about which individual is deemed happier, the one who is just or the one who is unjust, Glaucon states: For the extreme of injustice is to seem to be just when one is not. So the perfectly unjust man must be given the most perfect injustice, and nothing must be taken away; he must be allowed to do the greatest injustices while having provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice. And if, he should trip up in anything, he has the power to set himself aright; if any of his unjust deeds should come to light, he is capable both of speaking persuasively and of using force, to the extent that force is needed, since he is courageous and strong and since he has provided for friends and money. (361a-b)(1) I believe that Glaucon has captured the essence of the Thrasymachean position concerning the best way for the unjust individual to live.

The one who pursues the life of injustice must at the same time be courageous and crafty, strong and shrewd, power-driven and persuasive. But most importantly, the unjust individual must be dastardly and deceptive. This deception is captured by Glaucon when he states that the perfectly unjust man must seem to be just. Appearances and reputations played a central role in the fifth century b.c.e. Greek polis and so it makes sense that Glaucon would cast light upon the idea of an individual’s pursuit of the unjust life while providing for the greatest reputation for justice.(2) Such an individual leads a kind of double life and therefore has a double duty to perform in seeming to be just while actually being unjust. These comments regarding Glaucon’s view of the perfectly unjust individual hint at the purpose of this discussion.

This paper has a three-fold task. First, I will show that there are three types of individuals associated with the Thrasymachean view of society: a) the many, i.e., the ruled or those exploited individuals who are just and obey the laws of the society; b) the tyrant or ruler who sets down laws in the society to exploit the many for personal advantage; c) the stronger individual (kreitton) or member of the society who detaches from the many and aspires to become the tyrant. Most commentaries dealing with Thrasymachus’ position give the tyrant and the many central roles in the discussion of justice and injustice.(3) My view draws out the role of the stronger individual in Thrasymachus’ account in order to show the activities associated with the genesis of the tyrant from the society. The stronger individual, in seeking the life of injustice, naturally detaches from the many and aspires to develop into the perfectly unjust tyrant. In the third section of this paper I shall argue that if Thrasymachus’ account of the perfectly unjust life of the tyrant is to be more than a theoretical ideal, then the stronger individual who aspires to become the tyrant would do well to lead a double life of pursuing private injustice while maintaining the public appearance of justice. My view conforms to Glaucon’s interpretation noted in the quotation above whereby a double life of justice and injustice is maintained by the tyrant who seeks to maintain power over the society. I want to extend Glaucon’s interpretation to include the stronger individual as well.

In the final section of this paper I will enter into dialogue with those commentators who maintain that Thrasymachus’ position concerning justice and injustice is inconsistent overall. I believe that a solution to the problem of inconsistency in Thrasymachus’ position can be achieved when considering the role of the stronger as a separate type of individual in the society. Thus, I will argue that the standpoint of the stronger, as distinct from the standpoints of the tyrant and the many, has value in that it shows Thrasymachus’ three statements regarding justice to be consistent with one another. II. It is clear throughout Republic I, and specifically in his speech at 344a, that Thrasymachus has in mind the tyrant as exemplary of the perfectly unjust individual who by stealth and force takes away what belongs to others, both what is sacred and profane, private and public, not bit by bit, but all at once. It is also clear, given the three statements Thrasymachus makes about justice as a) being advantageous to the stronger (338c), b) obedience to law (339c) and c) the good of another (343c) that the tyrant sets down laws in the society strictly for the tyrant’s own personal advantage.

From the standpoint of the many, the three statements regarding justice are consistent with the idea that what is just is always advantageous to the tyrant. Seen from this standpoint, the very act of obedience to the laws set down in a society involves the many in an exploitative situation. According to Thrasymachus, the tyrant, in seeking a life of perfect injustice, overreaches (pleonektein) in exploiting the many. This means that the tyrant always greedily seeks to acquire more than a fair share and as Thrasymachus puts it, get the better in a big way (343e). The tyrant can exploit the many because of the fact that the tyrant is the stronger of the two.

At 339c and 343c Thrasymachus concludes that in every political situation the ruling body sets down laws that are to the advantage of the rulers precisely because such a ruling body is stronger than the hoi polloi. As the stronger ruler, the tyrant has the power to punish lawbreakers (338e), take away what belongs to others (344a), kidnap and enslave the many (344b) with the added benefit of being called happy and blessed for so doing (344b-c). Thrasymachus makes a connection between the notion of strength and the capacity for leading an unjust life. At 343c justice is defined by Thrasymachus as really someone else’s good, the advantage of the man who is stronger and rules.(4) Injustice, we are told is the opposite, and it rules the truly simple and just. So the life of injustice in its essence will be a self-seeking activity and the tyrant, who can pursue this life most perfectly on a grand scale, is in the position to frame social interaction in a way that is wholly self-advantageous. Thus, Thrasymachus can say to Socrates and company: injustice, when it comes into being on a sufficient scale, is mightier, freer, and more masterful than justice; and, as I have said from the beginning, the just is the advantage of the stronger, and the unjust is what is profitable and advantageous for oneself.

(344c) Thus far I have made explicit the existence of the tyrant as the unjust exploiter and the many as the just exploited in Thrasymachus’ view of the society. But there is another type of individual associated with society who, in a strict sense, is neither the tyrant nor a member of the many – namely, the kreitton. In his long speech that runs from 343b to 344c, Thrasymachus speaks of the tyrant as exemplary of the most perfect injustice. But within the context of this speech, he also mentions those who are only partially unjust: temple robbers, kidnappers, housebreakers, defrauders and thieves. (344b) Further, in contrasting concrete examples that distinguish the benefits of the unjust life as distinct from the just life, Thrasymachus states: the just man everywhere has less than the unjust man. He continues: First, in contracts, when the just man is a partner of the unjust man, you will always find that at the dissolution of the partnership the just man does not have more than the unjust man, but less.

Second, 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; and where there are distributions, the one makes no profit, the other much. (343d) Here, Thrasymachus is not speaking specifically of the tyrant in relation to the many. The type of unjust individual Thrasymachus speaks of in this quotation, as well as the housebreaker and thief, are those individuals who realize that to do justice means to place oneself in a weaker exploitative situation. Such individuals exemplify the stronger person who seeks the unjust life of what is profitable and advantageous for oneself. The stronger resembles the tyrant in seeking the unjust life but lacks the perfection of injustice which by stealth and force overpowers the many all at once. Thrasymachus is concerned to show that if individuals in the society are in a position to do so, they should strive to do whatever is in their power to achieve the status of the tyrant because he thinks that the one who rules is the strongest, most powerful and consequently happiest individual in the society (344a-b).

There is a developmental genesis of the tyrant within the context of society being made explicit by Thrasymachus’ account of the stronger. Thrasymachus’ examples of defrauders, kidnappers and those thieves who violate the commutative and distributive laws of justice confirm this to be the case. Actually, by explicating the role that the stronger plays in Thrasymachus’ social milieu, we get a better understanding of both the just and the unjust individual. Seen in this way, the stronger acts as a kind of midpoint character between the many and the tyrant – between justice and extreme injustice. The stronger is on the way to tyranthood transcending the exploitations of the society as exploiter; however, such exploits fall short of the tyrant who, in the words of Thrasymachus, does injustice entire (344c).

III. It is appropriate that Thrasymachus uses the image of sheep or cows in his speech at 343b to describe the many because there is a sense in which the individuals subject to a tyranny are incapable of overpowering the sheep/cow-herder or, like grazing animals, are unaware of what is truly going on around themselves. The question then becomes, Are the many really so naive as to allow themselves to be exploited by some tyrannical ruler? Two responses come to mind. The first is No. People are not so naive as to not know that they are being exploited. They obey the laws and rules because they know full well who has the power and fear the consequences of disobedience.

Or, they obey because they think they can placate or appease the tyrant’s self-indulgent pleonexia. Still some, like Socrates himself, know who is in charge and what is really going on, but obey the laws nonetheless on the grounds of a principle or ideal. This response would be consistent with Thrasymachus’s standpoint concerning the ruling power of the tyrant. The second response to the question of the many’s naivete is Yes. It could be the case that the many are a group of really dense individuals who just cannot see the exploitation. There is another response related to this idea of naivete which considers the possibility that the tyrant in a society sets up laws that appear to be for the advantage of the many, but in reality are for the tyrant’s advantage. This has to do with Glaucon’s statement which I quoted in the first lines of this paper relating to the idea of seeming to be just when one is not.

In his article entitled, In Defense of Thrasymachus T. Y. Henderson considers a similar alternative when he offers a hypothetical case whereby a politically ambitious.. intelligent and courageous man named Setarcos is able to elevate himself to the status of the ruler by maintaining a public facade of honesty and integrity.(5) In public Setarcos professes that the just life is the best life for individuals and is in fact, in the public arena, obedient to the laws of the society. But he secretly leads a private life of immorality whereby he advances his own fortunes at the expense of others.(6) Eventually, through his private immoral maneuverings, and his public facade of justice, honesty and integrity, he becomes the ruler of the society. And when in power as the ruler, he is able to maintain this public facade for a long time or even indefinitely, while remaining a thoroughly unjust man.(7) Henderson asks if it is really possible for an immoral individual to dupe an entire society in such a way.

Surely there would be some individuals who would catch on to Setarcos’ plans and realize that in acting justly by following the laws of the society, they would actually be serving the interests of Setarcos. In response to this, Henderson states that Setarcos would want everyone in the state (except himself who knows better) to act justly, to live just lives, and to believe sincerely that in doing so they were serving their own best interests.(8) Henderson believes this to be a plausible account that is consistent with Thrasymachean immorality. As Henderson states: If Setarcos were able to convince everyone in the state that he is a completely just man, that because he is just he is happy, that justice in general is most profitable to man as a way of life, while at the same time being able, covertly, to cheat and steal from the people systematically, then he would conform perfectly to Thrasymachus’ conception of the strong man.(9) Henderson’s account is valuable for two reasons. First, it shows how the tyrant can remain unjust without being an iron-fisted dictator who, in Thrasymachus’ words, takes away what belongs to others, both what is sacred and profane, private and public.. all at once (344a). Even the most dense member of the society is going to recognize the villainy of an iron-fisted dictator and will consequently harbor feelings of fear and resentment toward such an approach. Henderson shows us that the tyrant can be cunning, covert and corrupt while appearing to be courteous, caring and concerned.

And further, Henderson shows the value of such an approach as it lends itself to happiness on the parts of both the tyrant and the many. The tyrant’s happiness lies in true exploitation; the happiness of the many lies in believing that leading a just life is actually to their advantage. Secondly, Henderson’s account is valuable because it underscores the point I have been making about the existence of the stronger in the society. Henderson tells us that the strongest man in the state is most likely to be, or to become the ruler. He rises to the top naturally because he takes advantage of every opportunity to make an unjust profit and to further his own cause at the expense of others. Everyone and every group who deal with him justly are exploited by him for his own profit.(10) This account of the stronger can be coupled with the idea expressed by Glaucon that the unjust individual must seem to be just or the account given by Henderson that, as he rises to the top, the strong man Setarcos maintains a public facade of honesty and integrity.

In this way, the stronger leads a double life of pursuing injustice while seeming to pursue what is just. And in this way, the stronger dupes both the many and the tyrant. That the stronger dupes both the many and the tyrant can be verified when we look at what Thrasymachus says in the text itself. Thrasymachus has made it clear that the unjust life is to be preferred t …