Glaucon and Adeimantus

In document Platos Republic (Page 69-88)


Socrates assumes that the refutation of Thrasymachus is now complete, and with it, the conversation recorded in Book One. ‘‘Complete’’ means here not success but failure. As Socrates puts it, they have failed to arrive at a definition of justice. This may be so, but we have found considerable agree-ment among the main speakers with respect to the claim that justice is doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies. Polemarchus put this forward explicitly, and it is implied by the Thrasymachean view that justice is the interest of the stronger, as that view was corrected by Socrates. Even the unjust man must practice justice with his friends and allies, but he does so in order to defeat his enemies, namely, all those whose cooperation is not required for his striving to have more than others. Socrates has praised justice but, as he admits, has failed to define it. Therefore he has not shown that it is unjust to harm one’s enemies. The argument that was supposed to establish this claim holds that we make things worse by damaging them, but there are obvious cases in which we cannot avoid damaging others, as for example in time of war and with respect to incorrigible criminals.

At a more subtle level, we can also suggest that there are many occasions in which it is impossible to do good to one friend without harming another. A

simple example: professors often have to recommend one of their graduate students for a fellowship or a job, even though to do so is to harm the pros-pects of their other students who are applying for the same award. The fact that one person deserves the award more than others does not alter the fact that, in order to do justice, we have to deprive friends of a benefit. In cases like these, justice is the harming of friends. It thus seems impossible to define justice as always doing good to one’s friends and harm to one’s enemies. But are there any cases in which justice requires us to do good to our enemies? One can agree that sometimes this redounds to our advantage by making the enemy better, and so friendlier. But it is not uniformly true, as our other examples (crime, war) have shown.

The net result is that even the widely accepted principle championed by Polemarchus is not a precise definition of justice. What has to be shown is that what looks like harm from a superficial point of view always turns out to be a benefit from a deeper analysis. But this sounds dubious at best and would require case-by-case analyses, most of which would undoubtedly lead to con-troversy and make the administration of justice impossible. This leads to the corollary that even if we could find an acceptable definition of justice, it would often, and perhaps almost always, be necessarily arbitrary in the decisions it validates. One more observation before we turn to Book Two. The conver-sation in Book One is conducted on the assumption that every participant knows enough about the nature of justice to defend or attack it. They are, of course, all residents of cities and therefore familiar with the usual views on the topic. But the point cuts deeper; whatever the reasons for which we enter into communal life, the need for justice arises spontaneously from our dealings, private and public, with one another. In this sense, the definition of justice cannot be a purely technical artifact that is intelligible only to specialists. It must answer to the needs that give rise to a variety of formal definitions.

Glaucon, who could be called the father of the logos because of his insis-tence upon remaining in the Piraeus, plays that role still more explicitly at the beginning of Book Two. He is, as Socrates says, aei andreiotatos, ‘‘always most brave’’ or ‘‘manly’’ (357a2–3), and he is unwilling to rest content with the refutation of Thrasymachus. That is to say: Glaucon grasps intuitively that the refutation was not convincing. I do not mean by this that he recognizes the invalidity of Socrates’s arguments and his use of ambiguous, even equivocal terms without sufficient analysis. But he sees that Socrates has yet to prove that justice is in every way superior to injustice (357a4–b2). Under Glaucon’s preliminary interrogation, Socrates agrees that there are three kinds of good.

Note his terminology here. He first refers to toionde ti agathon, ‘‘a something of suchlike kind’’ or, in smoother English, ‘‘a good of such a kind that’’ we

choose to possess it (357b5). This sounds like Aristotle’s toionde ti as modify-ing tode ti, ‘‘this thing here of such and such a kind.’’ At 357c5, Glaucon replaces ‘‘a sort of good’’ with triton ti eidos (‘‘a third kind of form’’), and he asks whether Socrates ‘‘sees’’ it. This is our first introduction to the language of the so-called Platonic Ideas, which springs from the everyday act of discerning shapes, patterns, forms, or looks that allow us to distinguish one thing from another.

We like some things for themselves alone, some for themselves and what follows from them, and finally, some for what follows from them, but not for themselves. An example of the third kind is gymnastics, which is painful in itself but leads to good condition. Socrates had claimed that the just man is happier as well as wiser and better than the unjust man. He now adds that justice is something that belongs to the most beautiful class, namely, things that the man who is going to become blessed likes for themselves and for what comes out of them. Glaucon is sympathetic to the thesis that justice is a good of the second kind, but he is not persuaded. The reason he gives, again, is not the inadequacy of the technicalities of Socrates’s argument but the fact that it is not acceptable to the many (tois pollois: 358a4). The many argue that what counts is the appearance of justice, not the reality. So long as we are not caught and punished, it is better to be unjust than just. We can thus do good to ourselves (as we understand it) and harm to everyone else, without losing our friends. Now Socrates had actually addressed this claim previously, when he said that the unjust soul does its work badly, while the just soul does it well (I.

353d9–13). This argument is a direct anticipation of the subsequent conclu-sion that justice is the harmony of the soul. The argument is rejected by the many, either because they regard injustice as the proper management of the soul or because the attractions of the soul are outweighed by the allure of unrestricted material possessions. In either case, the outcome is the same.

Why is it a matter of such concern to Glaucon what the many believe? If Glaucon is a passionate friend of justice, as both he and Socrates claim that he is, the contrary views of the many should be of little interest to him. We are entitled to infer from what follows that Glaucon is himself tempted by the views of the many. In the actual city, these views are of great importance to someone who aspires to political prominence. This inference is supported by the previously cited passage in Xenophon’s Memorabilia concerning Glau-con’s oratorical, and so political, ambitions. At a deeper level, however, it is supported by the ambiguous nature of Socrates’s own defense of justice. It looks as if one is forced to use invalid arguments in the defense of justice; that is to say, one must use the rhetorical device of pretending to demonstrate something that cannot be demonstrated. Finally, if the many cannot be

per-suaded by argument, or even by the rhetorical appearance of argument, then they must be compelled to be just. This is exactly what Socrates will recom-mend in the founding of the just city.

This leads Glaucon to demand that Socrates demonstrate the desirability of justice for itself alone, regardless of what the consequences may be. Strictly speaking, this is impossible, and we shall see that Socrates never fulfils his assignment on this point. Even if justice is the harmony of the soul, the conse-quences of that harmony in one’s actions are different from the conseconse-quences of disharmony. Healthy persons behave quite differently from sick ones. Al-most equally plain, although difficult to prove, is that it would be impossible to act with complete justice and be regarded everywhere as unjust, or vice versa. For example, someone who is completely just would necessarily do certain things that reveal him or her to be at least partly just, and this impres-sion would be strengthened by his or her never being seen to perform unjust acts. Justice apart from all acts is at most an abstraction, something like the Idea of Justice, which makes its subterranean appearance in Glaucon’s unre-alistic demand. If the extreme demand made by Glaucon must be fulfilled in order to persuade the many of the complete superiority of justice to injustice, then that persuasion is impossible to accomplish.

What would it mean to suppose that the best case is to be regarded as just while actually being unjust? We acquire the appearance of justice because it is useful for tricking our fellow human beings. And this in turn is because every-one thinks that a just man is more honorable, more moral, and safer to deal with than an unjust man. This can be restated more harshly as the conviction that it is to our own advantage to deal with just rather than unjust persons. But this in turn comes very close to saying that we believe justice to be superior to injustice. We can deny this by holding that one must be just only to one’s friends, but this is enough to overthrow the argument of the many and return us to Polemarchus’s definition. In sum, it is not better for us to be uniformly unjust, since the consequences will soon become apparent, to our subsequent disadvantage. But neither is it better for others that we be uniformly unjust, for reasons that do not require stating.

The many have obviously heard this argument before; it is nothing more than conventional wisdom. Why has it not persuaded them? I suggest that it is because desire is stronger than reason, and passion is stronger than desire.

Furthermore, the desires and passions of the body are stronger, and so more persuasive, than the desires and passions of the soul, at least in the case of the many (and one should remember that the Socratic analysis of the love of honor links it closely with tyranny or the love of money and erotic pleasure). One thing is undeniable, and this is the thesis that Socrates will uphold when

he begins the task of constructing the just city. Desire (and passion) must be controlled by reason, but this is possible only through the mediation of spiritedness.

There is another point to be made about Glaucon’s terminology in this passage. At 358b4–6, Glaucon demands of Socrates: ‘‘I desire [epithum ¯o] to hear what each is [ti t’ estin hekateron] and what power it has [kai tina echei dunamin] by itself alone [auto kath’ hauto] in the soul.’’ In other words, there are desires of the soul as well as of the body. Second, Glaucon refers to hearing rather than to vision. We see forms but we hear definitions and arguments.

Third, Glaucon introduces further aspects of the technical terminology of the doctrine of Platonic Ideas. Frequently in the dialogues, the question ‘‘What is it?’’ is answered by identifying the thing’s power. All these expressions are rooted in everyday language, although they are given a special meaning by Socrates and his students. Glaucon then offers to praise the unjust life with all his might, not because he accepts this estimate but because he wants to hear Socrates counter with the highest praise of the superiority of the just life.

Again, Glaucon says that he wants to hear justice praised auto kath’ hauto (358d2). He does not repeat this phrase with respect to the praise of injustice, but I shall let that pass in view of the general remark at b4, quoted above.

Socrates is delighted: ‘‘What would anyone with intelligence prefer to hear discussed again and again?’’ (358d7–8). In other words, the conversation that follows is not the last word on the topic of justice, which must be discussed again and again because no logos is strong enough to persuade the many, even if we assume that Socrates’s logos is strong enough to persuade the few. Glau-con will begin by telling us what the many say (e3: phasin) justice is and whence it originated (358e1–2); he leaves out a reference to power.


The first point establishes that the many regard injustice as good and justice as bad by nature. But the bad that arises from being treated unjustly is much greater than the good that arises from acting unjustly to others. When this becomes evident, those who can neither prevent injustice to themselves by their own efforts nor practice it in dealing with others deem it useful to make a compact with each other neither to act nor to be treated unjustly (358e3–

359a2). In other words, the many regard laws as necessary evils; Glaucon here retains Thrasymachus’s earlier point that laws are established by the weak to protect themselves against the strong. If we were all strong, however, it is not difficult to see that laws would still be needed, whatever the many believe.

Since not all people are equally strong, the scale of relative strength now

becomes the basis for distinguishing between the stronger and the weaker.

Political compacts are still necessary, and not merely for self-defense, since the acquisition of money, power, and pleasure is dramatically accelerated within a flourishing city. We should also note that the many put justice in the intermedi-ate cintermedi-ategory between what is best (doing justice with impunity) and what is worst (being treated unjustly with no possibility of revenge). It is therefore not completely bad, even on the extreme assessment of the many.

Glaucon illustrates his point by telling the story of a shepherd, Gyges, who acquires a ring that makes him invisible. Gyges uses this power to seduce the queen, kill the king, and take over the throne (359e3–360b2). I note in passing that the queen raises no objections to any part of Gyges’s plan. Glaucon then says that if there were two such rings, one owned by the just man and the other by the unjust, the just owner would behave exactly the same as the unjust. He concludes that this story is ‘‘a great proof that no one is willingly just but is compelled to be so, on the grounds that it is not a good in private, for when-ever each person believes himself to be capable of acting unjustly, he does so’’

(360c5–8). Now in fact this story proves nothing whatsoever. It illustrates a view that Glaucon attributes to the many, a view that rests upon the premise that justice is not a ‘‘private’’ or intrinsic good, or in other words, that there are no just persons.

One could certainly say that there is enough empirical evidence to make Glaucon’s contention worth taking very seriously. That Socrates takes it se-riously is plain from the fact that in constructing his city, he places the desires under the control of the guardian class (spiritedness directed by reason). In fact, Socrates differs from the many on one point only. He believes that there are philosophers who are just by nature; in slightly different terms, he holds that moral virtue is identical with reason or (in the proper sense of the term) knowledge. The same point will be made at the end of the dialogue, in the myth of Er. Those who possess demotic or nonphilosophical virtue cannot be counted upon to choose a just life in their next reincarnation.

To use Socrates’s expression, Glaucon polishes up his verbal portrait of the just and the unjust man as if each were a statue (361d4–6). In fact, he has less to say about the just man, and in the continuation, after describing the conse-quences of appearing to be just, Glaucon omits entirely the just man who appears to be unjust. The reference to statues underlines the previous use of language that leads to the doctrine of Ideas. We are to consider someone who is a man of perfect justice in himself but who is regarded by the external world as entirely unjust, and we are to contrast him with the perfectly unjust man who is regarded by everyone else as perfectly just. Glaucon then says that he will contrast the life of each—in other words, he will attribute the worst

consequences of injustice to the just life, while the unjust life is to be linked to the best consequences of the perfectly just life. Let us examine the first case.

The concealed unjust man (as I shall call him) rules the city because he appears to be just. Second, he marries and gives his children in marriage to whomever he wishes. Third, he makes contracts and agreements with whomever he wants, from which he benefits doubly because he does not hesitate to be unjust. When he enters into private and public contests, he wins and gains more than his enemies do. In getting more, he is wealthy and does good to his friends and harm to his enemies. Furthermore, he makes more sacrifices to the gods and takes better care of them than does the concealed just man. It is therefore likely that the concealed unjust man will be dearer to the gods than the other (362b2–c8).

This is a rich passage. Glaucon (speaking on behalf of the many) organizes the advantages of injustice around three goods: power or honor, sex, and money. Nothing is said about whether injustice is advantageous to philosophy.

The official reason for this silence is no doubt because we are considering the views of the many. The unjust man is also able to bribe the gods, who are thus presented as themselves unjust. It is not entirely clear why Glaucon says that the unjust man will be given the rule of the city because he appears to be just.

One can easily imagine cases in which the politically powerful would prefer to have someone in office who is himself unjust, or at least who does good to his friends and harm to his enemies. And indeed, Glaucon attributes to the

One can easily imagine cases in which the politically powerful would prefer to have someone in office who is himself unjust, or at least who does good to his friends and harm to his enemies. And indeed, Glaucon attributes to the

In document Platos Republic (Page 69-88)