Platos Definition of Justice in Book IV of the Republic

This paper seeks to discuss Platos definition of justice according to Chapter IV of the Republic and evaluate it based on the question whether an individual who possesses such form of justice would never steal, cheat, lie or do any similar things. Though this paper answers this question positively, the weaknesses of Platos definition of justice will prove otherwise.

The Republic, an extensive Socratic dialogue which was written by Plato at around 380 BC, serves not only as the ancient Greek philosophers masterpiece but also one of the most insightful and practical guides on political theory and human psychology. One of the foremost ideas discussed in detail in the Republic is the idea of justice and its definition is particularly dealt with in Chapter IV. State justice and individual justice are both discussed as well as their parallelisms. The idea of individual justice, in particular, may glorify the natural goodness of the reasoned individual but may lend itself to several criticisms.

Platos Definition of Justice
There is justice when each one man must perform one social service in the state for which his nature is best adapted (Plato, 1969, 433a). This line speaks for itself. It simply means that if a woman is capable of political administration then let the state allow her to rule and if a man proves himself capable only of washing clothes then let him do the role that Providence that has assigned to him. This is Platos idea of justice. This centuries-old definition of justice clearly tells us that Plato viewed justice not as a set of actions that show fairness but rather a harmonious relationship among what he considers to be the three parts of the state  the guardians who thirst for knowledge, the auxiliaries who seek honor, and the producing class whose main seeks first the fulfillment of the appetite or animal desires, especially money.

Justice in the State and in the Individual
In Book IV, Plato first mentions about justice in the state before he explains individual justice, but he argues that the state and the individual are parallel and that what is just for the first is just for the other (Plato, 1969, 441c). The goal of justice in the state is not the exceptional happiness of any one class but the greatest possible happiness of the city as a whole (Plato, 1969, 420b). Similarly, the three corresponding parts of the individual  the rational part, the spirited part, and the appetitive part (Plato, 1969, 439d-e) should aim not for their own individual sakes but for the happiness of the whole individual.

However, Plato emphasizes that the success of such happiness in both the state and the individual lies in the dominion of reason in both. He therefore says that in order to achieve a harmony among the three parts of the state, the knowledge-loving guardians should rule over the auxiliaries and the producing class. In a similar way, among the three parts of the soul, the rational part should govern both the spirited and the appetitive parts (Plato, 1969, 441e). This is justice.

Evaluation of Justice in the Individual
The question remains as to whether, based on Platos definition of justice, an individual with such a virtue would not steal, cheat, lie or do all other things society has deemed wrong.

Plato answers this question by stating that since a person who is just has a soul which is in the proper arrangement, it follows that he will behave according to the norms of justice, i.e., his self is ruled by the rational part and the love of truth. Consequently his actions will be for the happiness of the state. Therefore he will not be in the grips of the evils of stealing, cheating, lying and other similar acts (Plato, 1969, 443a).

Justice, therefore, in the individual is present when he does not permit any of the three parts of his soul, particularly the appetitive part, to interfere with one another and to assume the roles of the others. It follows that he is his own master and his own law and he is at peace with himself (Plato, 1969, 443d) for he has bound the three principles within him into one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature (Plato, 1969, 443e).

Criticism and Further Evaluation of Justice in the Individual
The problem with Platos idea of individual justice is that it is more or less a mere assumption that an individual who operates under the guidance of the rational part of the soul, or reason, will always do good all the time and will never steal, cheat or lie. What Plato has perhaps failed to consider is the inherent complexity of reason itself. There could be two problems. Firstly, there may be as many concepts of reason as there are individuals. Thus we come to a possible conclusion that one individual may, for example, rationalize that his acts of cheating are reasonable in that it benefits the society as a whole. Secondly, Plato underlined the importance of the souls rational part only on the whole of the individual (Plato, 1969, 441e) and not necessarily on the whole of the state. Thus, someone may justify his acts of lying or stealing by saying that he is doing it for the harmony of the three parts of his soul, and not for the state.

Chapter IV of the Republic has indeed shown us Platos definition of justice both in the state and in the individual. Justice in the individual presupposes that a man who acts under the dictates of reason and who governs his spirit and desires with it is naturally a good man, i.e., he is not into cheating, stealing and lying. Although this may be true, the complexity and individual perception of reason, as well as the unclear distinction of the ethical relation between individual and state justice, are proofs of the weakness of such a definition of justice.


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