Platos Republic on Justice and Injustice

The Republic, which was composed in the maturity of Platos life, somewhere about his fortieth year, and therefore, better than any other dialogue, represents the fullness of his thought, has come down to us with a double title -- the State, or concerning Justice. In spite of these two titles, it must not be assumed that it is a treatise either on political science or on jurisprudence. It is both, and it is yet more than both. It is an attempt at a complete philosophy of man. Primarily, it is concerned with man in action, and it is therefore occupied with the problems of moral and political life. But man is a whole his action cannot be understood apart from his thinking and therefore the Republic is also a philosophy of man in thought and of the laws of his thinking. Viewed in this way, as a complete philosophy of man, the Republic forms a single and organic whole. Viewed in its divisions, it would almost seem to fall into a number of treatises, each occupied with its separate subject. There is a treatise on metaphysics, which exhibits the unity of all things in the Idea of the Good. There is a treatise on moral philosophy, which investigates the virtues of the human soul, and shows their union and perfection in justice. There is a treatise on education the Republic, said Rousseau, is not a work upon politics, but the finest treatise on education that ever was written. (p.80). There is a treatise on political science, which sketches the polity, and the social institutions, which should regulate an ideal State. Lastly, there is a treatise as it were on the philosophy of history, which explains the process of historical change and the gradual decline of the ideal State into tyranny. But all these treatises are woven into one, because all these subjects as yet were one. There was no rigorous differentiation of knowledge into separate studies, such as Aristotle afterwards suggested, rather than himself made.
The philosophy of man stood as one subject, confronting as equal or superior the other subject of the philosophy of nature. The question which Plato set himself to answer was simply this What is a good man, and how is a good man made Such a question might seem to belong to moral philosophy, and to moral philosophy alone. But to the Greek it was obvious that a good man must be a member of a State, and could be made good only through membership of a State. Upon the first question, therefore, a second naturally followed What is the good State, and how is the good State made Moral philosophy thus ascends into political science and the two, joined in one, must climb still further. To a follower of Socrates it was plain that a good man must be possessed of knowledge. A third question therefore arose What is the ultimate knowledge of which a good man must be possessed in order to be good It is for metaphysics to answer and when metaphysics has given its answer, still a fourth question emerges. By what methods will the good State lead its citizens towards the ultimate knowledge which is the condition of virtue To answer this question, a theory of education is necessary and indeed, since a readjustment of social conditions seems necessary to Plato if his scheme of education is to work satisfactorily, a reconstruction of social life must also be attempted, and a new economics must reinforce the new pedagogies.

The plan and motives of the Republic
It has been suggested that the mainspring of the Republic is Platos aversion to contemporary capitalism and his desire to substitute a new scheme of socialism. This would make of the Republic an economic treatise and the author of the suggestion enforces his point by attempting to show that in contemporary Greece the struggle between oligarchy and democracy represented a struggle of capital and labor, and that in Plato we find a vivid sense of the evils of this struggle and an attempt to deal with those evils by means of socialistic remedies. Hence, he thinks comes his attack on private property, and his proposal to abolish the use of money. Aristotle, equally with Plato, is brought into line with this theory for though Aristotle does not commit himself to the socialistic attack upon property, he nevertheless advocates a simple economy in kind he attacks money in the very spirit of Plato and he even goes beyond Plato in attacking trade as a species of robbery. The objection which naturally occurs -- that such a theory means the importation of modern socialism, which is a revolt against a complex system of production, into the far simpler conditions of the economic life of the Greeks -- is met by the reply that those conditions were not simple. Credit was highly developed in the city-state overseas trade was abundant in a city like Corinth. Usury was not merely the loan of money to needy farmers, but a vast system running through commerce and the attacks of philosophers on interest indicate a socialistic propaganda, such as is today connected with attacks upon profits. Whatever may be the truth of the view of Greek economics which such a theory postulates, it is difficult to agree with the view of Greek political thought which it suggests, or to admit that the reform of the State proposed by Plato is meant as an economic reform of an economic evil. Plato may touch upon economic questions but he always regards them as moral questions, affecting the life of man as a member of a moral society. He may speak, for instance, in praise of division of labor but we soon learn that division of labor concerns him, not as a method of economic production, but as a means to the moral well-being of the community.

The Republic and its Theory of Justice and Injustice
But while we may disagree with the application of considerations of political economy to the Republic, we must none the less admit that its practical motive is a fact. It is written in the imperative mood -- not by way of an analysis, but rather for warning and counsel. The Republic is in many respects a polemic -- a polemic directed against current teachers and the practice of contemporary politics. The teachers against whom it is directed are the younger generation of Sophists, of the type already portrayed in the Gorgias. It was they, and not Socrates, who in Platos view were the true corruptores juventutis, by the lectures they gave and the training in politics they professed to give and if Greece was not to follow in the paths they had indicated, their hold on the young must be destroyed, and their teaching must be refuted. They had preached a new ethics, or justice, of self satisfaction and they had tended to revolutionize politics accordingly, by making the authority of the State a means to the self-satisfaction of its rulers. In opposition to such tenets Plato taught a conception of justice as a quality of the soul, in virtue of which men set aside the irrational desire to taste every pleasure and to gain a selfish satisfaction out of every object, and accommodated themselves to the discharge of a single function for the general benefit and he taught a corresponding conception of politics which made the State no longer the field for the self satisfaction of its ruler, but the body of which he was a part and the organism in which he had a function. No longer should individualism infect the State on the contrary, a spirit of collectivism should permeate the individual. No longer should the ruler use the State for his own ends the State should demand of the ruler, if it were necessary, the sacrifice of his private ends, if indeed he had ends distinct from those of the State, to the interests of the general welfare. But in truth there was no such necessity, and there was no such distinction.

Justice of the Individual
In a true State the individual can secure his own ends in securing those of his fellows he will have a larger growth, and be the savior of his country as well as of himself (p.259). The old harmony of the interests of the State and the individual, interrupted by the teaching of the Radical Sophists, is thus restored in the teaching of Plato, but restored on a new and higher level, because it has been elevated into a conscious sense of harmony. In this connexion Plato, radical and reformer as he may elsewhere appear, is conservative enough. It is his mission to prove that the eternal laws of morality are no mere conventions, which must be destroyed to make way for a regime of nature but that they are, on the contrary, rooted beyond all possibility of overthrow in the nature of the human soul and in the system of the universe. That is why a psychology of man and metaphysics of the world enter into the plan of the Republic. Its author has to show that the State cannot be regarded as a chance congeries of individuals, to be exploited by the strongest individuality but that, on the contrary, it is a communion of souls rationally and necessarily united for the pursuit of a moral end, and rationally and unselfishly guided towards that end by the wisdom of those who know the nature of the soul and the purpose of the world. But this, which is the true idea of the State and its natural and normal condition, was exactly what, in Platos view, contemporary States were not. The spirit of excessive individualism had infected not only theory, but actual life and the Sophists were only popular, because they had caught what was in the air. The States of contemporary Greece seemed to Plato to have lost their true character, and to have forgotten their true aim. In opposition to their actual character, and to the aims they actually pursued, he turns as definitely radical, as, in opposition to sophistic views, he shows himself conservative. Thinking mainly of the Athenian democracy in which he lived, he finds in contemporary politics two great and serious flaws. One is the ubiquity of ignorance masquerading in the guise of knowledge the other is a political selfishness which divides every city into two hostile cities, standing in the state and posture of gladiators over against one another.

Mission of Platonism
But nothing impressed Plato more in contemporary politics, and nothing more surely drove him along the path of reform, than that violent spirit of individualism, which sought to capture the offices of the State for the better fulfilling of its own selfish purposes, and divided every city into two hostile camps of rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed. This was the special vice of oligarchy. The ruling body always tended to dissensions within its own ranks and it was always in a state of opposition to its subjects. An oligarchical city was a city set in two camps, each spying for an opportunity against the other. And the root of all evil was the love of money. It would have been well if this passion had been confined to private life but it infected politics. The rich who sought to be still richer monopolized office for the sake of the advantage which its corrupt use might give them in their private enterprise they seized the authority of the State for the sake of the spoils which it might bring. The State, whose essence it is that it should be a neutral and impartial arbitrator between the different interests of different classes, became itself the tool of one of these classes. The government, instead of binding class to class, merely accentuated their differences by adding its weight to strengthen one class against the rest. No wonder the State was divided against itself, or that, as Plato says, in every State there were two separate States. Not one of them is a State, but many States for any State, however small, is in fact divided into two -one the State of the poor, the other that of the rich -- and these are at war with one another(p.263).

Platos Concept of Democracy and Justice
Political selfishness was not the fault of oligarchies only. Democracy itself was not exempt from this vice. Its supporters indeed viewed it as the true State, where man was equal to man, and an impartial law ruled all -- a State which served no particular interest, but did justice to every class. Democracy represented the whole community oligarchy represented a part. Democracy made room for the rich in finance, the wise in council, and the masses in decision. But what struck Plato, and indeed Aristotle, was, that the citizens of a democracy not only paid themselves from the coffers of the State by the wages which they received for political services, but also used their authority to pillage the rich, confiscating their estates upon spurious issues, or plundering them more subtly by heavy liturgies. They too, like the governing class in an oligarchy, made politics into a source of economic gain. It is this confusion of economics and politics, alike in oligarchies and in democracies that lends to Greek civic strife its fury. Political struggles may be moderate, and the combatants may act by legal form it is the social war in which passions are as bitter as gall. Greek civic strife meant such a social war and constitutional opposition readily turned into a Jacquerie. Hence it became the mission of political philosophy, in the hands of Plato, to rehabilitate a strong and impartial authority, which should mean, not the rule of the rich over the poor, or of the poor over the rich, but of something either above or at any rate combining both. Whereas men came to public affairs hungering for their own profit thereby, and, as a result, struggles for office arose which grew into civil war, there must be unselfish government and civic harmony.

The teaching of Plato goes far beyond any preceding teaching or tendencies. He divides his ideal State into three classes, the rulers, the fighters, the farmers -- the men of gold, the men of silver, and the men of iron and brass. Each of these has its appointed function, and each of these concentrates itself entirely upon the discharge of that function. Government, defence, sustenance -- the three necessary functions of the State -- are all made into professions and assigned to professional classes. It is only with the governing and fighting classes that Plato is really concerned but these he is careful to train for their work by every means in his power. Primarily he trusts to an education which shall train them thoroughly for their duties secondly, not quite content with spiritual, he has recourse to material means. He suggests a system of communism, so ordered that it shall set the time and the minds of these classes free from material cares, and shall enable them to give themselves fully to the acquisition of knowledge and the discharge of their function in the community. He deprives both the administration and the army of private property, and seeks to consecrate them to their public duties by freeing them from any temptation to engage themselves in other interests.

Platos Unification
The way of specialization was also to Plato the way of unification. If a separate class were appointed to the work of government, there would hardly be any room for the old struggle to capture the government. If each class abode within its own boundaries, concentrated upon its own work, no class would readily come into conflict with another. Civil dissension had been rendered possible by the want of specialization. Because there was no proper government ready and able to do its work, there had been the conflict of selfish aspirants for office because there had been in every State a number of men with no settled function or regular place -- men who had more than one place, or no proper place at all -- there had been all the jostling and turbulence which had culminated in civil war. With specialization these things would cease each class would work at its appointed function in contentment selfishness would disappear, and unity would pervade the State. Those who confine themselves to the discharge of their function, cannot be selfish. Selfishness consists in going outside ones own sphere, and trespassing upon that of another and a governing class duly trained in its proper duty will never commit such trespass. But Plato provides a further guarantee than training. Not all who have been trained for government are allowed to join the governing class. To make the assurance of unselfishness doubly sure, he reserves office for those, and only those, who, under a system of trials and temptations, have held firm to the belief that the weal of the State is their own weal, and its woe their own woe. And besides these spiritual means -- besides this training for a special work, and this selection of those whom the special training has shown to be most unselfish -- there is finally the material guarantee of communism. Rulers who have no home, no family, no possessions, have no temptation to selfishness they have nowhere to carry their gains, nobody upon whom to spend them, no interest in making them.

The conclusion of the whole matter would seem then to be this, that each should do his own appointed work in contentment. But this in Platos eyes is justice or, in the other words, the true principle of social life and therefore the Republic is also called a treatise concerning justice. Its purpose is the substitution of a true conception of justice for the false views which common error and sophistic teaching had contrived to spread. Whether he is combating the theory of the Sophists, or seeking to reform the actual practice of society, justice is the hinge of Platos thought, and the text of his discourse. It remains therefore to inquire, what were the views of justice which he found current, and what were the reasons for which he rejected those views in what way he justified the conception which he advocated, and what were the results to which that conception led.


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