Eyes That See

“I Once Was Blind”

The Just Man.

The Greek philosopher Plato actually wrote a Messianic prophecy- kind of.  In “The Republic,” he sets himself up to make his best argument that justice is always better than injustice by way of a dialogue between Socrates and some other guys.  Glaucon, in order to allow Socrates the opportunity to unequivocally convince himself and the others that justice is always a virtue and its opposite always a vice, makes his best argument in favor of injustice being the greater of the two.  As Plato is employing the dialogue as a means to communicate his philosophy, I think it safe to assume that this is Plato’s best argument in favor of injustice- and it is a very impressive argument:

“They say that to do injustice is naturally good and to suffer injustice bad, but that the badness of suffering it so far exceeds the goodness of doing it that those who have done and suffered injustice and tasted both, but who lack the power to do it and avoid suffering it, decide that it is profitable to come to an agreement with each other neither to do injustice nor to suffer it…”

This is part one of the argument- that calling injustice bad is a societal concept that originated with people who were too weak to enjoy the benefits of injustice without suffering at the hands of others’ injustice.  He goes on to say that:

“Someone who has the power to do this [injustice with impunity], however, and is a true man wouldn’t make an agreement with anyone not to do injustice in order not to suffer it.  For him that would be madness.”

So people are only just because they want others to be just towards them, and if people have the means to do injustice without suffering from others’ injustice, then it would be mad not to do so.  The second part of the argument is basically that nobody would be just if they were sure to get away with injustice.  He tells of a myth where a shepherd tending his flock witnessed an earthquake that created a chasm in the ground.  In this chasm was a hollow bronze horse; in this hollow bronze horse was a corpse; and on the finger of this corpse was a gold ring.  This gold ring, when turned a certain way, caused its wearer to become invisible.  The man used the ring and its special power to seduce the king’s wife and, with her help, kill the king and usurp the throne.  Moral of the story: nobody would be just if they were invisible.

The third and final part of the argument is to look at a man at each end of the spectum- the fully unjust man and the fully just man.  He points out that the fully unjust man must get away with his injustice and enjoy a reputation of being just, if he is to indeed be fully unjust and fully enjoy the benefits of injustice.  Also, the just man must not merely be “believed to be good but to be so.”  The thrust of this argument is that it is best to have a reputation for being just, while also reaping the benefits of injustice whenever it is possible to both enjoy and evade punishment.

I read “The Republic” in college, and I am reading it now to refresh my memory.  This is as far as I am at present, so if anybody would like for me to follow up with a blog-a-roo about Plato’s counter-argument, post that in a comment and Lord willing I’ll get to that one day…

but, as for this blog, the point was to share Plato’s “Messianic prophecy” (of sorts).  Look at his description of the man who goes beyond a mere reputation for justice and is justice incarnate!

“Having hypothesized such [an unjust] person, let’s now in our argument put beside him a just man, who is simple and noble and who, as Aeschylus says, doesn’t want to be believed to be good but to be so. We must take away his reputation, for a reputation for justice would bring him honor and rewards, so that it wouldn’t be clear whether he is just for the sake of justice itself or for the sake of those honors and rewards. We must strip him of everything except justice and make his situation the opposite of an unjust person’s. Though he does no injustice, he must have the greatest reputation for it, so that he can be tested as regards justice unsoftened by his bad reputation and its effects. Let him stay like that unchanged until he dies- just, but all his life believed to be unjust. In this way, both will reach the extremes, the one of justice and the other of injustice, and we’ll be able to judge which of them is happier.”

He goes on to say that:

“a just person in such circumstances will be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with fire, and, at the end, when he has suffered every kind of evil, he’ll be impaled, and will realize then that one shouldn’t want to be just but to be believed to be just.”


May 28, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] -from Plato’s “Republic,” book II (read more about the context of this paragraph here). […]

    Pingback by A Question For You: « Eyes That See | May 30, 2008 | Reply

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