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Lessons Of Plato's Republic

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Plato’s Republic aims to teach us that justice, in itself, is worthwhile, and that it is better to be just than unjust. It is better to be just than unjust for the just person avoids a life of misery, and the just person lives a happy life. It also goes so far as to teach the value of moderation and self-control to citizens of democracy and democracy itself.

In trying to create the argument of why it is better to be just than unjust, Plato first creates an analogy of the state/city to individuals. In the state, there exist different roles or classes. The city contains four virtues which are dispersed amongst the different classes in society. The four virtues consist of wisdom, courage, temperance/moderation, and justice (pg. 94-109) Temperance, or moderation, and justice are universally dispersed amongst everyone in the city; however, courage and wisdom are granted to a select few, particularly the Guardians (pg. 88-96). It is emphasized in Book IV that there are roles in society, and analogous to this, is the individual which also possesses specific roles, or parts. As there are different classes in society that play a specific role, there are different parts in an individual, specifically three, that have a particular purpose: spirit, appetite, and reason (pg. 88-110). Appetite corresponds to the desires, the wants of the individual. Clashing with this is reason and logic that tries to tame these urges. The balance between these two is defined by spirit, which is the character of the individual (pg. 101-109). For a just society, the guardians must be dominant, and as it is with an individual, for it to be just, reason must be dominant over the other parts. A correct balance must be maintained to be just, which leads to the ultimate conclusion of what justice is: the correct balance between desire and reason, and maintaining a proper role.

The first argument for why it is better to be just than unjust is presented through the horrible life that is lived by a tyrant, who is essentially an unjust person. The tyrannical man is ruled by his desires (pg. 202-207). For justice to be prevalent, the person’s soul must have the correct balance/order of their desires and reason. The tyrannical man lacks this balance. Tyrants are ignorant of their reason, and are drawn to lawless desires. These desires draw men toward acts that are vile, and seen as totally reprehensible and “he is drawn into a perfectly lawless life” (pg. 203). The person’s soul lacks the correct character and balance, and lives an awful life. This life is described through Socrates where the man experiences utter chaos, and a constant escalation of awful events for he will do anything to continue to feed his desires. Plato writes that after the tyrant is consumed by desires “then comes debt and the cutting down of his property” and “when he has nothing left, must not his desires, crowding in the nest like young ravens, be crying aloud for food; and he, goaded on by them, and especially by love himself, who is in a manner the captain of them, is in a frenzy” (pg. 204). This shows that the tyrant, who is unjust, is absolutely miserable and constantly taunted by his lawless desires. This creates the second argument where, living an unjust life is worse-off than a just one.

Happiness is an argument that shows it is better to be just than unjust that is presented deals with a just city being a happy city. With a just city being analogous to a just individual, if a just city is a happy city, then a just individual is a happy individual. A just city is happy because it is unified and harmonious (pg. 89). In a just city there exists a “common wealth” where a lack of “private” feelings creates a lack of selfishness (pg. 88-92). Selfishness, defining what belongs to who, can create a form of separation within the city. This is why the Guardians lack any material possessions and they share almost all everything including their wives (pg. 88-92). As the Guardians must be unselfish to create a happy and just city, reason must dominate over desires. It is even stated that “Guardians may be the happiest of men” (pg. 88). This could show how happiness may coincide with justice. The Guardian, which represents reason, exists by controlling his desires, and in turn is the happiest individual. One example of how unhappiness may spawn from excessive desires and wants would be with buyer’s remorse. A person who is ruled by desires lives an unjust and unhappy life. This can stand true when looking at an example such as buyer’s remorse. It is generally a known fact that buyer’s remorse is a deep regret and sadness felt from a particular purchase. Usually the purchase entails buying something the person does not need, but something they wanted. These gluttonous feelings, this desire to purchase an item that was not absolutely necessary, leads to this remorse. It is doubtful then that a person feeling remorse is a happy one. A person constantly defined by their strong desires and lack of reason, will live a life less happy than one who is not. A happy life is obviously a life that is sought after more so than an unhappy life, and if being just entails happiness, then being just is preferable over being unjust.

Earlier in Book II, Glaucon creates the argument that it is better to be unjust than just, and that the tyrant who is unjust reaps the rewards, while the just person receives scorn. One other argument presented that contradicts the benefits of being just involves the ring of Gyges (pg. 41-42) The story goes that Gyges comes into possession of a ring that allows him to become invisible. As he is invisible, he commits unjust acts. The ring presents a story where an individual will only appear to be just for appearance’s sake, but still be unjust if they can get away with it. This shows the dilemma that a person who only



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