Thrasymachus’ Challenge

Plato along with Socrates and Aristotle were f...
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Alright, enough preamble; let’s do some philosophy.

When I took Ethics, almost the entirety of the class was spent reading Plato’s The Republic, in which Socrates is portrayed as having a series of dialogues regarding the nature of justice and the ideal state. The one that always stuck with me—and troubled me for long after the end of the semester—was the dialogue that concludes Book I, between Socrates and Thrasymachus.

At this point, Socrates is still trying to come up with a satisfactory definition for the word “justice,” and Thrasymachus responds by sneering at his naïve attempts. He offers up two definitions. First, he says that, “the unjust is lord over the truly simple and just: he is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own.”

Later, he argues that “justice” is a social construct—it is whatever is to the advantage of the stronger, ruling party.

Obviously, these two definitions are in conflict with one another, and Socrates shoots them both down eventually. It does not help Thrasymachus’ case either that he is, throughout Book I, hectoring, rude, and generally abrasive on a level not seen anywhere else in the text.

So why was the passage so troubling? Maybe because I didn’t find Socrates’ rebuttal persuasive. But before I get into why, I want to hear what you guys think of Thrasymachus’ argument.

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