"Of Wealth, Justice, Moderation, and Their Opposites"
Summary: Book I
Though the dialogue is retold by the narrator, Socrates
, one day after it has occurred, the actual events unfold in
house of Cephalus
at the Piraeus on the festival day of the goddess Bendis (Artemis). Once Polemarchus and
several other men catch up to Socrates and Glaucon
after the celebratory procession, Polemarchus, desirous of
Socrates' delightful conversation, compels him to join their company at his home. There Socrates encounters
Polemarchus' father, Cephalus, an old man, and the two men speak candidly about aging.
Socrates finds Cephalus' thoughts on the subject admirable, for Cephalus criticizes others of his age who
foolishly lament the loss of youthful vigor, and holds instead that the dissipation of the passions late in life is
pleasantly tranquilizing and liberating. Socrates, curious as to whether Cephalus' attitude might be related to his
personal wealth, questions the old man accordingly. Cephalus is then forced to admit that wealth affords comfort
to its possessor, but offers true peace only to him who is of a good nature.
From wealth and its merits and demerits, Socrates steers the conversation onto a new topic: justice. But
Cephalus, who does not appear up to the task, exits abruptly, leaving Polemarchus to continue the argument.
Polemarchus initially posits justice as giving a man that which he deserves. Through a series of very clever
manipulations, however, Socrates befuddles Polemarchus and concludes before his auditors that the just man is a
, silent until now, suddenly bursts into the debate, angry with Polemarchus for yielding too easily
but even more so with Socrates for his "ironic style." After his accusations have been answered, Thrasymachus
poses his own definition of justice: the interest of the stronger. Both terms of this definition are quickly brought
into question, and, enraged, Thrasymachus unleashes a long diatribe, asserting that injustice benefits the ruler
absolutely. Socrates, composed as ever, refutes him, offering true rule as just rule, for it is conducive to
harmony, unity, and strength.
The dialogue concludes with Socrates' examination of the comparative advantages of justice and injustice. By
the end, Thrasymachus and the other auditors are satisfied that the just man is happy, and the unjust is not.
However, in a brilliant twist, Socrates dolefully admits to them that in spite of all the conversation, he still knows
nothing about the nature of justice, but only something of its relation to virtue and not vice, wisdom and not
ignorance, and of its utility over injustice. Presumably, the characters now return to the banquet from which they
came, completing the circle.