Republic: Books I-IV and VIII-IX
a VERY brief and selective summary
This introduces the question: What is justice? And pursues several proposals offered by
Cephalus and Polemarchus.
None seem adequate.
Then Thrasymachus offers a cynical but
nowadays familiar proposal that "justice" is whatever is in the interests of the powerful.
guiding idea is, in effect, that our moral notions are shaped by the established powers to help
secure their position and advance their own welfare.
Socrates offers a number of ultimately
unsatisfactory replies to Thrasymachus' proposal.
Although Thrasymachus eventually gives up
the argument, no one other than Socrates seems at all satisfied with the criticisms Socrates has
Dissatisfied with Socrates' rebuttal of the idea that justice is nothing more than a device of social
control wielded by the powerful to keep everyone else in line, Glaucon asks Socrates to consider
a more carefully developed version of the sort of view Thrasymachus offered.
Glaucon starts by
noting that everything that is of value -- everything that is good -- can apparently be sorted into
three exclusive and exhaustive categories: they might be good only because they have good
consequences, they might be good only because they are valuable in themselves, or they might
be good both because of their consequences and in themselves.
As Socrates would have it,
justice falls into the third category.
Glaucon hopes that Socrates is right and has been raised to
think he is, but he wonders whether any argument might be offered in support of the view.
especially concerned because there seems to be so much to be said on the side of those who think
that the only real value of being a just person is to be found in the good consequences one might
hope to secure -- a fine reputation, respect, a clear conscience, the affection of others, access to
heaven -- and the bad consequences that might predictably come from being unjust -- jail, guilt,
the animosity of others, the risk of hell… Much of this book (from 358e-368c) is given over to
showing just how many arguments there seem to be for thinking the value of justice rests -- and
seems to rest solely -- in the good consequences one might hope to secure from being just.
Against the background of those arguments, Socrates agrees to take on Glaucon's challenge and
sets about trying to provide an argument for thinking that justice is, in addition to being valuable
for its consequences, valuable in and of itself -- so that a just person has something of value
regardless of whether she is rewarded for her virtue.
The first step, he thinks, is to get clear on
the real nature of justice.
To do this, he proposes that we look to an ideal city, since he thinks we
will find justice there, if anywhere. Any society, Socrates thinks, has three jobs that must be
done: (i) people need to provide the things (material goods, entertainment, medical care) that
make a decent life possible, (ii) people need to ensure that the laws are enforced and the society