Plato’s Republic: Justice and Injustice in Thrasymachus' Account
ABSTRACT: This paper has a two-fold task. First, I show that there are three types of individuals associated with the Thrasymachean view of society: (a) the many, i.e., the ruled or those exploited individuals who are just and obey the laws of the society; (b) the tyrant or ruler who sets down laws in the society in order to exploit the many for personal advantage; (c) the "stronger" individual (kreittoon) or member of the society who is detached from the many and aspires to become the tyrant. Second, I argue that if Thrasymachus’s account of the perfectly unjust life of the tyrant is to be more than a theoretical ideal, then the stronger individual who aspires to the tyrant’s position would do well to lead a double life—namely, pursuing private injustice while maintaining the public ‘appearance’ of justice. My interpretation accords with that of Glaucon, noted at the beginning of Republic II. I want to extend Glaucon’s interpretation to include the stronger individual as well. I argue that the standpoint of the stronger individual, as distinct from the standpoints of the tyrant and the many, shows Thrasymachus’s three statements regarding justice to be consistent with one another.
In the beginning of Republic II, during a conversation with Socrates and Adeimantus about which individual is deemed happier, the one who is just or the one who is unjust, Glaucon states:
For the extreme of injustice is to seem to be just when one is not. So the perfectly unjust man must be given the most perfect injustice, and nothing must be taken away; he must be allowed to do the greatest injustices while having provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice. And if, he should trip up in anything, he has the power to set himself aright; if any of his unjust deeds should come to light, he is capable both of speaking persuasively and of using force, to the extent that force is needed, since he is courageous and strong and since he has provided for friends and money. (361a-b)(1)
I believe that Glaucon has captured the essence of the Thrasymachean position concerning the best way for the unjust individual to live. The one who pursues the life of injustice must at the same time be courageous and crafty, strong and shrewd, power-driven and persuasive. But most importantly, the unjust individual must be dastardly and deceptive. This deception is captured by Glaucon when he states that the perfectly unjust man must "seem" to be just. Appearances and reputations played a central role in the fifth century b.c.e. Greek polis and so it makes sense that Glaucon would cast light upon the idea of an individual’s pursuit of the unjust life while providing for the "greatest reputation for justice."(2) Such an individual leads a kind of double life and therefore has a double duty to perform in seeming to be just while actually being unjust.
These comments regarding Glaucon’s view of...