Socrates and Thrasymachus in Republic
Socrates and Thrasymachus have a dialogue in Chapter 2 of Republic which progresses from a discussion of the definition of morality, to an understanding of the expertise of ruling, and eventually to a debate on the state of human nature. The Thrasymachian view of human nature has interesting implications in regards to Thomas Nagel’s ideal of egalitarianism, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s discontentment with the economic disparity in our democratic society. Although Thrasymachus is thwarted in conversation, Glaucon finds the outcome not entirely conclusive and directs Socrates to proving that morality, in and of itself, is a worthwhile pursuit.
Thrasymachus opens the discussion with Socrates claiming, “morality is the advantage of the stronger party.” (Republic 338c) By this he means ‘moral’ actions are those in accordance with the laws of the stronger party. He explicates his position by saying, “each government passes laws with a view to its own advantage: a democracy makes democratic laws, a dictatorship makes dictatorial laws… In so doing, each government makes it clear that what is right and moral for its subjects is what is to its own advantage.” (Republic 338e) In this example Thrasymachus claims that “morality is the advantage of the current government.” (Republic 339a) In giving this claim Thrasymachus implies that:
1. Morality is not objective.
2. Morality is defined as compliance with the laws given by the governing party.
3. The governing party creates laws based on what (it thinks!) will serve its own advantage.
4. The governing party creates morality for its subjects with the purpose of serving its own advantage.
Thrasymachus defines ‘right’ as acting ‘morally’, in “obedience [with] the government”. (Republic 339c) He affirms that, “subjects must act in accordance with any law that is passed, and… this constitutes doing right”. (Republic 339c) In defining ‘right’ and ‘moral’ on such grounds, it is clear that he holds a radically different view than Socrates.
Socrates’ rebuttal cites that Thrasymachus’ claim is inconsistent. Socrates claims that morality is not necessarily the advantage of the stronger party as Thrasymachus claimed because rulers could make laws that serve as disadvantages. Socrates says, “you have agreed that it is right to do things which are not to the advantage of the government and the stronger party. When the rulers mistakenly issue orders which are bad for themselves, and since you claim that it is right for people to act in conformity with all the government’s orders, then… doesn’t it necessarily follow that it is right to do the opposite of what your position affirmed?” (Republic 339e) In giving this line of reasoning, Socrates has not taken into account that Thrasymachus’ claim is based on morality being subjective, created by those in power.
The question is then begged of Thrasymachus, whether or not he views the stronger...