Book two of Plato’s Republic begins with Glaucon's argument for favouring an unjust life over a just life. Glaucon compares a perfectly just life to a perfectly unjust life to show that the perfectly unjust life is the happier life. I will define Glaucon’s views on the nature of justice and human motivation, and then summarize his metaphorical story of Gyges’ ring, to show how he combines these premises to come to the conclusion that the unjust life is happier.
I will assert that in order to complete the argument that an unjust life is happier, Glaucon must make the implicit assumption that if and only if we desire something, will that thing be valuable. With respect to my implicit assumption, I will argue that the most questionable step in Glaucon's argument is imposing that a perfectly unjust life is more valuable than a perfectly just life, because it is full of desires. Finally, I will consider a possible objection from Glaucon, and then provide a response to solidify the argument that one can value something without necessarily desiring it.
Glaucon begins his argument, for favouring an unjust life over a just life, by describing the nature of justice. He believes that being unjust is intuitively more favourable than being just (358e – 359). However, one that has both suffered from injustice and benefited from treating others unjustly concludes that suffering from injustice is far worse than the goodness gained from treating others unjustly (359a). Thus, it is better to act justly to prevent being treated unjustly, than to act unjustly and leave one’s self open to being treated unjustly. Glaucon proposes that those who cannot act unjustly establish agreements with each other (359b). Both parties agree to refrain from acting unjustly to one another so that they do not have to suffer from injustice themselves. (359b). Thus, from this agreement, laws and regulations arise and to abide by these laws and not harm others is to be just (359a-b). Therefore, Glaucon concludes that those who cannot do injustice to others create justice as an agreement to avoid being treated unjustly (359b).
Nevertheless, Glaucon says that treating and being treated justly is the intermediate between the best option and the worst option. Where acting unjustly and being treated justly is the best option, or perfect injustice, and acting justly and being treated unjustly is the worst option, or perfect justice (359c). Perfect injustice is the best option, as it allows one to achieve goodness by taking advantage of others, without suffering from being taken advantage of, thus fulfilling one’s desires to the fullest (358d, 359d). Therefore, motivation to act unjustly is to fulfil one’s desires, such as the desire for power, money, sex, respect, and so on (360c). Thus, to achieve one’s desires to the fullest, one must be perfectly unjust.
Glaucon uses the allegorical tale of Gyges’ ring to show a case where acting perfectly unjust benefits one more than the...