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Platos Theory Of Justice




Platos Theory Of Justice


   Ones search for the meaning of justice in Platos Republic would finally lead to two


   -Justice is Harmony. (book 4, 434c)
-Justice is Doing ones own job. (book 4, 443b)

    Finding these two phrases, however, is hardly enough to get a clear sense of what justice is. Plato offers two main analogies to examine the definition of justice. The division of parts in the soul as well as the parts of the state; We would now examine the structure of the soul. The soul is divided into three parts, the appetitive, spirited and the rational. The appetitive is the part with which it lusts, hungers, thirsts and gets excited by other appetites (4, 439d). It is the part of the soul that can be hungry for immoral gratification and has no rational consciousness in its desires. That leads us to the need of defining another part in the soul, the one that can keep the appetite restrained, the part that enables
the soul to differentiate between good and bad. The rational part is the part in the soul that calculates, makes balanced decisions having the good of the whole soul as its interest. The third part is the spirited, the part of the soul that is courageous, vigorous and strong willed. The spirited naturally, if it hasnt been corrupted by a bad upbringing (4, 441a), allies with the rational part.

    By the account of the parts of the soul we are shown how a soul has different wills, yet in order for a soul to stay in the just path it must have some sort of hierarchy. Plato describes the spirited part as the courageous ally of the rational part which has the control over the appetitiveve part. Although the description of the soul might furnish an idea regarding the definitions of Justice I mentioned above, we should first examine the structure of the state.

The state is also divided into three types of people, the workers, soldiers and the rulers. It is obvious that that sort of division seems awkward when placed over our own capitalist society. We must keep in mind that in the republic that Plato is describing each individual is directed by vast education and the utmost care towards the work he could do with excellence. The children in the republic are separated from their parents at birth and therefore get the same equal chance of becoming workers or rulers without any prejudice regarding their upbringing or family background, rather, they are evaluated personally, purely according to their natural qualities.

    The workers are the people that are best fitted to practice a specific form of labor. The part of the Society whose role is to provide food, clothes and any other necessities the state requires. They are required to be moderate and obedient to their ruler.

    The soldiers are the people that are best fitted to fight, people that are spirited and that pass the tests of the state by holding firmly to the patriotic attitude needed in order to defend the state from foreign and domestic enemies. They most posses the virtue of courage and be well educated in order to stay loyal and not harm the citizens although they are naturally stronger. The rulers are people which posses the virtue of wisdom, they must not seek the glory and fame of being a ruler rather it should be perceived as the duty of those who are fitted to rule to take on the burden of ruling their state. The rulers are people that have the interest of the whole in mind, they love their state, they understand its rules and therefore will do everything within their power to preserve it.

    The division of people into pre-determined types in the state is assumed to be done truthfully, according to their natural abilities. To soldiers who cannot understand what possessing wisdom means (because they lack it) or to workers that lack both courage and wisdom, Plato uses the noble lie. That is the idea that mother nature creates people out of three materials, gold, silver and bronze when obviously the golden people are fit to rule, the silver are fit to guard and the bronze are best naturally fitted to work.

Both the accounts have a similar structure, Plato claims that justice is the same in the soul and in the state. The resemblance suggests that both the workers and the appetitive share the virtue of moderation for they have to be moderate in their desires. Both the guardians and the spirited share the virtue of courage in order to guard the whole. Finally, both the ruler and the rational share the virtue of wisdom in order to control the workers and the appetitive, with the help of the guardians/spirited, all in one goal that is the good of the whole state/soul.

    Would a soul that lets the appetitive part take over and commits criminal acts regardless of their consequences or allows the spirited to burst in irrational anger be considered a just soul? This rhetorical question supports the definition of justice as harmony. The condition in Which the rational rules, the spirited guards and the appetitive remains moderate while they all agree to this condition out of understanding that that is the best for the whole.

Could a state in which the cobbler rules, the guardian is a farmer and the natural ruler plays the role of a soldier be a good and just state? We must understand that in Platos state there will be no mistakes in the division of The classes . In order to understand the idea of a just state we must consider that each individual is practicing the very best activity he is naturally fit for. That society has the most talented cobblers, the most fearsome warriors and the wisest ruler, each practicing their part with excellence that is considered a virtue. Therefore contributing to the virtue of the whole state. In the analogy of the state Plato supports the definition of justice as doing ones own Work. It becomes obvious that in order for justice to remain in the state each person has To do his own work and not meddle with anothers.

    Now that we have found and understood Platos definition of justice, the question that inevitably has to be asked is how could this justice exist. In other words, why should the workers stay in their own work or why should the appetitive obey the rational. The answer to that comes in the form of both understanding and control. Ideally, all the parts know that maintaining the harmony is good for all and for the exception there are the guardians and the spirited to help maintain order. The main problem is yet ahead, who should be the rulers, who could be wise enough to rule and to keep the interest of the whole in mind?

    To that Plato responds with his belief that justice will not exist in its full until the philosophers became kings and the kings became philosophers.
What Plato claims is that a king could rule in a just manner, therefore maintain justice, only if he has knowledge of the true form of justice. That is, true knowledge of the forms. The forms represent the ultimate truth, the way things really are in a more knowledgeable sight then the one offered by science.

    In order to explain what the definitive truth is, Plato uses the analogy of the divided line. A vertical line, representing the condition of the soul, is divided into two unequal subsections. The low subsection is smaller and represents the visible, the high subsection represents the intelligible. Both subsections are divided again in the same ratio whereas the high subsection in each is longer. The lowest condition of a soul, be it out of ignorance, is the lowest in the visible. Consisting of images, shadows and the mere reflections of the objects they portray. This stage of the soul is regarded as nothing more then imagination. The second stage, still in the visible, consists of objects that previously were only known by their shadows and now, that the soul is in the stage of belief, it can see the objects as they really are (confined to the visible aspect). The third stage comes out of investigating, that is when the soul reaches for the reason things are and makes
hypothesis based on the objects discovered in the previous stage. This condition of the soul is in the intelligible realm, consists of mathematical entities and is referred to as a stage of thought.

The fourth, and most tricky part of Platos analogy, is the understanding of the forms. In this stage the soul reaches an understanding far beyond the stage of thought, an understanding of the true forms. The true form of justice is one of them. Only after enormous difficulty and vast education can a soul reach this level of understanding. By the time philosopher-kings soul reaches that intellectual height of understanding he is no longer interested in the common rewards of fame and fortune, rather he is occupied with the true forms and seeks to guide his people towards the truth and justice.

    Once acquiring this knowledge of the forms, and only then, can a ruler be fit to rule in a wise manner for he is able to truly put the interest of the whole as his own. Thus, ruling in a manner where justice exists and is carefully preserved.

    In his theory of justice, Plato defines justice in the two ways we have examined earlier. Supporting those definitions by the parts in the state and the soul and their interaction. The way justice should be is shown clearly both in the state and n the soul and then comes the claim regarding the philosopher-king which is the only combination of a ruler that is fit to rule both in the sense of a just state or a just soul.




Ohad Maiman