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William Hanna
PSC 2101 Western Political Thought I
Professor Winstead
October 29, 2015
Platos Republic: What is Justice?
Platos Republic is, without a doubt, one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. Within
the Republic, Socrates tries to answer the important question of justice; what is justice?
Throughout the Republic, Socrates puts a strong emphasis on the concept of justice. We used the
words Dike (referring to the Greek goddess of justice and morality) and Dikaisyne (the spirit
of justice and rightness) to convey that justice derives from the idea that one should uphold high
morals or righteousness. Justice, according to Socrates, includes how individuals private actions
can and do affect others. This paper will analyze Socrates definition of justice , in terms of the
city or the soul, and how in order for one to be truly happy, one must be just.
Socrates was very displeased with what was going on in the City of Athens. Athenian
democracy, as it was known, was on a path to ruin. Needless to say, Socrates saw that justice was
the only way that Athens could be saved from itself. For nothing plagued Socrates more than
selfishness that ran rampant in the city.
Before we discuss Socrates theory of justice, we need to discuss the theories that existed prior,
in order to form a contrast. Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon theories of
justice were the most prevalent prior to Plato.
Cephalus created the traditional theory of justice. According to Cephalus, justice consists in
speaking the truth and paying ones debt. (Bloom 328b) This definition determines that in order
for something to be just, one must behave in an honest way. Polemarchus also believed that

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justice meant that one needed to live his/her life in a honest fashion, but he also believed that
justice also consisted of doing good to your friends, and causing harm to your enemies. (Bloom
331) Thrasymachus definition of justice is "justice is nothing other than the advantage of the
stronger" (Bloom 338), meaning that every man is for himself and justice is found when those
men are strongest. Lastly, Glaucon. They said that doing injustice is naturally good, and
suffering injustice is bad, but that the bad in suffering injustice far exceeds the good in doing it;
so that, when they do injustice to one another and suffer it, it seems profitable. (Bloom 357)
Glaucon argues that being unjust, in itself, is justice, but suffering from injustice is bad. Justice is
an agreement between parties, for both seem to profit from it.
In response to the preceding, Socrates lays out two analogies to explain his definition of justice.
There are two divisions, those that are a part of the soul, and those that are a part of the state. The
soul is divided into three parts; the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive. The first part, the
rational, is the part that makes decisions on the basis of the best interest of the soul. The second
part, the spiritual, is the part that is courageous and wants to be honorable. Lastly, the third part,
the appetitive, is the part of the soul that seeks to be satisfied. This part of the soul can be hungry
for things that are deemed immoral and is not rational, only controlled by its desires. Socrates
argues that the soul is an entity with each part regulating another. In order for the soul to be just,
the rational part of the soul is imperative in the function of the soul. The rational part must rule.
The spirited part of the soul is the enforcer. Lastly, the appetitive part of the soul must obey the
other two parts of the soul.
Now, the city reflects the parts of the soul, as it also is divided into three parts; the workers, the
soldiers, and the rulers. The workers are those whose purpose was to work a specific job or type
of labor. The workers were tasked to provide the necessities that a society requires; food and

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clothing are two examples. Workers need to obey those who rule above them. Secondly, you
have the soldiers. The soldiers are those who are best equipped to fight and defend the society
from enemies or foes, both foreign and domestic. They have to be well educated, as well as
courageous and loyal to the society. Lastly, you have the rulers. The rulers are those who are
wise. They cannot seek fame and glory, but rather they should be called to rule. The rulers are
those who look at the big picture, and have the interest of the entire society, not just a select few.
They understand the needs of the society, the rules that have been established, and are willing to
do everything that is necessary to preserve the existence of the society. According to Socrates,
the division of these factions within the society is done honestly, according to what the people
can contribute. The idea here is that people are naturally created out of three pristine materials;
gold, silver, and bronze. Those who are considered to have been crafted from the gold part, the
rulers, are those who are calculating and understand human reason and logic. The silver, soldiers,
embodies what we think of as will power. They are courageous. Lastly, the bronze, the workers,
are those who crave desire. They are the ones who are best fitted to work. (Bloom)
According to Socrates, both the parts of the soul and the parts of the city share similar traits.
Justice is the same in the soul and in the city. For example, both those part of the working class
and the appetitive part of the soul want for their desires to be quenched. Both the soldiers and the
spirited part of the soul are courageous and work for the entire society/soul. Lastly, those in the
ruling class and the rational part of the soul are wise and are there to control the
workers/appetitive, with assistance from the soldiers/spirited.
When discussing the analogy between the soul and the city, one is just when each part of his or
her soul carries out its purpose without interfering with others. For example, the rational part
should rule because it is wise and takes in the interests of the entire soul. The spirited part of the

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soul will follow suit and obey. They are both in charge of the appetite part of the soul, which is
the largest part of a man or womans soul. That being said, they need to control the appetites
desires before they grow on the bodily pleasures. The appetite part of the soul cannot take
control of the other parts of the soul where it holds no jurisdiction. When all three parts of the
soul agree that the rational part of the soul should be the sole ruler, there is justice within an
individual.
According to Socrates, true justice consists of a balance of harmony. The city, he believes, can
be perfectly just if and only if each individual within the city works, not for themselves, but for
the city as a whole. Every person in the city does his/her part and fulfills his/her purpose.
Socrates believes that the just woman or the just man is the happiest man or woman because
when you achieve this balance of harmony within your soul, you have achieved a just soul, and
therefore are the happiest you can possibly be. Socrates was committed to the idea that the city
was created on the idea that only those fittest would survive and do what needed to be done to
survive. He, of course, believed that such a city would not survive. Instead, Socrates envisions
that everyone in the society has a job to do. But the perfect city, could only be created if
individuals are rational, in accordance with the ultimate reality. He also goes on to say that this
will require a divine intervention. But in heaven perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who
wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. He will mind the things
of this city alone, and of no other. (Bloom 592)
Socrates believed that each individual is born with a special purpose and skill in life and if he
follows that preordained calling then he can experience great things and hence attain a just soul.
Socrates also states that political justice follows individual justice; hence a just soul that has

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achieved balance of its various conflicting parts would in turn lead to the formation of a just
society.
In conclusion, Platos Republic gives a very unique definition of justice. Socrates was very upset
with the actions ongoing in Athens and truly believed that only justice would restore it. After
engaging with Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon, Socrates gives us his own
theory of justice. He believes that every person is born for a purpose, and that purpose correlates
with one of the three parts of the soul. Socrates believes that the just woman or the just man is
the happiest man or woman because in order for you to be just, the parts of your soul must
achieve harmony and that is what causes you to be the happiest. Lastly, Socrates believes that the
just city is realizable if, and only if, every individual works for the city, as a whole.

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Works Cited

Bloom, Allan. The Republic of Plato. New York: Basic, 1968. Print.

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