Justice Versus Injustice
13 minutes • 2630 words
Table of contents
The Three Kinds of Positives
I thought I was ending the discussion. But in reality, it proved to be only a beginning. Glaucon is always the most pugnacious. He was dissatisfied at Thrasymachus’ retirement and wanted to battle it out.
Socrates, you have not persuaded us that to be just is always better than to be unjust. There are three kinds of positives:
- Those which are desired for their own sakes, and independently of their consequences.
Examples are: harmless pleasures and enjoyments. These delight us, even if nothing follows from them.
- Those which are desirable in themselves and for their results.
Examples are knowledge, sight, health.
- Those that do us good even if we regard them as disagreeable.
Examples are: gymnastics, the care of the sick, the physician’s art, and the various ways of money-making. No one chooses them for their own sakes, but only for some reward or result that flows from them. Where is justice in these three classes?
In the highest class—among those Positives which a person desires for their own sake, and for the sake of their results.
But others think that justice is in the troublesome third class, among goods pursued for the sake of rewards and reputation, but in themselves are disagreeable.
Yes, I know. This was Thrasymachus’ thesis when he censured justice and praised injustice. But I am too stupid to be convinced by him.
Thrasymachus seems to me, like a snake who had been charmed by your voice. But I want to know:
- what is justice
- how it inwardly works in the soul
- revive Thrasymachus’ argument and speak of the common view of the nature of justice
- show that all men who practise justice do so against their will as a natural consequence, and not as a good
- argue that this makes it reasonable to kill the unjust as being better than killing the just, though I do not think so
I want you to praise justice and censure injustice.
The Tale of Gyges Proves that Justice is Natural
I shall start with the nature and origin of justice. They say that by nature:
- doing injustice is good
- suffering from injustice is evil
- evil is greater than the good.
Laws and mutual covenants arise after men get tired of the injustice that they do to each other. They call whatever is ordained by law as lawful and just. They refer to the law as the origin and nature of justice.
- The best is to do injustice but not be punished.
- The worst is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation.
Justice is a compromise or middle point between the best and the worst. It is:
- not a virtue, but a lesser evil
- honoured by the inability of men to do injustice because no one will ever submit to such an unjust agreement.
Those who practise justice do so involuntarily because they do not have the power to be unjust.
If the just and unjust had the power to do what they want, then:
- the just will do just actions
- the unjust will do unjust actions
The just will see his own action as good, just as the unjust sees his own action as good. They are only diverted into just actions by the force of law.
This freedom may be given to them as a power that was possessed by Gyges, the ancestor of Croesus the Lydian.
Gyges was a shepherd under the king of Lydia. An earthquake opened up the earth where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he went inside the opening and saw a hollow brazen horse with doors. He saw inside a dead body with only a golden ring. He took this ring and went back up.
Shepherds meet regularly to send their monthly report on the flocks to the king. He went to this meeting wearing the ring. He happened to turn the ring and instantly he became invisible.
They began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. Astonished, he turned the ring outwards and reappeared. He tried this several times becoming invisible and visible again.
He then applied to be a court messenger. As soon as he arrived, he seduced the queen. With her help, he slew the king and took the kingdom.
Suppose that there were two such magic rings, one for the just man and another for the unjust.
No one would have such an iron nature as to do no wrong. No one would:
- keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take it,
- not go into houses and sleep with anyone that he likes, or
- kill or release from prison anyone he wanted.
He would be like a God among men. Therefore, the the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust.
This is a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually.
A man is just as a natural consequence, because whenever anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, then he is unjust.
Everyone believes that injustice is far more profitable than justice. If anyone gets this power of becoming invisible but does not do anything wrong, then he would be thought by the onlookers as a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
Glaucon’s Thought Experiment on the Unjust Pretending to be Just
To judge the life of the just and unjust, we must isolate them.
Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just.
First, let the unjust be like other masters of craft, like the skillful pilot or physician. They know intuitively their own powers and keep within their limits. If they fail, they can recover themselves.
Let the unjust make his unjust attempts. Let him stay hidden if he does great injustice. The greatest success of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not.
Therefore, the perfectly unjust man does the most perfect injustice while being reputable for justice. If any of his bad deeds come to light, let him force his way through his courage, strength, bribery, and connections.
Let the just man be the best of men all his life. Let the unjust man be thought the worst.
When both have reached their uttermost extremes who is happier?
Heavens, Glaucon! How energetically you set them up for that decision.
I do my best. The eulogists of injustice will say the just man who is thought to be unjust will be scourged, racked, bound, have his eyes burnt out, and then impaled.
Then he will understand that he should pretend to be just but not be really just*. Aeschylus’ words apply more to the unjust than to the just. The unjust man really wants to be unjust.
In the beginning, he is just and is thought just and so he rules the city.
He can also trade and deal where he likes to his own advantage.. At every contest, he gets the better of his antagonists and gains at their expense and becomes rich. Out of his gains, he can:
- benefit his friends and harm his enemies
- offer sacrifices
- honour the gods in a far better style than the truly just.
Thus, Socrates, gods and men unite in making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just.
*Superphysics Note: This is refuted by Socrates in Book 10, Chapter 2.
The Unjust Give Importance to External Appearances
Glaucon’s brother, Adeimantus, interposed.
Glaucon’s argument also implies that praise and censure is equally needed to bring out the meaning of justice and injustice.
Parents and tutors always tell their sons and students that they should be just not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of character and reputation. They hope to obtain some of those offices, marriages, etc. for those who are reputed to be just.
However, the unjust make more pretensions than the just. They:
- throw in the good opinion of the gods,
- ell you of the benefits which the heavens rain on the pious
This matches with the testimony of Hesiod and Homer. Hesiod says that many blessings are provided for the just. Homer has a very similar strain.
To them, the immortality of drunkenness is the highest reward of virtue. Some extend their rewards yet further and say that the posterity of the faithful and just shall survive to the third and fourth generation.
But for the wicked, there is another strain. While the wicked are living, they are brought to infamy. After death, they bury the wicked in a slough in Hades and make them carry water in a sieve. They have the wicked scourged, racked, bound.
Again Socrates, please speak about justice and injustice not like the poets, but like prose writers.
The universal voice of mankind always says that:
- justice and virtue are honourable, but are grievous and toilsome,
- the pleasures of vice and injustice are easy to attain, and are only censured by law and opinion.
- honesty is mostly less profitable than dishonesty, and
- wicked men are happy.
They honour wicked men when they are rich or influential. They despise and overlook those who may be weak and poor, even if they are better than the others. But most extraordinary is they say that the gods give calamity and misery to many good men, and good and happiness to the wicked.
Mendicant prophets go to rich men’s doors and persuade them that they have a power from the gods of making an atonement for the sins of a man by sacrifices or charms, with rejoicings and feasts.
They promise to harm an enemy at a small cost with magic arts and incantations binding heaven to execute their will. They cite the poets such as Hesiod as the authorities to smooth the path of vice:
It is a tedious and uphill road. Then they cite Homer as a witness that the gods may be influenced by men.
Hesiod also says:
They produce books written by Musaeus and Orpheus. They perform their ritual according to those books. They persuade individuals and whole cities:
- that expiations and atonements for sin may be made by sacrifices, and
- that they are equally at the service of the living and the dead
They call atonements as “mysteries” which redeem us from the pains of hell.
The minds of the young are affected when the young hear:
- all this said about virtue and vice, and
- the way how gods and men regard them.
Some young are quick-witted and are like bees on the wing which go to every flower. From what they hear, they draw conclusions as to:
- what kind of persons they should be, and
- how they should walk if they would make the best of life.
Probably the youth will say to himself in the words of Pindar:
People say that:
- if I am really just then there is no profit and the pain and loss are unmistakeable,
- but if I am unjust but acquire the reputation of being just, a heavenly life is promised to me.
This is because, as philosophers prove, appearance:
- tyrannizes over truth, and
- is lord of happiness
Therefore, I must devote myself to appearance. I will decorate the exterior of my house with virtue.
Archilochus, the greatest of sages, recommends us to be subtle and crafty foxes.
But I hear the concealment of wickedness is often difficult.
I answer that nothing great is easy. Nevertheless, the argument is that this is the path if we want to be happy.
We will establish secret brotherhoods and political clubs, with a view to concealment. There are professors of rhetoric who teach the art of persuading courts and assemblies partly by persuasion and partly by force.
With these, I shall make unlawful gains and not be punished. But the gods cannot be deceived, neither can they be compelled.
But what if there are no gods? What if they didn’t care about human things? Why then should we mind about concealment? We only know about the gods from the poets. These poets say that the gods may be influenced and turned by ‘sacrifices, soothing entreaties, and offerings.’ We must therefore have both concealment and offerings, or neither. If the poets speak truthfully, why is it better for us to be unjust and make offerings of the fruits of injustice?
If we are just, we may escape the vengeance of heaven but lose the gains of injustice. But, if we are unjust, we shall keep the gains. By our sinning and praying, and praying and sinning, the gods will not punish us. ‘But there is a world below where we or our posterity will suffer for our unjust deeds.’ The mighty cities declare that there are mysteries and atoning deities which have great power. The children of the gods, who were their poets and prophets, bear a like testimony. On what principle, then, shall we choose justice rather than the worst injustice?
If we only unite the injustice with deceitful appearances, then we accept what the authorities tell us. How can a man who has any superiority of mind, rank, or wealth, be willing to honour justice? Many people are very ready to forgive the unjust because they know that men are not just of their own free will. They blame it on cowardice, age, or some weakness.
But once they attain the power of being unjust, they immediately become as unjust as possible. Glaucon and I were astonished that no one has ever blamed injustice or praised justice except with a view to the glories, honours, and benefits which flow from them. No one has ever adequately described in verse or prose the true essential nature of justice or injustice in the soul.
No one has ever shown that in the soul of every man, justice is the greatest good and injustice the greatest evil. We would not need to watch for injustice if: This had been the universal strain, and Everyone has been taught this from youth. Every person would have been his own watchman because every person would be afraid of harbouring in himself the greatest of evils.
Thrasymachus would seriously reject this. They would use stronger words on justice and injustice to pervert their true nature.
You said that justice is one of that highest class of positives which are desired for their results, but in a far greater degree for their own sakes.
You see justice like sight, hearing, knowledge or health, or as any other real and natural, and not merely conventional virtue.
What is the essential good and evil which justice and injustice work in the just and unjust man? You have spent your whole life in this question so I expect something better. Please prove to us that justice is better than injustice.