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Developing a Definition of Justice

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Developing a Definition of Justice

Developing a Definition of Justice

In Book I of Plato's The Republic a definition of justice begins to develop in Socrates'

conversations with Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus. Through these conversations we,

as readers, come closer to a definition of justice.Three definitions of justice are presented: argued

by Cephalus and Polemarchus, justice is speaking the truth and paying ones debts; Thrasymachus

insists that justice is the advantage of the stronger; Socrates suggests that justice is a craft like

such as aiding the sick or being a captain of a chip. Through speculation Socrates disproves the

later definitions. Also, through said speculation certain defining characteristics evolve. Socrates

disproves his company's arguments of what justice is through the use of analogies and

syllogisms. The syllogisms lead us closer to the definition of justice as two definitions are

eliminated by Socrates and only his proposed definition survives the scrutiny of the mens


Socrates finds many flaws in Cephalus' and Polemarchus' definition of Justice as

speaking the truth and paying ones debts. The conversation about justice arises when Socrates

questions Cephalus about the greatest good his wealth had brought to him. Cephalus replies that

wealth aids one to live a just life by saving one from having to cheat and deceive in order to have

life's necessities. Wealth helps to insure that no sacrifices or money is left owed at the end of

ones life, therefore, one can die a just person without fear of Hates. Socrates discredits Cephalus'

account of justice by suggesting a situation where speaking the truth and paying ones debts

would not be just: " . . . if a sane man lends a weapon to his friend and then asks for it back when

he is out of his mind, the friend shouldn't return them, and wouldn't be acting justly if he did.

Nor should someone be willing to tell the whole truth to someone who is out of his mind" (5).

Here Socrates shows that Cephalus' account of justice cannot be accurate if there are clearly

exceptions to it. Here is the point of the conversation where Polemarchus, Cephalus' son,

replaces him in the discussion. Polemarchus quotes Simonides stating, " it is just to give what is

owed" (6). However, he adds to the definition that one owes a friend only good and never harm,

where as enemies only owe bad to each other. Socrates uses a series of analogies and syllogisms

to disprove this account. First he analogizes justice as a craft such as that of medicine giving and

cooking. Then he points out that one who is best able to guard against disease is also best able to

produce it. A person who is best at making food taste good also knows best what makes food

taste bad. Likewise, then , if a just person is most lever at being a guardian, as Palemarchus

suggests, the person must also be most clever at stealing it. Since stealing is not associated with

justice, Polemarchus' account cannot be correct. This argument which Socrates constructs

against Polemarchus' definition of justice is a syllogism. Socrates' continued use of these

syllogisms demonstrates his logical and mathematical way of thinking. Polemarchus seems to

accept this way of thinking because each time his thought is proven to be illogical he tries to

adjust his thought to a more accurate definition. Once Socrates proves again that his thinking is

illogical he accepts defeat.

Socrates also

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