Plato and Justice
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In The Republic, Plato's greatest dialogue, a search for the definition of justice occupies a prominent place in the discussion that gives the world the Theory of Forms, the Allegory of the Cave, and the idea of Philosopher Kings (giving hints to the biases of Plato). As in other Platonic dialogues, Socrates poses a question that he does not seem to know the answer for, but hopes to discover through conversation with the learned men around him. The Republic manages what many other Platonic dialogues fail to do: answer the question. Too often Socrates discourses at length in search of an answer only to say: "I don't know." While this often causes great distress for the modern student, answering questions is not always the goal of philosophy. It is the journey, the voyage of self-discovery that reveals more about the question at hand. Therefore, The Republic calls on a writer of a research paper to ask: What is the true nature of the soul? What about death? What is justice?
The Republic by Plato research paper seeks to answer the question of justice as a springboard to a larger concept: Plato's ideas about politics, life and the soul.
- Justice is an individual trait that gives us internal balance and allows us to lead a good life.
- The prime mover to following the path to "a good life" is the soul.
- The soul is what produces motion, both of itself and of other objects.
Since this happens only in living things, it must be their basic principle, so that the soul comes before the body and the feelings of the soul before the material qualities of the body. Ethical qualities -those that determine conduct-therefore spring from the soul. This holds not only for positive ethical qualities but also for their opposites; evil, as much as good, has its origins in the soul.
Plato was striving to create what might be called, to borrow a phrase, a "republic of virtue" in both the Republic and the Laws, i.e. a political system that would provide to its citizens not merely a functioning state that could flourish economically and defend itself, but one in which the citizens could be educated to achieve their highest potential as men, particularly as men who could function as moral agents. Book ten, then, is part of a complex of ideas in which "virtue" and "living well" and "soul" and "god(s)" are all intertwined. Speaking of the theology of book ten, "The motive for proving that the cosmos is controlled by a good and rational god is that the contrary belief encourages wickedness." The state exists in a universe that is moral and saturated with soul-force and the two are not separated in Plato's scheme. Book ten is contained in a practical explication of the institutions of a republic of virtue, but its ideas are about the containing and determining context of that republic.
The tenth book is something of an anomaly in Laws, for the dialogue is a political treatise and it is a political treatise of a particular kind. Three men-a Spartan, a Cretan, and an Athenian--engage in a discussion concerning how to set up a new state and what the institutions of that state should be. The Athenian is very much the driving force in this discussion. The focus of the dialogue, unlike Plato's most famous exposition on the nature of the ideal state, Republic, is practical and specific rather than theoretical and general. Research notes that Laws' relationship to Republic is that of "second best" state to the Ideal State of Republic, that, with the exception of book 10, it is not intended for philosophers, and that it is designed as a kind of "Blue Book, in which detailed rules and regulations are laid down for the conduct of elections, legal proceedings, religious ceremonies, markets, schools, and irrigation". Book 10, with its theological focus, is, Shorey states, "obviously, a digression" and asserts that it may have had an artistic purpose, that being to serve to relieve the dryness of the material in the book that proceeds it and the two that succeed it. It may, however, have another function, that being to anchor the foundations and institutions of the "second best constitution" in larger cosmic realities, realities metaphysical and moral.