Plato’s Republic- Arguments about Justice

Table of Content

Right vs. Wrong
In Plato’s Republic, Book 1, various interlocutors make arguments on the definition of justice. Cephalus proposes the definition of justice as “speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has incurred” (Plato, 331c). I will prove Cephalus’ argument true by analyzing the structure and his use of examples, discussing possible errors in his reasoning and finally rebutting those who disagree. Justice is knowing right versus wrong and acting on that understanding. Cephalus begins by explaining meetings he has with men of his same age where the majority “recites a litany of all the evils old age has caused them” (Plato, 329b). They reminisce on the pleasures of their youth and blame old age as the root cause for their feeling deprived. Cephalus uses this premise and the conclusion of old age as a stepping stone to his real conclusion. Cephalus uses an example of a conversation he overhears between Sophocles and another man to support his argument. Sophocles compares the “pleasures” the group of old men were lamenting over earlier as slavery and explains how age has made him free from that previous hold on him. “I am very glad to have escaped from all that, like a slave who has escaped from a deranged and savage master. You see, old age brings peace and freedom from all such things” (Plato, 329c). Cephalus then states to Socrates, “the real cause isn’t old age, but the way people live” (Plato, 329d).

He also refutes any argument that wealth or lack thereof is to blame by comparing a situation Themistocles encountered, when a man from Seriphus pointed out that his high reputation was only due to his city, which he replied “had he been a Seriphian, he would not be famous; but nor would the other, had he been an Athenian” (Plato, 329e). Cephalus argues that this comparison parallels with those who are poor and struggle with old age. “A good person would not easily bear old age if it were coupled with poverty, but one who wasn’t good would not be contented himself even if he were wealthy” (Plato, 330a). In other words, a good person might struggle with old age, because he simply would not try to steal or cheat his way into gaining wealth. While a bad person, regardless if they are wealthy or poor, would continue to gain things that could ensure him a long life. The values or standard of living that the bad person lives by are not virtuous and are greedy to the point that nothing will satisfy him. Cephalus introduces the aspect of right and wrong in this argument, as wealth does not make a difference in the life of a bad person. Cephalus makes his most compelling, final argument to explain his conclusion that it is the way people live that causes them evil. As an example, he uses the thoughts that run through a person’s mind when they know they are close to death. “He becomes frightened and concerned about things he did not fear before. It is then that the stories told about Hades—stories he used to make fun of—twist his soul this way and that for fear they are true” (Plato, 330d-e).

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This is an appeal to pity, as the example gives a clear, depressing picture of how a person close to dying may look back on life and reflect on the way they lived. Cephalus uses another example that can stir an emotional response from any person who experienced nightmares as a child. “If he finds many injustices in his life, he often even awakes from sleep in terror, as children do, and lives in anticipation of evils to come” (Plato, 330e). He personifies the result of living unjustly as a terrifying monster. Immediately following this mental image, Cephalus presents a poem from Pindar explaining the results of living a just and morale life with a much lighter tone than used to describe the nightmare. “Sweet hope is in his heart, Nurse and companion this age, Hope, captain of the ever-twisting, Mind of mortal men” (Plate, 331a). From a young age, I was always taught to do what was right and not what was wrong. Even in church, the earliest understanding I had was that doing the right thing would make me go to heaven, and doing the wrong thing would send me to hell. This never proved truer until I arrived at the Air Force Academy. The honor code “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does” focuses attention on cadets’ morals and how they act. Nowhere does the code mention age or wealth, supporting Cephalus’ argument. I would also say the Academy follows Cephalus’ appeals when our professional education lessons focus attention on the outcomes of our actions or “how we live”. As cadets, we are told to be mindful of our actions and decisions; as one day they could make the difference between life and death for our people.

However, Socrates believes there are two key errors in Cephalus’ argument; the effect of wealth and the act of repaying what one has borrowed even when that person should not be repaid. Socrates first points out how the masses do not accept his conclusion and refute it on the basis of Cephalus’ presumed wealth. “On the contrary, they think you bear old age more easily, not because of the way you live, but because you are wealthy” (Plato, 329e). Socrates also uses the means Cephalus has gone about gaining his wealth to explain why Cephalus does not consider money in his argument. “You do not seem particularly to love money. And those who have not made it themselves are usually like that” (Plato, 330c). Socrates continues by saying, “For just as poets love their poems and fathers their children, so those who have made money take their money seriously. This makes them difficult even to be with since they are unwilling to praise anything except money” (Plato, 330c). I think Socrates sees these people as the premise for his rebuttal to Cephalus’ complete disregard for how wealth or poverty affects people.

The second argument Socrates makes is in regards to how doing what Cephalus believes to be just “speaking the truth and paying whatever debts one has incurred,” also unjust in some situations (Plato, 331c). He uses an example to demonstrate, “if a man borrows weapons from a sane friend, and if he goes mad and asks for them back, the friend should not return them, and would not be just if he did” (Plato, 331c). Socrates makes a very logical argument, as giving a weapon to an unstable person could lead to dangerous actions, therefore if the action that gave the weapon to the person is believed to be just then that must be wrong.

From the arguments Socrates makes, I would rebut his reasoning. In the first argument, Socrates makes a hasty generalization of how Cephalus does not care about money due to the fact that he did not work to make it himself. Then Socrates continues down a slippery slope, as he states first how poets love their poems, then assumes all fathers love their sons and finally reaches the far-fetched conclusion that all people who make their own money love their money. This conclusion is built on errors in reasoning and therefore cannot be considered valid. In Socrates’ second argument, he assumes Cephalus’ view of justice is black and white. However, Cephalus agrees that under certain circumstances, Socrates says “sometimes” doing a just act can be unjust (Plato, 331d).

In Plato’s Republic, Cephalus argues the definition of justice is to live by what is right and not wrong to avoid evils. Cephalus uses many examples and strong visual analysis to prove his argument. Even the Academy experience I am going through now support Cephalus’ argument. Socrates’ finds errors with what Cephalus says about the effect of wealth and how just acts can actually be unjust. However, overall I rebutted Socrates’ views due to error in his reasoning. I believe Cephalus’ argument is worth defending, especially if living a just life will keep me away from nightmares. Documentation:

I received no help on this assignment.
Works Cited:
Plato. Republic. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. Ed. Michael L. Morgan. Fourth ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2011. 75-77. Print.

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