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Plato on Justic

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Matthew Swift


Prof. Slaninka

Essay 1

        Since the beginning of civil society man has contemplated the meaning of justice. After all at the core of society, justice is the common code that inevitably shapes our lives. It sets the standard within this commune for what we on an individual level and as a collective deem to be right and wrong. Among many great thinkers Plato is perhaps one of the most renowned philosophers regarding he’s view on what is just.

        Plato (428-348 BCE) was a philosopher of ancient Greece from the city-state of Athens. A former student of Socrates, Plato is considered to be the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy. Like his teacher, Plato conducted philosophy through conversation. However unlike Socrates, Plato wrote he’s philosophies down in the form of dialogue. As a rationalist Plato believed that the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. He opposed the empiricists’ view that knowing is derived from the five senses and our own experiences, but rather believed that truth is determined by the mind.

        Since this notion of truth lies at the foundation of how Plato interacts and perceives the world as well as how he conducts philosophy, it is important to understand what truth is. Plato constructed what is known as his Theory of the Forms in which he defines his theory of truth. From this he states that in order for something to be true it must meet certain criteria. As a rationalist Plato believes that the mind is what acquires truth since the senses can be misleading. Something could appear to be true but in actuality be another way; looks can be deceiving. This notion draws the parallel between what is seeming and what is being. Since appearance is subjected to change something could seem one way in form yet in reality its truth exists as another.  This is why Plato believes that truth is to be acquires through the mind and not the sense. Truth is equivalent to essence and remains constant, never changing.

        In Plato’s The Republic the concept of justice is dissected and analytics in a quest to derive its true meaning. What does it mean for something to be truly just? Plato utilizes the Socratic method of philosopher through recorded dialogue. Our first introduction into this subject matter begins with Cephalus, a wealthy and old man. Nearing death Cephalus has become concerned with life after death and questions if he has lived a just life. When questioned about this by Socrates, Cephalus states that justice is paying back all debts.  He also elaborated that really only people with money can live a just life. Cephalus stated that “The possession of money contributes a great deal to not cheating or lying to any man against one’s will, and, moreover, to not departing for that other place frightened because one owes some sacrifices to a god or money to a human being.”(Republic, pg. 7) It is understandable how Cephalus derives his definition based on his character. As a businessman he feels he has learned about a just life by working hard and conducting business fair and honestly. He also feels that being self-sufficient and not depending on or owing anything to any one else is the just way to live. Socrates however dismantles this on the pure fact that this statement varies based on the situation and does not remain constant. Socrates posses the question what if you borrow a sword from someone and they return to pick it up highly intoxicated. Would it be just then to repay your debt? Utilizing Plato’s theory of truth, Socrates finds a situation where Cephalus’ definition would not be just and therefore it is not constant. Since it does not always remain the same it therefore lacks truth.



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