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Socrates on Justice

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Socrates' take on justice was a rather controversial viewpoint for his era, in that he opined about virtues men should possess and strive for that they might otherwise have no desire to obtain. A just man strives to promote justice for the sake of justice in itself. He, as one who is good, seeks to further justice because it fulfills his daimon, or nature. The nature of man is therefore, naturally, to do the right and proper thing. Good, as the nature of man, is what man desires, needs, and yet also lacks. This can be attributed to a lack of knowledge, because only one who is ignorant can commit evil. A man with knowledge would never willingly commit evil, because it would hurt both those around him and his own soul. Therefore, to Socrates, knowledge, as a pathway to good, it is good.

An ignorant man is also prone to vice. Because he does not know any better about his actions and the effect they may have on himself and others around him, an ignorant man will continue to do evil. Concordantly, a knowledgeable man is a courageous man who rejects vice and does the right and proper thing, even if it may be a more difficult choice. This requires quite a bit of temperance, but a knowledgeable man knows that by forgoing vice, he is in fact keeping his soul pure, which is the end goal. It is better for a man to never fall prey to vice than to commit evil and then later ask for forgiveness. Socrates illustrates this by comparing the example of a sick patient who recovers from his ills versus a healthy man who never falls prey to sickness. Obviously, the healthy man will be the happier man, having never had to recover from any disease. Evil, he says, affects the soul in the same way that illness affects the body. Asking for justice is like asking for medicine from a doctor. It is better than not asking for a cure, that is to be sure, but it is best to have never needed it in the first place.

Following with the sick patient analogy, Socrates says that just as one goes to the doctor to heal him when he is sick, one should go to a judge or law court, to heal one's self if one has committed evil. Again, this requires a great deal of courage that many men do not possess. It is argued that because they do not know the damage they are doing themselves, they lack the courage it takes to make up for their sins. Knowledge, again, illuminates the right path to justice. A good man would never attempt to make another man fall ill as it would cause harm to both parties. Similarly, a just man would never intentionally lay any harm on another man because, by definition, harming another is injustice. This is a radical thought process, as Socrates is putting forward that any form of harm from one man to another is unjust, which includes war. War, for the record, happened quite often during Socrates' time.

All of these traits are very difficult to obtain and even harder for many of Socrates' contemporaries to grasp, let alone care for. Because the life of a just man is so difficult to obtain, and because it is so easy to fall into the temptations of evil and unjustness, many would go with the latter. On a superficial level, it makes sense to preserve one's own self-wealth, even if it means doing unjust things. Yet, Socrates, like Jesus would later preach, puts forward that it is better to be a poor man that has a good and pure soul than a rich man who has fallen to vice and tarnished



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