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CHAPTER 1 PHILOSOPHY AND YOU

Plato: The Republic

In this dialogue, Plato recounts a conversation with Thrasymachus, a teacher eager to demonstrate that Socrates is not as wise as people say he is. The question is “What is justice?” and Thrasymachus insists that justice is whatever is in the interests of the strongest—that is, might makes right. Socrates uses his questioning method to prove that Thrasymachus’s definition of justice is wrong. He says, in effect, let’s assume that Thrasymachus is right that justice is whatever is in the interest of the powerful and that people are just if they obey the laws made by the powerful. It is clear, however, that the powerful sometimes make mistakes and demand obedience to laws that are not in their best interest. So, if Thrasymachus’s definition of justice is correct, then it is right for people to do what is in the interest of the powerful, and it is also right to do what is not in the interest of the powerful. His idea of justice, then, leads to a logical contradiction and is therefore false.