This article was originally written for an Ethics class.
For the first time, I have read a part of Plato’s Republic and must admit that it is not as bad as I expected. The theme of the second book is centered around a state, even though it starts with the question of whether justice is indeed the right choice for an individual and whether it is possible or rational to be just and not only to seem just. After making an argument using the benefit of justice to a state, the reader should be convinced that what is good for the state is also useful for an individual. In the end, Plato talks about the teaching of soldiers and the benefits of censorship of literature to protect gods reputation as the ultimate good.
I agreed more with the arguments for the initial question posed by Glaucon that justice is beneficial for others rather than oneself. It might be because I was unconvinced by Plato’s argument later on, which I will get to, but society seems to be this way to me. In a world where most people are just, the odd injustice does not threaten the societal structure and is thus beneficial for the unjust person. Besides that, I found the gradual building of the state quite interesting, though I still have some issues with it. It is challenging to build a state from the ground up, and he did a great job, especially considering the time of writing. I enjoyed the argument challenging the sacrifices to gods as the way to make worldly sins right. The unjust would be better off if such things were working. The last strong argument I will mention is the reason for war. In his description of a State, he presents the war at last, after gaining luxury. That illustrates well the most common reason for conflict, in my opinion. Greed. Wanting more (thus greed) is presented as the cause of war, making me realize human greed’s eternality.
Even though Plato makes multiple sound arguments, his argumentation sometimes lacks a further explanation or prior specification. One example for all is the following part: “And that which hurts not does no evil? Yes.” I can’t entirely agree. There are lies small enough that do not hurt while still being evil. Likewise, there are economic crimes, minor stealing, or corruption. These do not necessarily hurt anyone but are evil. Similarly, when building the state from a group of 5 men to a large scale with merchants and sailors, Plato completely omitted some variant of police. I doubt that it was ever possible to have a state without law enforcement, so I had trouble understanding why there are no guardians of interior order. The only reason I came up with was that the existence of guardians means there is something to be guarded against, such as injustice. Thus somehow imploding on the presupposition that if it is possible and beneficial for a state to be just, it translates to the fact that it also is useful for an individual to be just. Because a state will prosper if its citizens are just; however, this justice needs enforcing. It needs enforcing because, in fact, it is more beneficial on an individual level to be unjust. There was also one specific part where a dog was thought of as a true philosopher, as it has a genuine love for wisdom. I found that ridiculous and attributed that to a limited amount of knowledge about animals.
All in all, I am very thankful to have come to read this book. It superseded my expectations of such an old classic. The arguments are interesting, their presentation is not dry, and the dialog format, although sometimes overloaded with “Yes.” and “Certainly.”, makes the reading pleasant. Unlike the previous reading of Max Weber, which was very dry and hard to grasp, Plato presents his ideas clearly, often with extra descriptions. Reading thoughts conceived about more than two thousand years ago is incredible. Even though some of the arguments seem pretty weak, it is a reasonable attempt overall. And because the book focuses on general things rather than specific examples of the then-present era, the takeaway potential is much more tremendous for a current reader.