What is Justice? This is a question that has seemingly haunted human civilization from the dawn of human development to modern day human practice. There are many aspects of justice that can be seen in Old Testament Biblical accounts, the pre-Islamic Arabian notion of justice through retribution, and the early Greek interpretations of justice through the Polis. These are all important historical notions of justice within a certain culture. The most important historical connotation of Justice can be found within Plato’s The Republic where deliberation on what would constitute the ideal form of justice took center stage.
It is important to understand that these notions of justice were subjective to the Greek culture at the time, but The Republic holds great significance in the political world because it was the first major work from the Western World that combined notions of politics and philosophy. Plato put a great deal of emphasis on the ideal form of justice and its place not only within the community, but within the individual as well. There are questions of the profitability of justice and injustice which Plato seems to emphasize to a great extent when taking his stance on what constitutes the ideal form of justice.
Justice is an ideal that is at the heart of American society today. As a country, we draw many of our interpretations on justice from the ancient Greek societies. Attaining the ideal form of justice within ancient Greek society however was not as simple. The whole notion of justice within The Republic stems from the unjust of conviction of Socrates and what it would mean to have an ideal form of justice. The assessment of justice was not a simple quest for Socrates, receiving arguments from Thrasymachus, Gloucon, Cephalus, Adeimantus, and Polymarchus.
These instances were all assessments of justice, the most extensive being offered by Thrasymachus, who believes that the Stronger dictate justice within the realm of their own interest. Thrasymachus explains “Each type of government enacts laws that are in its own interest, a democracy democratic laws, tyranny a tyrannical one and so on, and in enacting laws they make it quite plain that what is “right” for their subjects is what is in the interest of themselves, the rulers, and if anyone deviates from this he punished as a law breaker and wrongdoer”(Plato 18, 338e).
Socrates gives an argument to this assessment because rulers, no matter how great their strength, make mistakes that could harm them directly. So the weaker party should not accept this theory as right if it brings harm. So in short, justice does not necessarily lie within the strongest sector of society. Thrasymachus alters his argument by stating rulers are only rulers when they make just decisions and that injustice is always more profitable.
Socrates initiates the argument of skills and knowledge and how these things should be used within society to help one another and that justice is always more profitable because in reality, a just man in happy and an unjust man is miserable. Rulers are in places to help the weaker and less fortunate. So the place of ruling justice within society must be in place to better all of the individuals within the Polis. Eventually, the ideal of justice in the Polis, which consists of Philosopher Kings, Guardians, and Workers, would be all three classes functioning in a coherent and unified way.
Justice within the community has had a variety of functions and debates within Plato’s work. Each individual had their own interpretation of communal justice but the ideal seemed to be the specialization mentality in which individuals would use their own skill set to help or better the Polis as a whole. The realm of internal justice however is a debate that was much more complex and abstract. Because communal life was center within Greek society, justice within the individual was often times defined as justice in the state.
Justice within the individual was seen as highly important because of the internal values and morals that defined an individual character. There is explanation given that “ Because I think that the quality left over, not that we have discussed discipline, courage and wisdom, must be what is possible for them to come into being in our state and preserves them by its continued presence when they have done so”(Plato 137, 433c). The four virtues that constitute a just individual encompass courage, self-discipline, wisdom, and justice. The first three operating together in the right way eventually will lead to just behavior.
Minding ones business is also another important factor in the realms of individual justice. In the text, Socrates argues “So we reach again by another route the conclusion that justice is keeping what is properly one’s own and doing one’s own job”(Plato 138, 433d). So in theory, the ideal of internal justice would by one who has wisdom, self-discipline, and courage in which all three acting together in a harmonious state to promote a just soul and a just individual. Injustice on the other hand is not profitable and is extremely damaging to the Polis.
An Unjust individual meddles in the affairs of others while not minding their own business. There is disharmony between courage, self-discipline, and wisdom which creates internal strife or a civil war within the individual soul. The injustice experienced stems from irrational internal opinion or belief instead of using the rational internal process of knowledge and reason. The issue of profitability is something that controls many aspects of society. Whether it is in personal or public ambition, profitability always plays a significant factor in the realm of politics and justice.
Within Plato’s The Republic, Plato often returns to the issue of profitability within the realm of justice. Profitability can be hard to correlate with justice because the issue in most cases is purely subjective. The reason why the issue keeps manifesting within the overall discussion is because justice has to be seen as good along with offering benefits or “profits” to the majority of the community. Plato does not consider democracy to be a profitable venture in terms of the Polis as a whole primarily because his ideals of justice would be routed out by mob mentality which is irrational and impulsive.
The example of the “Ship of State” analogy given by Socrates gives great insight into the matter regarding rulers, mob mentality, and the profitability of certain actions. In the story, the Captain has all of the knowledge and expertise to understand the high sea but the ship workers do not understand his knowledge and see his position as useless. The ship mates mutiny the Captain which is not a profitable venture because the Captain knows how to navigate and maintain order.
There is a parallel to Polis life in that many politicians and people do not make use of the knowledge put forth by the philosophers. This mentality was supported by the claim “These are the causes and conditions which make it difficult for the best of all pursuits to get a good reputation from men who’s practice runs contrary to it”(Plato 211, 489d). The reasons for understanding the quality and value of justice and injustice primarily lies within the ambition to create the ideal and just Polis. Plato keeps returning to these notions because there is no real clear definition of what justice is.
There are numerous examples given that constitute justice but none of these aspects are universal or all encompassing. In order to identify something as just, it must perform its proper function in order to profit society as compared to injustice which creates disharmony and harm to the Polis. Many aspects of justice that were debated in The Republic held great significance in the realm of philosophical thought. Plato’s stance (which did not include democracy) on justice seems to be much more structured in terms of the profitability and function of society.
This process was accomplished by initiating the argument for “The Community of Passions”. This appeared to be Plato’s ideal Polis structure, the Callipolis, a Utopia off sorts, which would bring about the greatest form of actual justice. The whole purpose of this social structure was to instill the values of “ours” not “mine” because the term “mine” was seen as the primary source of corruption. It would promote massive breeding festivals so no child would be able to trace their heritage because their heritage would simply be the entire polis.
The Philosopher King, Guardians, and the workers were also very important to Plato’s stance on justice. The group, including Plato and Socrates, even debated the Nobel Lie theory in order to sell their ideology to the people so they would accept the Guardian system. In the text, a question is asserted; “Now I wonder if would could contrive one of those convenient stories that we were talking about a few minutes ago, I asked, some magnificent myth that would in itself carry conviction to our whole community, including, if possible, the Guardians themselves”(Plato 116, 441c).
Plato’s stance on justice, in this sense, was developing a lie to justify their interpretation of justice along with promoting the educational screening process for the development of the three branches. Censorship played a big role in the development of the “Nobel Lie” because many popular stories did not promote values of courage, self-discipline, wisdom, and justice. These aspects, in the eyes of Plato and Socrates, would corrupt the minds of the youth by showing dissent among rulers and petty behavior by the gods.
All of these things were incorporated into Plato’s stance on what constituted justice in the polis. Justice and its ideal form is a topic that has been debated throughout the history of philosophical practice. Within ancient Greek society, the debate regarding justice can be traced to the work of Plato entitled The Republic. These debates provide the first western philosophical inquiry into the ideals of justice within the individual and within the state. Justice always has a specific place within the human soul which translates into social life.
Plato put a great deal of emphasis on the notions of justice and throughout the text justice was the primary issue of focus. Plato’s stance on justice was extremely complex, incorporating many aspects which included education, government, internal and external strife, social order, and social interdependence. These aspects have provided a foundation and model for future interpretation and experimentation for social institutions and national organization throughout the world. Aristotle’s the Politics.
Like the contemporaries that came before him such as Plato and Socrates, Aristotle was concerned to a great extent with the concept of justice. Justice was an aspect of society that Aristotle tried to reconcile with because he was not content with the status quo regarding justice and its application. Aristotle, through his contemporary political writings, also attempted to incorporate aspects of justice in the realm of politics and what constituted achieving a correct political end. Aristotle provided a variety of methods and intellectual breakdown regarding the ideal of justice.
Aristotle’s methods in approaching the ideal aspects of justice did indeed differ from Plato’s formulations on justice and the ideal polis. Aristotle attempted to connect his formulations of justice to the political arena in order to evaluate the best type of government that would serve the interests of the people. There are a variety of governmental units that Aristotle analyzes and he gives justifications for the conclusions he develops regarding the proper from of social rule. The approach that Aristotle used in developing his stance on justice was quite complex.
Like his predecessor Plato, Aristotle believed that politics and justice originated out of human needs. The Politics describes how families associate with one another eventually uniting to become more self-sufficient and to serve the needs of the community. Within the community, Aristotle develops the theory of rule and command by nature. This aspect of nature was connected to the body and the soul. In a just individual, the soul rules the body’s appetite and desire along with arguing that reason rules passion.
Aristotle claims “And therefore we must study the man who is in the most perfect state both of body and soul, for in him we shall see the true relation of the two, although in bad or corrupt natures the body will often appear to rule over the soul, because they are in an evil and unnatural condition”(Everson, 16). In order for an individual to be just, the soul must be in the proper order. Aristotle uses the analogy of the family to convey aspects of just rule. Some individuals rule while others are ruled. The husband rules the wife and parents rule the children.
Aristotle argues that reason and rational judgment should be qualifications for rule. Aristotle begins to deviate from Plato’s interpretation of justice when discussing the state itself and what would constitute the ideal and just polis. Aristotle rejected the ideal of the Callipolis for a variety of reasons. For one, no polis or social structure had ever existed in order to draw correlations. Aristotle believed the state was composed of citizenry and other various parts with the citizenship varying with the government regimes, democracies, oligarchies, and monarchies.
Justice is the quality, excellence, and good of the many with the rulers applying practical wisdom for the well-being of the people. Another significant deviation lies within the rulers themselves. Plato advocated strict guidelines for the philosopher kings while Aristotle advocated reason and wisdom that did not necessarily have to be achieved through rigorous educational and political standards. The ultimate formulation of justice that Aristotle comes to conclude relies on the distribution of justice by treating equals equally and unequal’s unequally with the rewards and services meeting the obligations of the citizenry.
With the formulation of what constitutes justice, Aristotle attempts to formulate a relationship between justice and politics. He starts by dissecting what the “Pure forms of Government” with the relation to public and private interest. The pure forms of government are the monarchy which is the rule of one, the oligarchy which is the rule of the few, and polity which is the rule of the many. Aristotle makes the argument that all pure forms of government are adequate until they are influenced by the corrosive forces of self-interest.
The aspect of self-interest creates the environment where equals are not treated equally and unequal’s treated equally. The public interest however seems to encompass what is truly good within the polis and authoritative leadership. Aristotle makes the assertion that “In all sciences and arts the end is a good, and the greatest good and in the highest degree a good in the most authoritative of all – this is the political science of which the good is justice, in other words, the common interest”(Everson 78-79).
The monarchy becomes a tyrant when private interests supersedes the public interest, the oligarchy becomes oppressors when they begin to serve their own self-interest, and the polity becomes corrupt when the democracy rules for the interest of a select group. In Aristotle’s mind, none of these forms of government could rule with an adequate form of justice standing alone. Aristotle asserts that the best practical regime or ideal just polis would consist of a mixed regime with a constitutional government in the form of a democracy or polity. Aristotle then modifies the three pure forms of government by classifying the number of rulers.
Aristotle replaces the notion of “numbers” with “motivation class” when analyzing the political behavior of the few and the many. Aristotle claims “The argument seems to show that, whether in oligarchies or democracies, the number of the governing body, whether the greater number, as in a democracy, or smaller number as in an oligarchy, is an accident due to the fact that the rich everywhere are few, and the poor numerous”(Everson, 72). These two institutions of government, according to Aristotle, have a warped sense of justice that is based on bias and self-interest.
This self-interest has the ability to push equality to far through the form of democracy and inequality to far through the form of an oligarchy. This formulation brings Aristotle to come to the conclusion that the best government regime consists of a hybrid between democracy and oligarchy. The justification for this hybrid government is that justice would be distributed to equals equally and unequal’s unequally. Justice and the proper form of government were aspects that created an environment for debate and inquiry in the life of Aristotle.
Even though his education was built on teachings of Plato, Aristotle’s view of justice and the ideal polis differed significantly from his predecessor. Aristotle went to great extents to create an understanding of justice in its proper form. He used his formulations of justice and applied them to the realm of politics and government. Aristotle dissected the three forms of pure government in order to formulate the ideal aspects of just rule. These aspects regarding the proper form of just government relied heavily on public interest versus private interest.
These analogies enabled Aristotle to come to the conclusion that no one single form of government is adequate because of the corrosive force of self-interest. The only way to preserve the public interest and justice in Aristotle’s mind was to formulate a hybrid government that would serve the interest of the few and the many. Bibliography 1. Plato, and H. D. P. Lee. The Republic. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. Print. 2. Aristotle, Stephen Everson. The Politics, and the Constitution of Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.
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