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In Republic, Plato argues that justice is something everyone enjoys because it is good and so are its consequences. In this paper, I will refute Plato’s argument that by showing that society pressures us into being just. People only like the concept of justice because of its benefits. No one is born being a just person. It is our instinct to protect ourselves and make sure that our own needs are met. If you were to come across a toddler, they would have no concept of justice.
They would naturally take the things they want without asking and protest by crying when they don’t get their way. Things such as asking politely and having manners are notions that we condition into children so that they act accordingly. This completely ignores acts of free will and allows us to ponder what the benefits of being just are. People would naturally gravitate towards acts of justness if it is inherently good with good consequences.
There would be no need to influence those to act just if what Plato says is true. Plato would disagree with my points. Plato would say that although we are born with no concept of justice that we could easily learn to love justice. Just because people are conditioned to do something doesn’t make it less of a good. Since people are born as blank canvases that they all have the capacity to learn how to be just. Children just need to be given the right tools and environment to learn how to appreciate justice as something we have a symbiotic relationship with.
We would come to love justice because it is good and the benefits of it are mutually beneficial such as living healthy. We live healthy not only because it is good for our health but it also has benefits, such as losing weight. Plato would also argue that living a just life builds character. People who live just lives would obtain moral satisfaction and lead a more fulfilled life whereas someone who lives an unjust life wouldn’t.
I would then argue that we only grow to be just because we are conditioned that way. Society has implemented justice into our laws and morals and therefore people have turned their backs on their natural instincts. If justice was such a great good that held benefits similarly to happiness then we would naturally be just beings without being taught so. Many people only practice justice because they do not want unjust things to happen to them. Therefore we implement justice and condition children to adopt these customs as well as a form of precaution. Free will is the ultimate trait that all humans are gifted with. If we don’t have freedom of thought and are allowed the ability to choose justice on our own, it’s not as inherently good as something as happiness. The only real reason we have justice in place is because we fear the consequences of breaking the law. Many people would choose to disobey various laws if they knew there was no chance of them breaking the law.
People are not innately just, they are raised and conditioned into accepting justice. Acts of unjustness can prove to be more profitable than just ones. In the book, the character Glaucon talks about the Ring of Gyges, a ring that grants whoever who wears it invisibility. If someone were to obtain a great power such as invisibility with no consequences, the chances of them doing something self-beneficial is greater than them doing something beneficial for society. This example shows that justice is something that we only participate in because we fear the consequences of acting unjust. Many people don’t actually care about being just but instead appearing just because appearing just yields rewards while also giving you the freedom to be unjust in your actions. The character Glaucon uses an example of two men who are extreme examples of justice and injustice.
The unjust man ends up having a life filled with many rewards and a respectable reputation while the just man does not. A more concrete example of this would be politicians. Many politicians such as Bill Clinton appear as upright just citizens in the public eye although in various cases they have proven to not be as shown by the Clinton and Monic Lewinsky scandal that occurred in the late 90s. Politicians gain multitudes of social power based off of lies and scandals but don’t get the same amount of backlash as the average citizen all while appearing just. Plato would refute my claims by saying that justice is the moral duty of man. It’s not about reputation or who gets the upperhand in society. It’s something that everyone must participate in for the greater good. Justice isn’t related to materialism because materialism isn’t a good. It’s something that manifested from individualism in society. Justice is a good because it’s something everyone in the society benefits from; it’s not something that a specific group or individual can take the upperhand of.
If our society was a football team, justice would be winning a game. Every football player has a role that they must fulfill for our entire team to win the game and to achieve justice in society. Plato would also be against my argument of unjust acts being more profitable. A person living an unjust life would only appear to be more profitable because they’re working to improve as an individual. Just because a person can gain social power and a good reputation through unjust acts, it doesn’t guarantee that person happiness. Unjust acts can only bring someone temporary happiness in the form of items and money. An example of this would be celebrities. Plenty of celebrities such as Amy Winehouse and Robin Williams were very successful and they weren’t satisfied with their lives. This shows that being successful doesn’t always guarantee happiness. I would then argue that we can not define happiness for people.
Everyone has their own idea of what happiness looks like to them. For some people it is to fulfill their moral duties and for others it might be to obtain social power. Most people would be happy if their basic needs are met so that they could achieve their more complex goals in life. If they had money to pay their bills and be seen as a respectable person in their community they would be happy and this could allow them to achieve things that they originally didn’t have the time or the means to achieve. Some people might even argue that the individual trumps all. At the end of the day the only person we have is ourselves and acting as a collective isn’t in favor of one ‘s own happiness but the collective’s overall satisfaction.
If justice isn’t ensuring the happiness of the individuals of a society then it isn’t intrinsically good. I define good as something valuable. Justice is valuable, but it isn’t as valuable as injustice because at least injustice can lead to some form of personal happiness whether it’s temporary or not. Jesus, the son of Christ, lived an extremely upright life and did what he believed to be morally right was condemned and lived a very bleak life. This shows that living your life in favor of justice can lead to dire consequences in some cases. Even if justice is proven to lead to happiness, it isn’t the same type of happiness unjust acts can bring you. As Plato’s book Republic proposes, justice can be a good because it’s inherently good and so are it’s benefits. However, I have argued that being injust works out in our favor more than justice does.
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