In producing a counter argument to Thrasymachus’ claim that justice is the advantage of the stronger, Socrates bases his argument enourmously on sentimentality and prejudice. He assumes that the virtues which are supposedly functioning in the realm of ideas can also work propably in the World. For example, in Socrates’ view, a doctor does not seek his own advantage, but the advantage of his patients. Yet, this view reflects the perfect ideal of a doctor in Socrates’ belief of ideas in a dream world. With a modern perspective, one can fairly see that Socrates’ refutation has some complexities which clash severely with the real experiences of the Ancient Greek. Socrates’ image of the doctor ignores the inherent human desire or fragility to obtaining the power for his advantage. Socrates confuses the crafts with the craftsmen occasionally.
The crafts such as medicine or horse-breeding are idealized. However, craftsmen are human and they are liable to exploit the authority which their crafts give over them. Therefore, Thrasymachus’ idea of justice is more applicable than Socrates’. Socrates manages to appease Thrasymachus, but that does not mean Socrates is successful about refuting Thrasymachus. In fact, if one observes their conversation critically, it is obvious that Socrates fails to refute Thrasymachus’ argument. Socrates is very optimistic and emotional towards human nature, which causes his arguments and refutations to be fragile . The virtue in individuals does not always bring prosperity to the state on the whole. Not everyone is sensitive to the good of the others.
Socrates’ republic is, in this sense, utopic. Socrates states, “Anyone who intends to practise his craft well never does or orders but his best for himself ” (Plato, 23). This belief does not match the modern experience nor does it match the experience of a Greek citizen in Ancient Greece. In reverse, Thrasymachus believes that justice is a means for the strong to exercise advantage. In a sense Thrasymachus associates the strenght of a citizen with his authority and position in the society. He famously states, “Justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger” (Plato, 14). Justice is a tool for the established order to preserve itself. The strong citizen with a sizeable authority makes use of justice in a manner to assert his private interests.
Under the shadow of justice, he can easily practise injustice and impose it as justice to the others. Thats why the strong is in a position to employ justice and injustice at their own interest. For instance, since a ruler makes laws in a position to twist justice for his own benefit. Therefore, his prior concern is to preserve and enhance his own authority. In order to do that, he ignores the welfare of his subjects. He does not act always within a moral perspective. Thrasymachus believes that even in the lower classes of the society, this is exactly the case. In terms of taxes, for example, an unjust man will gain more economically since he will always search for the ways to avoid taxation.
A just man, on the other hand, with a sentimental love for his state and a respect for it, pays his taxes regularly and gains less than an unjust man in economical perspective. Thrasymachus believes that a man with authority is always just. Because he profits at the end. So, Thrasymachus concentrates mainly on the outcome of the act in a pragmatic way. He does not give any importance to the unjust proceedings which a man with authority exercise in order to achieve private benefit and gain. Socrates, on the other hand, believes that even a simple act of injustice on the path to power eradicate not only the man as an individual, but also the society on the whole.
Socrates is trying to harmonize his own utopic world with the realities of the earth which he thinks can be transformed and shaped. His views are rather romantic with a nostalgic perspective. Socrates is not skeptical unlike sophist philosophers of his age. He reasons, however, with a firm belief in his own conception of this world which is a projection of a higher world of ideas functioning in harmony. He believes that gods are just (Plato, 29). Homer’s Iliad on the other hand states otherwise, portraying gods are cruel and jelous. Therefore, Socrates thinks within his own ideology. He tries to impose his ideology to Thrasymachus who never disagrees with him at all.
For example, in Socrates’ opinion, injustice causes civil strife, antagonism and disorder while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose. However, in a World which does not precisely regulate the terms of justice or injustice, Thrasymachus’ view that justice always looks to the advantage of the stronger makes more sense. Thrasymachus’ claims are based on his own experience of Ancient Greek life while Socrates’ statements hardly related to the realities of the life surrounding him. He is blinded by what he firmly believes. He is trying to adjust the common realities of the society to his own ideology.
Altough he is able to convince Thrasymachus at the end, what he does during this process is misleading. Thrasymachus seems to be an agent for Socrates to express his ideology in a dialogue for. Thrasymachus’ presence is only to introduce the question and to be a passive listener during Socrates’ answering process. Therefore, Socrates’ refutation of Thrasymachus’ claim that justice is advantage of the stronger is nothing but a dictation of Socrates’ attempt to reconcile his own ideology of a utopic republic with the status quo in Ancient Greece.
In conclusion, Socrates’ contradiction to Thrasymachus may be convincing for Plato’s Greek audience, but it is not anyway convincing to the modern reader. Socrates’ idea of justice can only be valid in the future of Socrates’ lifetime in Socrates’ view. It does not correspond to Socrates’ actual reality. It is aimed to construct an emotional idea of justice in a future time. It is only possible by changing the realities of the world in a manner to suit Socrates’ ideology.