Justice in Plato’s Republic When considering the most important questions of philosophy concerning our choices for living well, rewards and punishments come to mind when one thinks about justice. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues in favor of living a good, fulfilling life even if bad things happen. He takes the challenge from his interlocutors to show that living well is its own reward. Socrates makes his argument in both political terms for the community and in ethical terms for the individual. The just city and the just man are equal concerns of this dialogue. Through dialectic, Socrates and his interlocutors work to separate opinion and belief from knowledge. Plato gave that conversation a written form showing the rewards of sharing an inquiry based on a love of wisdom, friends studying philosophy together.
Justice for Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics Later philosophers such as Epicurus proposed that reason and virtue could lead to happiness if one avoided politics and set aside fears of an afterlife so that one could pursue a rational hedonism satisfied with the pleasures of tending one’s own garden with friends. In short, justice in one’s own soul was essential for good living. For Epictetus who followed the Athenian school of Stoicism, the capacity for choice is the special kind of freedom rational animals, humans, have. Thus circumstances and things do not cause pains, but ideas about them cause suffering. One can rise above injustice by accepting what life brings, including death. Finally, the skeptics initiated by Pyrrho of Ellis and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism, engage in inquiry without reaching a conclusion. Instead, skeptics suspend judgment, remaining silent as they use their processes of opposing arguments to achieve tranquility. Justice is not an ideal to be pursued, but an idea to question.
The Prompt Given the range of reasoning about life, what have you learned from these ancient Greek and Roman philosophers that can prove useful for facing our personal and social responsibilities today? In other words, how is justice understood by these philosophers we have studied?
Choose at least one philosopher that we have read, and be certain to refer to key passages of our reading by using page numbers in parentheses. With Plato, you are fine using the Stephanus numbers. Focus on a particular interest such as knowledge and belief, pleasure, politics, justice or morality, friendship—a clear topic that you can explore first from the reading, then from your experience and the diverse world we inhabit.
The Process (Another way of looking at pages 43-84 in Writing Philosophy) Move from topic, to thesis, to reasons for your position. For example, a topic looking at the noble lie used to found the just city can explore the lie itself and other kinds of stories or images Socrates uses. Then one moves from what Plato shows about lies to our own distinctions between different kinds of lies. (Here is a review of the latest psychological research on lying from UC-Berkeley: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/whats_good_about_lying.)
The thesis would argue that Plato’s Republic and our current research show the necessity to tell the right kind of lie to benefit the community. Lying is necessary in ancient times and now because of the difficulty of knowing the truth and the need to protect others.
Include counterargument and refutation or “Assessment of objections” One part of your essay should consider the counterargument, that lying of any kind is dangerous. Follow that admission with refutation to return to your claim. In this example, Socrates promotes the right kind of lies through censorship because he argues that those who create images or fictions (lies) do not know the truth that their work imitates (602a). Thus the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry concerns who can tell the lies best benefiting the community. In this way, Plato shows Socrates and his interlocutors using the study of philosophy for learning about the truth about life to improve oneself and to serve social needs.
How to Get Started Begin by choosing a topic. Feel free to use my example. Then go back to the reading. Explore key passages for support in body paragraphs as you review class notes and make new notes. Write a working thesis that includes the name of the philosopher(s) and work(s) you are exploring along with what you learned. In the same sentence or the next one, use the word “because” followed by the reasons supporting your claim about what you learned. These reasons will structure your essay. For my example, I have 3 parts or body paragraphs: (1) the purpose of the noble lie, (2) the story of the cave that shows how hard it is to know the truth, and (3) the pro-censorship arguments. After I make my case about Plato’s Republic, my example essay will turn to contemporary lies that can either p…
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