Justice in the City and the Soul

handout - Justice.doc



City                                  Virtue                              Soul


Guardians (Rulers)           Wisdom                          Reason

Auxiliaries (Soldiers)        Courage                         Spirit

Craftspeople (Producers)   [Moderation]*               Appetite


Justice =  the harmony resulting from each part performing its own function well – this harmony is thus an effect of the right combination and interplay of the three virtues of wisdom, courage and moderation within the individual (think of how the musical notes C, E, and G combine to produce a simple but harmonious chord – that harmony is, I would suggest, metaphorically akin to the idea of Justice in the Republic)  This effect for the individual might best be understood as possessing or displaying right desire; that is, that state of harmony in character wherein the desiring part of ourselves successfully aligns itself with the intellect. 


The views of justice expressed by Cephalus, Polemarchus, Adeimantus and Thrasymachus could be argued to all share in a certain presupposition – namely, that justice is rightly conceived of in terms of external principles of morality or law.  Within this conception any particular act could be claimed just if it appears to meet the demands set on behavior by these principles, for example, one should obey the law or always tell the truth in order to be just.  This view was shown to naturally lead to the conclusion that justice was all a  matter of appearances and that the best life would be one wherein one could get away with unjust acts by mastering the appearance of being just (Thrasymachus’ Immoralism).  Moreover, this view was shown to be expressive of a view of human nature that found it irrevocably corrupt.  Socrates’ formulation of justice responds to this challenge in at least two ways:

Redefines the notion of justice in such a way that it no longer is conceived of in terms of external principles dictating behavior but rather in the internal workings of an individual soul.  Justice as such is the state of a harmonized individual who is capable of living the good life as one of fulfillment and happiness.  The conflict between our desires and our intellect is claimed to not be entirely necessary (in other words, human nature is not essentially corrupt), but capable of harmonizing in the healthy fully functioning soul.

Demonstrates that justice is not only desirable for its consequences, which could be gathered from only appearing to be just, but also desirable in itself; thus justice is correctly placed in the category of things that are both good for their own sake and for their results.  It is the harmony of the soul that allows for a flourishing existence and it is this harmony that is intrinsically worthwhile.


A question for further thought: The justice found in the city was shown to be dependent upon the success of the deployment of an outright fabrication, the myth of the metals or the noble lie.  We find no such corresponding claim in relation to justice in the soul despite the fact that the construction of this city in thought was serving the purpose of providing us with a model to understand the existence of justice in the soul.  Would there not be the possibility then that we should expect a corresponding fiction that allows for the existence of a just soul?  If this is not the case, why haven’t we been told how the soul potentially differs in this respect from the city? If there is a corresponding lie, why is it not explicitly referred to?  Could the entirety of Socrates’ conversation with the young men present, could this book itself, somehow be expressive of this unwritten lie of the soul necessary for its just existence?