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Plato on Justice - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 28
Justice/Platon/Höffe: Because of the claimed harmony, a political eudaimonism, Plato counts justice (dikaiosynê) among the highest class of goods (megista agatha)(1), which is striven for both for its own sake and for its consequences useful to the actor.(2)
Höffe I 29
Justification: Only the righteous live in mutual trust with one another(3) and, because they would rather suffer injustice than commit it, find both self-respect and respect for those they care about.
The unjust, on the other hand, live in discord with their fellow human beings and, because contradictory desires are at war within them, in discord with themselves. Plato's argument here is not moralizing, but exposes "selfish" expectations of happiness as self-deception, as illusion.
Tyranny: The extreme figure of the unjust, the tyrant, is alone in one respect, lust, three to the power of two to the power of three, thus 729 times worse than the just and still "infinitely more in terms of moral conduct, beauty and virtue".(4)
Problem: Justice alone is not enough for well-being. Because of excessive covetousness it needs additional prudence (sôphrosynê), in the face of danger bravery (andreia), and for the purpose of good advice wisdom (sophia).
Höffe I 30
(...) Plato [recognises] the ordinary understanding "to each his own", later known as "suum cuique", namely to reward the good, to punish the bad, to distribute burdens and advantages fairly.
Idiopragy/Plato: [Plato] understands the formula in a special sense: Everyone should do (prattein) what is peculiar to him, his own (idion), namely what corresponds to his natural disposition. Thanks to this so-called idiopragy formula, justice helps the individual to achieve harmony of the driving forces, i.e. personal justice, and the community to achieve harmony of the professional groups or estates: political justice.
Isomorphism: There is a uniformity between the two, isomorphism, which is why ethics and political philosophy are intertwined.
Höffe I 43
In the dialogue Phaidon (...) Plato tries with four arguments ("proofs") to make the immortality of the soul credible. The belief in the afterlife is thus familiar to Plato.
HöffeVsPlaton: Nevertheless, it is not easy to decide whether the final myth of the judgment of the dead is indispensable for the eudaimonistic value of justice or whether it only confirms for the hereafter what is already true for this world:
a) Is it an argument decisive for the eudaimonistic assessment of this world or
b) only that important addition to the view of this world, which shows how much worse off the superlativistically unjust, the tyrant, is the just?


1.Politeia, II 366e
2. II 357b-358c
3. I 351d; more detailed IX 575c-576a
4. IX 587e-588a

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Gaus I 310
Justice/Plato/Keyt/Miller: The challenge of Gyges' ring is to show that justice pays, that it is not a necessary evil but an intrinsic good. >Gyges/Ancient Philosophy.
Social justice: The response requires a definition of justice in the soul, or psyché. But instead of defining it directly Socrates first defines social justice, and then, assuming the analogy of polis and psyche, constructs a corresponding definition of psychic justice. The definition of social justice, as Socrates notes himself (Rep. IV.433a), is simply the principle of the natural division of labour, which was introduced to explain the origin of the polis. (According to Socrates, it is mutual need that gives rise to the polis rather than, as Glaucon hypothesized, fear of harm.)
Keyt/Miller: this is not the economic principle championed by Adam Smith and modern economists but an implicitly anti-democratic affirmation of human inequality and implasticity.
Polis: III.415a-c). The just polis is the one in which each person does the one job for which he is suited by nature and no other: rulers rule, warriors defend, and workers provision the polis (Rep. IV .432b-434c).
Psyche: by an independent argument Socrates infers that the psyche has three parts analogous to the three parts of the just polis, and then, following a principle of isomorphism, defines a just psyche as one with the same structure as a just polis. Thus, in a just psyche each of the psychic elements sticks to its own work: reason rules the psyche; spirit, or thymos, defends it from insult; and the appetites provide for its bodily support (Rep. IV.441d-442b). Psychic justice turns out to be something like mental health, an intrinsic good no one wants to be without, so the challenge
of Thrasymachus and Glaucon is answered (Rep. IV .444c-445b).
Problems: there is an ongoing controversy, however, over the cogency of Socrates' response.
For it is unclear that the Platonically 'just' man is just in the sense of the problem of Gyges' ring. (>Gyges/Ancient philosophy.) What prevents the Platonically just man from harming others? (The controversy, stoked by Sachs, 1963(1), has generated an enormous literature. Dahl 1991(2) , is a good representative of the current state of the debate.)


1. Sachs, David (1963) 'A fallacy in Plato's Republic'. Philosophical Review, 72: 141-58.
2. Dahl, Norman O. (1991) 'Plato's defense of justice'. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,
51: 809-34.

Keyt, David and Miller, Fred D. jr. 2004. „Ancient Greek Political Thought“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-11-28
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