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Plato’s Theory of Justice Essay


Plato, being a well-known ancient Greek philosopher, focused on different aspects of human life in his works. One of his works, “The Ring of Gyges, or is the Good Good for You?”, is dedicated to a very serious problem, the problem of justice and injustice, or to put it more precisely, whether being just is always good, whether it is better than being unjust or not. In fact he raises a question that mankind attempts to answer even nowadays and there is still no definite answer that would satisfy absolutely all people. As many other questions, Plato responds this one in a very particular way but it is not the aim of this paper to critically evaluate his answer but rather to better realize his argumentation and reasoning in solution the dilemma of justice and injustice.

The problem Plato raises in his work is viewed from different points of view and is analyzed thoroughly. First of all, the author attempts to define whether justice is good or bad and in order to give a definite answer he briefly discusses what is good. According to him, there may be three classes of goods, firstly, goods that “we welcome for their own sakes, and independently to their consequences”, secondly, goods that “are desirable not only in themselves but in their results”, and, finally, the third class are the goods that “do us good but we regard them as disagreeable” and people usually choose them only “for the sake of some reward or result which flows from them”.

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Obviously the author pays so much attention to classification of goods with the only purpose to underline the importance of justice among other goods for he puts it on the highest level of his classification. In such a way he underlines that people have to realize the role of justice and which they have desire most of all. In fact he combines the classes of goods making justice a kind of good that would unite human desires both “for their own sake and for the sake of their results”. Moreover, according to Plato, justice is a good that makes people happy or at least the efforts to achieve it make people happy.

At the same time, Plato is quite critical in his thinking. He attempts to view the problem differently and he agrees that there may be different views that estimate quite the contrary. Nonetheless, he rejects objections to his views and reveals that critical views on justice as the highest of the goods are erroneous. In order to be more persuasive he analyses the nature and origin of justice and injustice and what is not less important he constantly compare and contrast justice and injustice.

Speaking about the origin and nature of justice Plato underlines that “it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation”. In such a way he finds the ‘golden middle’ for the justice that is an obvious attempt to solve the dilemma in favor of a sort of consensus between different opinions.

Furthermore, he stands on the ground that human beings are unable to be just and to praise justice only due to their own will. In fact it is not in human’s nature to praise justice. On the contrary the philosopher argues that justice is forcefully attributed to individuals by means of laws, for instance. Moreover, he underlines that people practice justice basically because of necessity and not by their own will. This point indicates at the fact that Plato treats people as morally weak to the extent that independently, or willingly, they cannot praise justice and be just people and he rather tends to explain the practice of justice by social needs than personal intentions and will.

In order to prove it, he recalls the myth about Gyge’s and metaphorically he compares his ring to the justice. As a result willingly or not, Plato reveals the dualistic nature of justice and injustice because, on the one hand human beings are not willing to practice justice, or even, in contrast, they are predisposed to practice injustice, if there is no control over their behavior. On the other hand, he underlines that people are forced to practice justice, or at least they have to seem to be just, under the influence of external circumstances, including the influence of society and its set of values.

Finally, he argues the point according to which “the life of the unjust is after all better far than the life of the just”. In fact he arrives to a paradoxical conclusion that praise and practice of injustice is to a certain extent useful for human beings, naturally on the condition of the punishment to follow. In such a way, being punished for injustice, individuals learn what is justice and achieve self-perfection. Obviously the author underlines that human beings should actually change through punishment their initial desires and intentions to practice injustice to understanding justice that may be treated as the goal of their entire life.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that in his work “Gyge’s Ring, or is the Good Good for You?”, Plato, on discussing the problem of justice, shows individuals as quite weak beings which cannot practice justice without certain influence from outside, i.e. from society, its laws, moral values. Consequently, he attempts to persuade a reader that justice is the highest good that all people who are considered to be good have to strive for but, since it contradicts to their nature, paradoxically, they tend to practice injustice but being punished they arrive to the knowledge of real value of justice and they become much more just as if they only pretended to be just and this is what Plato believes a sensible man should “spend his life directing all his efforts to this end”.
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