An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 1

Hello! I Recently decided to read Plato‘s Republic, and I thought It would be a good idea to write analysis of it. I am going to do 1 post per book. (I would love to do more, but as it is this will take up a lot of my posts and I want to be able to write about other things too.) There are a lot of Ideas brought up in Book 1, but I’ll do my best. Oh, and I would love to hear and respond to others analysis’s or ideas in the comments section. All right, here I go!

I think there is certainly a primary subject to Book 1. Justice. Socrates talks to different people, and about different things, but that is certainly the primary subject. So lets start with his discussion with Cephalus. It Begins about old age, but slowly transfers into them talking about wealth. Socrates asks Cephalus whether most of the money he possesses was inherited or self-made. Cephalus says he is about half-and-half. Socrates makes an interesting point: Those who make money are usually more fond of it, even though it is not always shown that way in modern society. People who inherit money are always money-grubbing gluttons, and people who make money are always honest, hard-working, good-guys. But pragmatically, those who make money would become more obsessed with it, and those who inherited it would not become intertwined because they cared less about it.

Later, when Socrates is arguing with Polemarchus, they bring up Simonides. Apparently, Simonides thinks you should give everyone what they deserve. Socrates questions this, as he believes otherwise. He asks Simonides a question. “If someone gives you something for safekeeping, and then they go insane and ask for it back, is it right to give it back to them then? Simonides responds that they do deserve it, but you still shouldn’t give it back. I find this interesting. But is that contradiction possible? I’m not sure. Later, when they are talking about deservance, Polemarchus says he thinks the same thing as Simonides. He thinks you should treat your friends well, (because they deserve that,) and your enemies badly, because that’s what they deserve. Socrates asks if your “Friends” are the people who seem like that to you or are the ones who are actually, truly, good. When Polemarchus replies they are the same, Socrates retorts that people make mistakes. And so he proves, according to Polemarchus, that it is good to harm the good.

I have to skip a bunch of stuff if I am ever going to finish this paper, so I am going to pack into this paper something that I found interesting in Thrasymachus’s conversation with Socrates. Thrasymachus makes an interesting point when Socrates says that rulers are not perfect and they do make mistakes: Technically, skilled people and just rulers never make mistakes, because at the moment they make the mistakes, they are not skillful. So only unskillful people make mistakes. But I object. Because I think the moment you make that mistake, you may turn into an unskilled person, but that, in itself, is a mistake.

The last thing I am going to talk about is the thing that truly astounded me most. Socrates and Thrasymachus are arguing, and it is brought up that injustice is more profitable than justice. Thrasymachus then claims, astoundingly, that because injustice is more profitable, it is a virtue. And because Justice isn’t, its a vice! At first, I was very suprised. Apparently, so was Socrates. Thrasymachus was effectively saying that profitability is virtue! So stealing is virtue! Of course, I had to argue with this. First of all, I am pretty sure virtue has to do with ethics. But, of course, I can’t be sure that is has anything to do with ethics!! I would love if anyone who believes otherwise, or just has an argument for something else, to say so in the comments. Anywise, even if it does have to, I feel that justice does kinda have it’s own reward. (Though moneys nice too.)

Anyways, to wrap this up, (actually this time,) I wanted to point out the way Socrates argues. Its something that I consider very brave. That is, when he argues, he questions each thing he says. He makes no assumption. Most people, myself included, when they argue, seem like their trying to make a point. Everything they say, they speedily get through. But every time Socrates says something, he gives the person to respond or correct him. This makes me think that he is actually trying to find the truth, instead of trying to prove a point.

3 thoughts on “An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 1

  1. I absolutely think that theft can be justified. I also think that it can be obviously morally required, in edge cases like stealing food in order to not die. I would disagree with the idea that profitability is a virtue, though, and I’m sure that will be clear.

    For me, it comes down to the difference between personal property and private property, and that has to do with power. Stealing personal property—items of individual sentimental value or that are used for day-to-day living—is a very direct harm because it forces the other person to adjust to a new status quo without that thing. It can be very traumatic, which is part of why we fixate on it when we talk about theft. Stealing from people who have equal or less power than you is wrong, and we are all fairly equal in terms of our power over our personal property.

    This is fundamentally different from stealing private property, which is an item that the government says is exclusively yours because it believes theories that say this will create economic prosperity. Stealing private property from a business is an essentially harmless activity, and it only gets less harmless as the size of businesses increases. The more profit the company is making, the less any individual item matters. Modern businesses are so large that the failure of an individual establishment often won’t endanger the whole. And, yes, there is the tendency on the outside to say “you’re stealing from the store employees,” but that’s not true. You’re stealing from a business. The only way theft could harm the employees is if the business docked their pay for theft, which is punishing them for someone else’s “crime.”

    The reverse of this trend is the idea that the smaller a business is, the closer theft comes to becoming a harm. In my mind, it never crosses that line. The fact that they have private property at all puts them ahead of most people economically and, in a capitalist society like the US, economic wealth confers power. With that power comes opportunities for Bad Actually kinds of theft that take advantage of people who have less economic power, such as wage theft or usury. Our priorities are badly misaligned when we focus on shoplifting while the owner of that store causes far more actual harm by stealing from their employees. But we do exactly that. Police officers will come running to beat up shoplifters, but will ignore the victims of wage theft. Shoplifting is defensible but illegal while wage theft is indefensible but legal, and that’s because the system says people with power get to abuse who they want to.

    There are many critiques and defenses of this line of thinking, just like any other idea. But I think that’s more than enough rambling for a random comment that has unfortunately little to do with Plato. ^^; It’s fine, matey. Steal stuff! Eat the Rich! …just don’t tell your mom i told you so…

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  2. When re-reading Book I myself recently, what struck me more than I would have thought (or hoped) is how Socrates and his interlocutors are having real, in-person, back-and forth conversation. It seems so rare these days, what with most communication being through our screens. What stays with me is not so much whatever particular understanding might be arrived at, but the way by which Socrates attempts to come ever closer to truth.

    This is a great project.

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