Justice and morality are concepts that can be very hard to comprehend.
While justice means acting fairly, morality would help us make the distinction
between what is right and wrong in order to be just. Plato’s account of
morality and justice is an interesting take on the concepts. I agree with
Plato’s account of justice and believe that he convinces the skeptic that it is
better to be just. This is because his division of the city and soul supports
his arguments. When the three parts of the city and soul function together
harmoniously, there is prosperity. Any conflicts between these parts of the
soul can lead to havoc and uncertainty which hinders just behaviors. The way
Plato distinguishes between the life of a tyrant and a king are also good
arguments to convince the skeptic to live a moral life.
In order to explain justice within a person, we first look at justice in
a city, because “a city is larger than one man” and since “justice may exist in
larger proportions the greater subject, and thus easier to discover” (Plato 368e
73). In order to explain this Socrates introduces the concept of
specialization. He says that everyone performs the job they are best suited for
without obstructing another person’s work. The first class of people perform the tasks of
money making. These are the people such as doctors, farmers, teachers, craftsmen
who work to create objects of everyday use. These people are mainly driven by
their desires of money making which leads them with a lot of wealth. The
presence of wealth leads to potential for war, but due to the principle of
specialization, the producers cannot defend themselves which introduces us to
the second class of people, the auxiliaries. These are the people who fight to
defend the city with their life. They are ruled by their spirit. They are
trained and have the knowledge on how to defend the city in order to prevent
them from going rogue and attacking the people they are meant to defend. This
brings us to the third class of people, the guardians. They are the r helps
solve conflict between the appetitive and rational. Although it might appear
that the spirited part has an “appetitive character, but now we say that, far
from this being the case it much more readily takes arms on the side of the
rational principle in the party of conflict” (Plato 440e 92). It is the part
that controls our emotions which is why when we do not act rationally we feel
ashamed. Rational and spirit work together to make a person do what is right
since the spirit works at making the person the best version of themselves.
These three parts of the soul relate to justice because according to Plato
if there is justice all three parts of the soul will work in unison. It is
similar to the working of a city, except the soul concerns itself with the
internal performance concerning a man’s own interest. In a person, the rational
part acts as the leader with spirit being its ally, trying to work harmoniously.
When the parts work together without conflict there is justice in the soul just
like in the city.
It is important to highlight that the parts of the soul are in fact three
in number just like the parts of the city in order to support the above claim. Plato
says that there are three parts of the soul because one part cannot perform
conflicting functions. He believes that the part of the soul that encourages a
person to fulfil their desires cannot be the same part that forbids him from
indulging in those desires, highlighting the appetitive and the rational as two
distinct parts of the soul. He uses the examples of an archer to explain this.
In the same way that it is not possible “that his hands are at the same time
drawing the bow towards him, and pushing it from him – the fact being, that one
of his hands pushes it from him, and the other pulls it to him” (Plato 439b 91).
In order to distinguish reason from its ally, the spirit the example of a child
is given. He says that “for even in little children any one may see this, that
from their very birth they have plenty of spirit, whereas reason is a principle
to which most men only attain after many years, and some in my opinion, never” (Plato
441b 92). This means that even children have emotions and reactions to things
that they do but do not have the maturity to be rational which highlights that
the two are distinct parts of the soul.
After having talked about Plato’s account of justice we now focus our
attention to the question of why a person should be moral. To explain this
Plato talks about the life of a tyrant and distinguishes it from the life of a
philosopher. He says tyrant is someone who is ruled by his appetite. He is weak
because he gives into his desires while the rational and the spirited part of
his soul take a back seat. The desires that a tyrant indulges in are of
unpleasant natures like having intercourse with “a mother, or with any man or
deity or animal” (Plato 571d 108). A philosopher on the other hand is one who
has no conflict within his soul. Reason does not take a back seat. He also says
that the life of a tyrant is hard because he is a slave to his own desires. He
feels compelled to satisfy his impulses and if he runs out of money to do so,
he resorts to “theft, burglary, purse snatching, steal clothes, sacrilege, kidnapping”
(Plato 575b 110). He becomes a man nobody can trust and lives a disorderly
life as a slave to his own needs. This is however not as bad since he is not a
public tyrant. Socrates gives the example of a man who moves to a new land with
his slaves. This is a land where slavery is frowned upon and there are no laws
to protect the tyrant. If the slaves protest against the tyrant and the people
of the land also support the slaves, the tyrant has to fear a rebellion. There
could be threat to his life from the slaves who were poorly treated. This shows
us that the life of a just man is a better one than the nightmarish life of a tyrant.
The life of a tyrant is next compared to the life of a king to
demonstrate the same. It is evident which of the two will have a happier life. Socrates
calculates that a just king is 729 times happier than an unjust tyrant while
the latter lives more painfully in the same proportion (Plato 587e 120).
Another reason Plato gives to be moral is that a just man is a happy man.
As mentioned earlier the soul is divided into three parts – appetitive, rational and spirted, and Plato
now categorizes people as lovers of each of these parts to highlight why the
just man is the happiest. When a person loves to indulge in his pleasures, he
does so with the help of money, thereby making him gain or money loving, our
first person. Since the spirited part loves winning and emerging the victor,
the second person will be called victory or honor loving. Our third category is
a person whose “constant aim is to know the truth as it is, and that this one
cares the least about wealth and reputation” (Plato 581b 115). He is the
lover of wisdom or learning. According to Plato if each of these people are
asked if they consider themselves to be the happiest each of them would agree
that they are happier than the other. This however is not true. The lover of
wisdom is all knowing and has experienced each of the pleasures. In spite of
having experienced all pleasures he chooses the love for wisdom which shows us
that a just man is the happiest. The lovers of gain and of honor have not
experienced the other pleasures to compare and choose which is why the lover of
wisdom is the best judge.
I do think that Plato’s account of justice offers compelling reasons for humans
to be moral. A harmonious life without conflict within the soul is a happy life.
The reasons Plato gives to live a just life is ultimately to be happy and not
conflicted. If we take the example of the Trump administration and the riots
that had taken place when he was elected we can understand this better. If we
consider the United States as the city, Trump as the guardian and the people as
the money makers we can illustrate what Plato meant about a just city. When
Trump was made President, the three parts of the city were not working
together. Several people did not accept him as their guardian which lead to
discontent in the country for a while. Each part of the city was not performing
their own part which did make the city unjust. As time passes, even though
people were not completely happy with his government and their policies, they
did go back to each performing their respective tasks making the city happier
Justice within the soul can be explained by the everyday choice between
giving into watching Netflix when a student knows they should be studying. The
appetite for watching needs reason to tell it that exams are more important and
the spirit contributes by instilling the emotion of guilt if the appetite wins.
When the three work together without letting the appetite win, the student
performs well in classes and is happier hence supporting Plato’s account of
being just. When the person studies he becomes the lover of knowledge and knows
that it is better than the other pleasures but in today’s day and age it will
also help him attain the other pleasures which is another reason to be just and
not give into appetite.
Plato’s reasons to be moral are as relevant today as they were during his
time. The life of bullies, criminals, terrorist organizations are similar to
the lives of tyrants. They constantly live as salves to their desires of havoc
and have unpleasant lives ultimately which helps convince the moral skeptic
that it is better to live a just life.