Government and Justice

Today I started teaching a two week high school government course. Because I can do whatever I want for the class (the Economics class played games of Monopoly), I decided to start with something basic: Plato’s Republic.

I said basic, not easy.

After a horribly brief introduction we skipped to book II, where the question gets clarified. I Justice better than Injustice? Of course they said yes. So we read more.

Is Justice better than Injustice because of something that it gives us – it’s consequences – or for its own sake? If it is merely because of the consequences of justice, than it is very possible that injustice could lead to the same results, and therefore be better or at least just as good.

Furthermore, let’s juxtapose the just man from the unjust man by making them totally just or unjust, respectively. The unjust man has to be gifted, and his supreme gift is this: that he seem just though he is not. Additionally, he is capable of correcting whatever might go wrong, either through deception, persuasion, bribery, or force. This continue till the end of his life.

The just man is the one who, like Aeschylus says, “does not merely wish to seem, but to be just”. Therefore, take away all the seeming justice from just man. To everyone around him seems unjust – a blight on the face of society. What happens to this man? He will be “whipped; racked, he’ll be bound; he’ll have both his eyes burned out; and at the end, when he has undergone every sort of evil, he’ll be crucified.”

Caravaggio - The Crucifixion of St. Peter

So how can it be better to be just rather than unjust? If I love justice for its own sake, won’t I be doing something wrong, or something not as good I could be doing? Who would choose such a fate? (Besides Socrates and Christ).

Socrates mentions two things that might make someone do the just for the sake of justice, and not its consequences: either one has a divine nature that won’t let him do something unjust, or one has knowledge that keeping company with injustice will be living with the greatest evil.

My students, like Glaucon and Adiemantus, felt the purchase of this dilemma, but still felt compelled to say that Justice is better than Injustice.

And I like Socrates exclaimed: “something quite divine must have happened to you”!

There might be hope for the West after all.

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2 thoughts on “Government and Justice

  1. Oh how I miss the Cones. Kelly is translating Latin poetry and Jesse is teaching a 2-week, highshcool government class by discussing Plato. My life is seems very narrow.

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