Sample Philosophy Essays on Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus
Summarize the definitions of justice given by Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus, then provide Socrates’ respective counterarguments. Which of these three definitions seem the strongest to you? Why or Why not?
According to Cephalus, justice comprises everything that includes telling the truth, living by the laws, and returning that which one owes (77). Socrates defeats his point of view by giving a counterexample of giving back a weapon to a mad man if he legally owns it. In a normal circumstance, one would not give back the weapon to a mad man due to the grave danger he poses to the welfare of other people. Therefore, justice cannot be looked at as an issue of nothing greater than an individual honoring their legal obligations for which one is subject to and merely being honest.
Polemarchus describes justice as giving a person what they deserve, which implies that one is indebted to his friends through the help he extends to them and his enemies through harm (79). Socrates counters him by asserting that this reasoning about justice is flawed because people’s judgment regarding their friends and enemies is fallible and can be influenced by self-interests. By this reason, they are likely to be harmful to good people and give help the bad ones. Additionally, it cannot be absolutely true that all friends a person has are the most virtuous people and not all enemies are the scum of the society (80). Socrates idea is that there is some incoherence in Polemarchus’ presentation about causing harm to individuals in the name of justice.
Thrasymachus, in contrast, looks at justice as the interest of the stronger, and it only benefits others and further elaborates that injustice only benefits the ruler absolutely (99). Therefore, justice is influenced by the position of power and the people exercising power. Individuals in power make laws, which everyone else (the weaker subjects) is expected to abide by, and that is justice. Justice can also be seen as obedience to the laws that are made by rulers to serve their personal interests. Socrates counters this argument by saying that the rulers may pass bad laws in the sense that in such a case, then the bad laws will not favor their interests (83).
Thrasymachus further backs his idea by saying that rulers cannot make mistakes, by virtue that might makes right. He believes that there is no time and chance that a mighty being can make a mistake. The subjects will be forced to comply with these laws, even if it implies acting in a manner that is not in the best interest of the ruler. This position also indicates that being just does not only signify doing what is advantageous to the stronger, but also doing what is not advantageous to them. Socrates backs his argument by demonstrating that a ruler’s main interest is the interest of his people or the people they represent, just like a physician’s duty is to his patient. Furthermore, physicians will receive a fee for their duty, but that means they are wage earners. Correspondingly, the rulers will receive a living wage for their work, but their main duty is to rule.
Thrasymachus also assumes that justice is the unnatural restraint on people’s natural desire to achieve and posses more. He believes that justice is a principle that is imposed on the people when they adhere to it; thus, the rational thing to do will be to ignore justice entirely. Socrates makes him admit that his point of view promotes injustice as a virtue, and through a series of reasoning concludes that injustice cannot be placed in the caliber wisdom because it is not a virtue (91). He asserts that a person who is skilled at something like art never feels the need to beat out others who are skilled in the same art.
Polemarchus’ argument seems to be strongest because it is very common in human nature to categorize this as good or bad depending on the benefits and rewards or pain and losses. When a person settles to categorize people in this manner, they do so because of what they feel, which is then translated into action. Just as Socrates sees it, Polemarchus’ statement reflects the attitude of an ambitious person, which is an innate nature of all humans. These responses turn away from an action-focused conception of justice and hold that the true nature of justice lies not in the external actions that count as just, but in the internal functioning of a just person. This implies that the actions or behavior that can be judged as just are the reflection of the inner soul of the person doing them.
What role does censorship play in Plato’s Republic? Summarize the “allegory of the cave” and discuss how it explains Plato’s reasoning for banning and censoring certain forms of art and poetry? Should censorship ever play a role in holding political power?
Censorship is important in Plato’s Republic because it helps to protect children and the society at large from bad influences or morally destructive forms of art. Plato argued that early absorption of literal materials in fictional accounts has the capability of dulling an individual’s ability to make accurate judgments concerning factual matters (129). He gave an example where excessive consumption and participation in dramatic recitations may encourage the persons doing it to imitate the worst behavior of the tragic heroes. Giving excessive attention to these fictional characters and their actions may sway a person to self-deception and make them oblivious of the truth about the reality of their personal nature as humans. Therefore, Plato highly recommends that the society should exercise strict control of all literal materials that children read, see, or hear. Diverse forms of art can also be banned if they involve deceit, falsehood or depict evil.
In the allegory of the cave, Plato uses vivid examples to distinguish between people who mistake sensory knowledge acquisitions to be the absolute truth. It is about human perception, in that; people attach more value to the knowledge they gain through their senses, which is no more than opinion. In the end, it proposes that in acquiring real knowledge, they should seek philosophical reasoning. The cave has three prisoners, whose legs, arms, and heads are restricted to some rocks in a manner that they are not able to look at any other place but only the stone wall in front of them. The captives have been there from the time they were born and had never seen anything beyond the cave. Behind them, there is a fire and in between them and the fireplace is an elevated walkway. When animals and individuals carrying items and use the walkway, their shadows are cast on the stone wall (187). Given that the captives had never come across real objects before, they were swayed to consider those were real things.
Plato further proposes that the prisoners will start a game of guessing the patterns of shadows that will appear next, and the person with the most accurate answers will be considered the brightest. When one prisoner escapes to the outside world, he is surprised at the discovery and, as he gets used to his new environment, he recognizes that his former perception of reality when he was in the cave was mistaken (188). He comes to realize that the sun is the source of existence and finds out about beauty and meaning in his excursion. He then decides to go back to the cave and inform the others of his discovery, but they refuse to believe and even threaten to kill him in case he attempts to free them (189).
In relation to banning and censoring certain forms of art and poetry, Plato uses the cave to represent individuals that believe in knowledge acquired from what they see. The individuals who follow the literal forms of art are trapped in a cave, and the shadows cast symbolize the perceptions that cause false realities or misunderstanding. When the game is used to pick out the cleverest, it implies that the masters of the literal forms of art do not know the truth and it is ridiculous to admire such people. When a prisoner escapes to find the truth about nature and do away with his illogical fallacies, it can be likened to consumers of literally forms only getting exposure to the realities of life that promote understanding and the best of human nature (153).
People, particularly children ought to be given the right material that exemplifies the truth for it is through that the society thrives. Children will in the future become guardians of the state; therefore, their exposure and performance in education should be an issue of national importance because it determines whether they will be qualified (128). Additionally, in case they qualify, it is essential to determine whether each of them deserves the positions they are to take. When the other prisoners reject the truth from the returnee, it shows that people are always scared to learn philosophical truths. This statement, therefore, reiterates the need to expose children to the right content they first time they come across the literal forms of art because it may be difficult to make them change their views about what they have seen or heard.
Censorship should play a big role in holding political power because it is information that controls the emotions of multitudes of people. When information is not censored, people can form divergent opinions, leading to groupthink and the formation of opposing sides. The opposing factions could gather and engage in protests against leadership and counter protests from supporters could spark violence across the nation. For instance, censoring information about the rigging of elections may save a country from a potential civil war. In the same way, a politician that says inflammatory statements can be given media blackout to prevent their messages from reaching many individuals across the nation. The people should only be given content that promotes national unity and the freedoms they enjoy as citizens of that nation.
Describe how Plato thinks that a Republic declines and falls. How does the same process occur in human beings? Why is the just man happy?
In his argument, Plato elaborates the logic of decline of five regimes with their five equivalent types of men. Plato describes these five regimes and their respective types of men in the category of best to worst. Thus they follow in this order: kingship or aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny and the type of men in these regimes are the kingly or aristocratic man, the timocratic man, the oligarchic man, the democratic man, and the tyrant or tyrannical man. In his philosophical view, Plato describes the Kingship or the aristocracy as the kingdom in which the king rules and the aristocracy man is the one that has his rational part ruling his soul according to what is good (205).
According to Plato, a historical fluke is responsible for the existence of the best regime. Hence an excellent regime must come when a philosopher gains power from the polis, and the aristocracy becomes a philosopher or can listen to one (214). Additionally, the populace must be able to listen to the philosopher king and obey his commands, or he is left with no choice but to use the laws of the existing traditions and institutions. However, Plato declares that even if there happen to exist the best regimes, they must at one point start to degenerate. Thus, one can gather from Plato’s Republic point of view that this is no solely about the best regime, but it all narrows down to justice and the well-ordered soul of a philosopher.
Plato equates the best regimes and the philosopher to being the highest good in his republic philosophy, while the other regimes and their corresponding types of men are oriented to be less good. These other commands include the timocracy and the timocratic man, which signifies honor; the oligarchy and the oligarchic man, which symbolizes wealth; the democracy and the democratic man, which corresponds to freedom; and of tyranny and the tyrannical man, which stands for power. Plato indicates that a good regime starts to decline when the philosopher kings are not identified early at a young age and educated properly on how to carry themselves as well as their kingship role. Failure of giving these individuals who are best suited to the ranks the best education and responsibilities to suit their roles in the society would automatically lead to the deterioration of the philosopher-kingship.
Plato suggests that the individuals that are expected to rise to be chosen as kings be identified from a young age and equips with education and responsibilities beyond their capabilities of getting access to the quality of education that the philosopher kings ought to possess. Failure to have a philosopher king, the spirit of the city would dominate, and this is mainly characterized by changing the constitution of the city since the populace would honor, and the bravery of rising victorious in battlefields (216). In addition to these attributes of respect, bravery and winning spirit in war, the timocratic man values discipline, masculinity, recognition and a good reputation among others.
The timocratic man engages in wars because he values the fame he gets from conquering territories as well as the wealth he acquires from the spoils from the concurred cities. Plato asserts that it is very easy for the timocracy to degenerate to an oligarchy since those in the regime get more obsessed with the acquisition of wealth than their original value of honor and good reputation. The oligarchy man becomes more obsessed with the love of wealth, and he develops other strategies that make it easy to acquire more wealth such as managerial skills, stinginess and greed among others (216). A son of an oligarchy can either rise to power to be a Democrat if he resents the manners of his masters and their way of acquiring and spending wealth, and this can lead to the oligarchy degenerating to democracy by the sons in a peaceful or violent manner or a combination of both to secure his seat.
A democratic man loves freedom, and his soul desires to distinguish which desirable objects to pursue in his ruling, but unfortunately, he possesses nothing to keep his desire in check. Therefore, the unrestrained freedom that initially accompanies democracy creates room for all types of men causing this regime to degenerate into a mob rule and rampant license which creates an opportunity for a tyrannical man to step in as a demagogue promising the populace about how if chosen will bring change and order in the society (219). This tyrannical man is the true definition of a decline in the regime as he possesses a huge desire to be in charge of other people and his passions to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for power (224). The tyrannical man displays his lack self-control to the world, and this is what is mainly portrayed by the governments in the world today.
This degeneration process occurs in our current regimes since those in power strive to amass more wealth and control the public in a tyrannical regime. The just man is the one that is educated philosophically or bends his ear to a philosopher and one that lets his soul seek what is good. Thus, a just man lives by the rules and is honest, thereby escapes the punishment of the existing traditions and institutions. The just man, therefore, is happy since he gets fewer enemies and because he is satisfied by what does since he feels is always right.