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Chapter One: Plato

Key Points
The Ring of Gyges (from Platos Republic) this is the
new one.
Glaucon, one of Socrates interlocutors in this dialogue, wants
Socrates to defend the proposition that it is always to ones
advantage to be just in ones dealings with others.
Glaucon invokes the myth of the Ring of Gyges, according to
which a shepherd finds a magic ring which has the power to
make its wearer invisible.
The shepherd uses this magic ring to seduce the queen and
conspire against, and eventually assassinate, the king, and
make himself a tyrant, enjoying fabulous wealth and great
power.

Chapter One: Plato


The lesson of the Ring of Gyges Myth:
Glaucon thinks this myth perfectly embodies what many
people believe to be the truth about human nature: that,
given the power and the freedom to do so, we would all
choose to commit injustice on a grand scale. The only
reason we obey the laws and play by the rules is that
we are constrained by the fear of punishment, on the
one hand, and the lack of power to do as we wish, on the
other.

Chapter One: Plato

Socrates now has to find a way to defend the idea that justice is its
own reward, that being unjust is NEVER profitable or advantageous,
contrary to what the Ring of Gyges myth suggests.
Socrates begins his defense of the life of justice over injustice with a
discussion of virtue or human excellence.
All things, he suggests, are characterized by a specific work,
function, or purpose that could not be accomplished, or not so well
accomplished, by any other thing.
The specific activity or function of a given thing is its unique virtue or
excellence.
For example, the specific virtue or excellence of the eye is to see,
since no other organ in the body can do this work.

Chapter One: Plato

For the eye to be 100% virtuous, or excellent, it must be in the best


possible condition to do its prescribed work (which is to see). If the
eye is defective in some way, if it is diseased, then it is NOT
excellent or virtuous.
Following this same line of reasoning, Socrates argues that the
human soul also has its specific work or excellence that ONLY it can
do. This virtue is JUSTICE.
The soul is composed of three powers or faculties: reason,
spiritedness, and appetite/desire.
Reason is the ruling part of the soul. When used correctly, it
discriminates between good and bad, beneficial and harmful, just
and unjust, and exercises good judgment in the conduct of life.

Chapter One: Plato

Spiritedness obeys reasons commands, and thus only gets angry at the
right time and for the right reasons.
Appetite/desire seek to satisfy needs and wants. They can be unruly, and
thus must be firmly controlled by reason and spiritedness so as to achieve
moderation. Nothing in excess!
Moderation is the condition whereby the three faculties of the soul are in
friendly harmony, and the moderate man will be him in whom the one
ruling principle of reason, and the two subject ones of spiritedness and
desire are equally agreed that reason ought to rule, and do not rebel.
Justice finally emerges as the condition of exercising moderation. The just
man is the moderate man.
The Just man will not wish to act unjustly because his two lower faculties
(spiritedness and appetite) will be guided by what is good for the whole
human being (as prescribed by reason).

Chapter One: Plato


Platos Gorgias

In this dialogue, also about justice, Socrates interlocutor, Callicles,


offers his own account of what constitutes justice:
Justice amounts to Might Makes Right. Whomever is in a position
of power is free to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants:
The strong do whatever they wish; the weak do whatever they must.
Callicles points out that by nature the strong always prevail, among
men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and
racesjustice consists in the superior ruling over and having more
than the inferior.
Callicles further argues in favor of vulgar hedonism, the view that
the pursuit of bodily pleasure is the highest aim in life, and produces
true happiness.

Chapter One: Plato


Socrates counters that the vulgar hedonist is not a free
man, but a slave to his bodily passions and desires, and
thus not worthy of dignity or respect.
For Socrates, a real man should be moderate and
master of himself, and ruler of his own pleasures and
passions.
Socrates then offers a detailed refutation of Callicles
vulgar hedonism.

Chapter One: Plato


Socrates Refutation of Vulgar Hedonism

Callicles readily asserts that pleasure and good are one and the
same. Socrates will attempt to expose the inconsistency in Callicles
statement through a long and somewhat complicated argument,
whose main points we will briefly summarize here:
(a) Pleasure is identical to good, and pain is identical to evil
(according to Callicles)
(b) Good & evil, and happiness & misery, however, are contraries,
and as such they cannot coexist in the same individual in the same
respect. It is impossible, in other words, to be both happy and
miserable, or good and evil, at the same time, but one must be the
one or the other.
(c) When hungry or thirsty, one experiences pain (i.e., the pain of
hunger or thirst).

Chapter One: Plato


Socrates Refutation of Vulgar Hedonism

(d) One notices that pleasure is gradually increased and pain is


gradually diminished as the hungry or thirsty individual begins to eat
or drink, until he reaches the point of satisfaction.
(e) This means that one does indeed experience pleasure and pain
at the same time.
(f) Pleasure and pain thus cannot be contraries (as we agreed good
and evil, and happiness and misery are), but rather occupy a
continuum.
(g) Contrary to Callicles contention, then, pleasure and pain cannot
be identical with good and evil, happiness and misery.

Chapter One: Plato


Socrates Refutation of Vulgar Hedonism
Socrates then turns to the question of beneficial and harmful
pleasures and pains; those which promote the health of the
body are rightly deemed beneficial, or good, whereas those
which tend to diminish health are rightly deemed harmful, or
evil.
Thus, contrary to the claim of vulgar hedonism, that all
pleasures are good and all pains evil, Socrates shows us that
some pleasures are evil and some pains good, and that the
ultimate standard by which we ought to judge pleasures and
pains is the goodin the case of bodily pleasures and pains,
that which is conducive to health.

Chapter One: Plato


Socrates Refutation of Vulgar Hedonism
In fact, Socrates affirms, the good is the standard of all
of human endeavor, and two of the primary
characteristics of goodness are order and harmony:
healthy, as I conceive, is the name which is given to
the regular order of the body, from which comes health
and every other bodily excellence
Likewise, lawful and law are the names which are
given to the regular order and action of the soul, and
these make men lawful and orderlyand so we have
moderation and justice