Concept of Justice in the Republic the Prince and Analects Term Paper

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Justice has different meanings in different cultures but the bottom line is always the same i.e. justice is a positive force that must be embraced in order to lead a good life. From epistemological view, justice is doing unto others what you would have done unto you. Ideally this concept sounds infallible but upon closer study, justice appears a vague and elusive force that cannot be described in so many words. Philosophers and scholars over the years have had differing views on what constitutes justice. For Plato justice was closely aligned with morality. While Confucius felt that justice meant not doing to others what you would not like others to do to you. Machiavelli on the other hand had completely unique view of justice. Machiavelli felt that justice simply did not exist in natural laws or in the laws of God. He thus either ignored the subject completely or reduced it to the expectation of a weak population from its ruler. When philosophers tried to answer the question of Justice, they were probably as perplexed as any person of ordinary wisdom. Cephalus in Plato's times believed that justice meant always returning what one was give. Thrasymachus believed in the concept of might is right and felt justice was law of the stronger.

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Eastern view of justice has not always been very simple either. Confucius stressed importance of justice but the terms he used to described justice may have lost their real meaning in translation. And hence their essence may have been lost. There are two closely connected concepts in Confucius' analects 'li' and 'yi' that most scholars have interpreted as his view on justice. Li means ritual actions and yi is used for sense of righteousness. To understand his views on justice, we must understand the term Chun-Tzu. A Chun-Tzu is an ideal man and from this man, we learn how Confucius has stressed justice. At one point he writes: "When the Chun-Tzu approaches the world he is at first neither for nor against anything. He judges all things in accordance with the standard of justice." [4.10]. Similarly when asked to elaborate upon the qualities of Chun-Tzu, Confucius said: "If you have wisdom, no desire, courage, and ability, and if you also observe the rules of propriety and refine yourself through music, then you might be a Chun-Tzu.... Instead of self-interest, think of justice. When facing danger, face it courageously. Keep your promises without hesitation. Then, indeed, you might be considered a Chun-Tzu." [14.13]

From this we know that justice was indeed an important force for Confucius but the question is what really constituted justice for this great sage. Yi is the most significant concept in this connection because according to Confucius justice was acting in accordance with the principles of yi. Confucius' concept of justice was aligned to the concept of "oughtness." He was of the view that justice is taking care of the responsibilities that come with your station in life. That's why he said, "Let the ruler be ruler, the minister, the father and the son"- this explains how Confucius viewed justice.

Justice in Plato's Republic

In his book, the Republic, Plato has introduced us to various viewpoints on justice concluding with Socrates' philosophy of the same. The one prevalent view of justice in Plato's days was introduced by Cephalus. He believed that justice meant always telling the truth and repaying what is given. Repaying what is given is a highly ambiguous view and one that needs to be analyzed closely. If one always repaid what he/she was given would that mean he is being just. For example, if a friend does me a favor and I repay it, then that is certainly a just act. Similarly if a friend hurts me or stabs me in the back, repaying the same would also constitute justice. So far it sounds logical but justice is a virtue. It should therefore be positive in nature. Hurting someone back doesn't really make sense because it violates the principles of friendship. Wouldn't it be better if I chose to forgive my friend and thus won him back? Thus while the philosophy is based on logic, it betrays the very essence of justice.

Thrasymachus proposed another theory of justice. According to him, justice was the law of the stronger. It meant that laws must always be formulated to protect the stronger. This philosophy is not even based on logic and the very premise of the concept is flawed. It must be made clear here that it is the weak who needs protection of the law, stronger or influential people can protect themselves through other means as well.

Socrates' challenges the conventional view of Justice by saying that justice doesn't mean 'to tell the truth and to give back whatever one has borrowed.' (p.8) in his days, conventional view suggested that truthfulness and returning items one had borrowed constituted justice but Socrates doesn't agree with this.

Socrates' own view of justice is lost among heap of discussion and arguments. It appeared that his main purpose was to contradict the views presented by others and was even called a "bully" by Thrasymachus. (p. 21) Thrasymachus was the one person who posed stiff resistance to Socrates' point-of-view on morality. He argued that morality could only be explained in the relationship between the strong and the weak. He felt that morality was a device for the stronger to gain advantage. He also claimed that, "In any and every situation, a just person is worse off than an immoral one." (p.26) He repeatedly claimed that, "....immorality -- if practiced on a large enough scale -- has more power, license, and authority than morality. And as I said at the beginning, morality is really the advantage of the stronger party, while immorality is profitable and advantageous to oneself." (p. 27)

Socrates however rejected this view as he maintained that in any relationship between stronger and the weaker, the stronger is usually working for the benefit of his subjects. He used the example of a doctor and banker to clarify that " branch of expertise or form of authority procures benefit for itself; as we were saying some time ago, it procures and enjoins benefit for its subject." (p.30) Socrates also maintained that morality was a good state while immorality a bad one but this view was vehemently challenged. After long discussion, Socrates concluded that: "A just person doesn't set himself up as superior to people who are like him, but only to people who are unlike him; an immoral person, on the other hand, sets himself up as superior to people who are like him as well as to people who are unlike him." (p. 34)

Throughout the argument Thrasymachus remains adamant that justice is greater than injustice and doesn't even accept the conventional rules of morality where injustice is considered shameful. Socrates tries to repeatedly convince him but meets with such response as "Do you want me to spoonfeed the argument into your mind?'" (p. 28) His stiff opposition to Socrates continues as Socrates looks for some common ground and he finds it in the idea of expertise. He tries to convince Thrasymachus that a stronger person gains expertise not for his own sake but for the sake of his subjects and thus by doing so he is neither being unjust nor immoral. But Thrasymachus is not to be easily moved. He sticks with his original stance and even after he accepts some of the statements made by Socrates, he remains exceptionally suspicious of him. After agreeing that a moral person was good and clever, he still retorts: "I'm not satisfied with the statements you've just been making. I could address them, but I'm sure that if I did, you'd claim that I was holding forth like an orator. So either let me say what I want and for as long as I want, or go on with your questions, if you insist on doing that, and I'll go on saying "All right" and nodding and shaking my head as if I were listening to old women telling stories.'" (p.37)

This is a very different situation for Socrates for people normally accepted his statements easily. Thrasymachus was not ruffled because he himself was an orator and while Socrates claimed that he was not a sophist, his power of oration was well acclaimed. For Thrasymachus, Socrates was as much as sophist as he himself was for Socrates. And thus agreeing on something with him was both against his wisdom and ego.

While Socrates ends the argument on a positive note claiming that, "immorality is never more rewarding than morality" (p.42), still Thrasymachus is not convinced till the very end. We can say that Socrates managed to convince the readers and also some of the other people present on the scene, but he failed to change Thrasymachus' views. This is precisely evident from Thrasymachus' retort when Socrates seeks his approval in the end and he responds… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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