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"Why does philosophy play such a large part in the conversation about justice in Plato's Republic?"

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Introduction

"Why does philosophy play such a large part in the conversation about justice in Plato's Republic?" Plato, in common with thinkers both before and long after him, was a man of his times. Critiques of politics and society must be understood in relation to the context in which they were constructed, whether in support of or antagonistic to contemporary socio-political realities. Plato was born into the powerful city - state of Athens. Through her navy, the superlative sea - bound military force in the Greek world, Athens had developed a strong economy and feeling of dominance. Robert Hall notes "...the disposition of the Athenian character to pleonexia, to always getting more..." This thirst for power however, four years before Plato's birth, led to a clash with Sparta and an embarrassing Athenian defeat. This defeat Plato saw as illustrative of Athens' political shortcomings, the practical eventuality of their flawed underlying principles which, in the Republic, he attempts to challenge. A successful polis can never be realised until - and this is the basis of Plato's ideas - philosophers have become rulers, until politics is subordinated to knowledge and wisdom, to what is understood as 'philosophy.' ...read more.

Middle

In opposition here is the conception of justice as truly individual self - interest, whereby everyone is fighting everyone else, and self - interested 'justice' on a social scale, where the stronger are supposed to eschew self - interest for a common goal. As Socrates quickly makes clear, this argument will not suffice as a useful concept of justice. What it needs in definition is philosophy - the considered approach. Plato, through his narrator Socrates, slowly begins to build up his definition of justice. The body has, at its most basic level, needs. It is not self - sufficient, at least beyond that of mere subsistence. "[the body] certainly has needs. That is the reason why medicine has been discovered, because the body has defects and is not self - sufficient; medical skill was, in fact, developed to look after the interests of the body." Doctors, to use one of Socrates' many examples, "prescribes with a view not to his own interest but that of his patient." Each person's particular skill has its function within society, and using the body as an analogy, Socrates illustrates how everyone, keeping to and developing their own particular excellence, benefits themselves while also contributing to a more just and therefore better whole. ...read more.

Conclusion

the broods of desires within him, and not to rule them," but it is then the purpose of philosopher - rulers to educate and rule in a way which "impress[es] upon him [the man ruled by desire] from outside, so that as far as possible we may all be alike and all be friends, since we are all steered by the same helmsman." The 'ship of state' (the metaphor to which Plato here is referring) must be sailed by philosophers, those possessed with knowledge of the forms and not seduced through desire by mere appearances, which is for the benefit of all. Philosophy plays a large part in the discussion of justice in the Republic because this, the pursuit of philosophy, is the basis of the platonic project. This application of idealism to practical situations has dominated political thinking from Plato until the late nineteenth century; modern political philosophy has been summarised succinctly as 'footnotes to Plato.' Plato's ideas had practical ends - he established his Academy to train philosopher rulers and realise the proposals in the Republic, but it was theory which determined practice and without solid theory, practical failure (such as the defeat of his native Athens at the hands of Sparta) would surely follow. Bottom of Form ...read more.

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