The Republic is the most controversial of all political philosophy texts. In fact, as a philosophy student and not a fan of induction, I should avoid speaking in absolutes so I will just correct it and call it one of the most controversial political philosophy texts. One of the most debatable issues is the theme of the book. Platonic dialogues have always end in aporia but at least there theme is pretty clear, The Republic touches a very wide range of topics and leaves them all unresolved. The confusing text begins with a discussion on Justice. Socrates, a few friends and Thrasymachus, the Sophist, are discussing what justice is. This blog post will deal only with the question that Thrasymachus raises in Book One and will discuss the answer that Socrates gives to Thrasymachus’ question in Book Nine.
In Book One, Thrasymachus, in his attempt at defining justice, tells Socrates and his students that Justice is simply the interest of the stronger. He says tyrants are happier than other men and a just person always gets less than an unjust one. So, people, as a whole, agree on justice in a society only because they are scared of injustice. However, injustice is truly virtuous. Socrates considers Thrasymachus argument but does not accept it as a definition of justice. He does agree, however, that apparently unjust men seem happier than the just men and in order to figure this out he works towards a proper definition of justice.
In the pursuit of this definition, Socrates builds a just city analogous to a just soul. Then he works out the three parts of the soul that are apparent in a state or city; the appetitive part, the spirited part and the rational part of the soul. Moreover, he takes his discussion to the forms of government in Book Eight and his Book Nine focuses on Tyrants. You must have realized that Thrasymachus’ discussion of justice also revolved around tyrants and the unjust men.
Therefore Book Nine is where Socrates answers Thrasymachus and says a tyrant is apparently happy but he is being ruled by the appetitive part of his soul. This part of his soul has barely any knowledge of real pleasure. Worldly pleasures, for a tyrant, are the only constituents of happiness. A person whose rational part of the soul governs him is a just man and only he knows what real pleasure is. He knows of the best of all pleasures. He knows of the pleasures of knowledge, the pleasures of spirit and the pleasures of profit, and he knows which one is the mightiest of all. Hence, Thrasymachus is wrong.
The funny part that I want to point at is the fact that out rational part of the soul has an appetitive sub-section. The smartest people, the ones that can really use reason use it for their appetite. I am not saying they don’t look beyond their appetite but they definitely do not neglect their appetite.