Among the numerous issues addressed by ancient philosophers, virtues and questions related to political domains were of significant importance and caused most of the disagreement. Justice as a highly controversial concept was one of such issues and has become the subject of an ongoing debate among some prominent ancient thinkers. Moreover, the controversy remains relevant to the modern days when contemporary philosophers and thinkers continue justifying opposite opinions by referring to various schools of thought or different state forms. The particular consideration related to the essence and outcomes of justice that has a debatable nature is the immoralist’s challenge. This philosophical dilemma was introduced by Glaucon and Thrasymachus, who opined about the morality of justice and claimed that the life of an unjust person is better than the life of a just person. The philosophers claimed that justice is nothing else by the advantage of the stronger, while Socrates opposed their view, referring to the virtuous and moral nature of justice. This essay is designed to critically assess the immoralist’s challenge and justify that justice is indeed nothing but the advantage of the stronger.
The Immoralist’s Challenge Explanation
The core of the currently addressed argument concerning justice originated in the morality considerations ignited by immoralists. The philosophers of this school challenged the conventional morality arguments and tried to find arguments that would serve as a basis for the inapplicability of morality in real life. Indeed, Glaucon, Thrasymachus, and some of their co-thinkers claimed that injustice is more real than justice. Once the argument was made known, the immoralists’ contemporaries, including Socrates, started opposing their view claiming the opposite.
In essence, the immoralists stated that justice as a virtue is impossible because the interpretation of what is just and what is not depends on the laws and explanations provided by the majority of authorities. It makes them, the authorities or majority, a strong party who ultimately benefits from justice. As it is stated in research, “Glaucon and Adeimantus provide plausible reasons to think not simply that justice is not always good, but that fully developed injustice is always good” (Jones, 149). Within the context of the debate, the immoralist philosophers distinguished justice as a virtue and its consequences, emphasizing that justice restrains human capacity to satisfy their desires and is morally inapplicable (“Callicles and Thrasymachus,” para. 1-2). Since an unjust person can obtain the desired and become satisfied more easily, the immorality of injustice should be normal.
Socrates, on the other hand, disagreed with immoralists and claimed that justice is morally right. It is addressed by the philosopher as a vital virtue that is necessary for state affairs regulation and interpersonal interaction. Thus, Socrates claimed that “justice is always good, that one is always better off cultivating a just character and acting justly than otherwise” (Jones, 149). In Socrates’ opinion, justice is designed to promote equality and the universal supremacy of morality.
As a logical continuation of the debate, Thrasymachus delivered a strong argument that illustrated the limited capacities of justice to serve society in a manner claimed by Socrates. In particular, Thrasymachus stated that “justice is the advantage of the stronger” since the stronger defines what justice is and how it should be addressed. This idea has its logical explanation and justification since it is viewed from the perspective of state functioning and ethical considerations in a political sphere. Justice, therefore, is an imaginary notion that depends on interpretation and cannot be attributed to universal equality and morality.
Justification of the Opinion that Justice is Nothing but the Advantage of the Stronger
The validity of Thrasymachus’ claim might be justified by the reference to several significant points. In particular, the argument might be supported by the exploration of its real-life applicability, consideration of justice in the context of morality, and analysis of justice as manifested in different state forms. The polarity of the opinions in the debate and the elusive nature of the subject under consideration make it difficult to find straightforward validations. However, the logic of Glaucon’s and Thrasymachus’s ideas provides a solid basis for proving that justice indeed is the advantage of the stronger and nothing else.
To validate this opinion, it is relevant to refer to the statements of the opposing side of the debate since it can help find controversial issues requiring counterarguments. The Socratic method might deem pertinent in the context of the analysis of immoralist’s challenge and Glaucon’s view on morality and justice (Altorf, 61). In essence, the Socratic method consists of questioning techniques designed to “explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts” (Paul & Elder, 4). In other words, it helps find the weaknesses in the discussed argument to contradict the opponent. Indeed, since the Socratic method allows for identifying drawbacks in the opponent’s arguments, it is a powerful tool in addressing controversial issues. Therefore, when opposing the statement of Glaucon and Thrasymachus, Socrates used a series of questions to identify the weaknesses in the idea that justice is impossible in its pure form.
In particular, Socrates repeatedly referred to the moral nature of justice and its spiritual value to an individual. The philosopher opposed the formal and rather practical statement of Thrasymachus and referred to justice as a positive thing and a true virtue. He stated that “justice is virtue and wisdom and that injustice is vice and ignorance” (“Callicles and Thrasymachus,” para. 18). Thus, any manifestation of justice is regarded as morally right action. However, Thrasymachus contradicted this point of view by emphasizing that justice is a dependent notion that might change its meaning in different contexts or under different state forms.
He provided a supporting claim to his argument, referring to the obedience to rulers who make laws that predetermine justice (Plato, 47-48). In other words, any state form implies a ruler (as in tyranny) or the power of the majority (as in democracy) (Bradatan, para. 3-7). Thus, the definition of justice as proclaimed by the laws and rules of that state is created in the interest and benefit of the stronger. In this regard, the stronger are the majority of the rulers. For example, if the law allows abortion, it is a just thing to do, but if the law forbids abortion, it is an unjust thing to do. In the words “justice is the other man’s good, the advantage of the stronger, and that injustice is advantageous and profitable to oneself but disadvantageous to the inferior” (Plato, 61). Therefore, justice serves those who make laws and, therefore, the advantage of the stronger.
When taken to a democratic context, justice was seen differently by the opponents in this debate. Socrates stated that “injustice is by nature a cause of disunity, strife, and, therefore, disempowerment and ineffectiveness” (“Callicles and Thrasymachus,” para. 19). For example, democracy is designed in a manner where equality is closely related to justice, where justice ensures equality, which complies with Socrates’ opinion. On the contrary, Thrasymachus’ claims imply that there is no equality since there is no pure justice because the understanding of justice is guided by the stronger.
Moreover, Socrates saw justice as a singular notion or something that cannot be categorized or grasped in its totality (Buchler, 69). However, Thrasymachus interprets justice from a different angle, emphasizing the practical application of this philosophical notion in a manner that affects the social life in a state but not the spirituality of an individual. While morality is to the advantage of all without causing harm to anyone, the dual implications of justice contradict morality. In other words, since there is always a just and unjust person, the advantage is always on the side of only one. Consequently, if justice as a notion is subject to interpretation, it cannot be universally right from a moral point of view, which validates the correctness of Thrasymachus’ argument.
In summation, as the review of philosophers’ arguments on the issue of justice shows, it is justifiable to reiterate that justice is nothing else but an advantage of the stronger. This argument was validated by the consideration that since rulers create laws that identify what is just and what is unjust, justice serves the rulers. Furthermore, justice is not singular and depends on contexts and interpretations, which is why it cannot serve its pure purpose as it was defined by Socrates.
Altorf, H. M. (2019). Dialogue and discussion: Reflections on a Socratic method. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 18(1), 60-75.
Bradatan, C. (2019). Democracy is for the gods. The New York Times.
Buchler, M. P. (2020). Justice of the singular: Socrates’ apology and deconstruction. L’Atelier, 12(1), 68-89.
Callicles and Thrasymachus. (2017).
Jones, R. E. (2019). The real challenge of Plato’s Republic. Ancient Philosophy Today, 1(2), 149-170.
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2019). The thinker’s guide to Socratic questioning. Rowman & Littlefield.
Plato. (2003). The Republic. (T. Griffith, Trans.; G. R. F. Ferrari, Ed.). Cambridge University Press.