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2021-05-25 - the republic book 1
i finished reading book 1 of the republic by plato. i'm going to try to summarize it based on my notes and recollection.
the republic takes place in piraeus, the prominent south western port of ancient and modern athens. socrates travels there with his friend glaucon to visit a festival. as they were leaving, the son of an old friend catches a glimpse of socrates and asks him to stay. socrates goes to his friends house and they start a conversation.
socrates and his old friend, cephalus, began talking about how they haven't seen each other in a while. socrates noticed that his friend is getting old and asked what life is like when a man gets older. cephalus replies that many men think old age is a curse, but he thinks it's a blessing because he isn't tempted by the lusts of youth and can instead focus on repaying his debts to men and gods so that he doesn't have to worry about justice that may be served to him in the afterlife. this statement leads the conversation into what becomes the main topic for the rest of the book. specifically, what is justice?
cephalus has to go, so his son, polemarchus, continues the conversation. polemarchus agrees with his dad that justice must be the repayment of debts. as socrates does throught the entire conversation, he begins to use logic, reasoning, and analogies to come to an agreement of whether a theory is true or not.
the types of questions that are posed throughout the conversation between socrates and polemarchus include the following:
- if you are borrowing a sword from a friend and he wants the sword back when he isn't in his right mind, should you return it?
- is it just to give friends good things and enemies bad things?
- when is justice most useful?
- is a just person also good at being unjust?
- how can you know if someone is really a friend or really an enemy?
- could a person have bad friends and good enemies?
- if you treat something badly, does it improve or get worse?
- is it just to make something more unjust?
after coming to a conclusion that justice is not what they initially thought, another man in the room, thrasymachus, angrily accused socrates for not trying hard enough to come up with a definition of justice. thrasymachus' definition of justice was that justice is simply the benefit of the stronger. socrates reasoned with thrasymachus for the rest of book 1.
besides the occasionaly insults that thrasymachus directed at socrates, some of the topics they went over in their dialogue include:
- are rulers stronger than their subjects?
- what does it mean to be stronger?
- are rulers infallible?
- is it just for subjects to obey their rulers?
- is a man strong when he is wrong?
- what is the true interest of a ruler?
- can a perfectly unjust person live better than a perfectly just person?
- under what circumstances should a just ruler rule voluntarily?
- is perfect injustice a vice or virtue?
- could a society of perfectly unjust people survive?
- are intelligent people more likely to be just?
the argument, and the end of book 1, ended with thrasymachus blushing because he lost his argument. as well as socrates' still remaining unsatisfied because his initial question was still unanswered. what is justice?