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The Happy Philosopher A Counterexample to Plato's Proof* SIMON H. ARONSON THE PAST FEW YEARShave seen a renewed interest in the main argument of Plato's Republic concerning the relationship of justice and happiness. Professor Sachs reopened the discussion i with his suggestion that in the Republic Plato employs (at least) two different conceptions of justice. Sachs went on to charge that Socrates, by failing to connect these two senses of justice, commits the fallacy of irrelevance, for whereas Thrasymachus, Glaucon, et al. have challenged Socrates to prove that the "vulgarly just man" is happy, all that Socrates does in fact show is that the "Platonically just man" is happy. A number of replies 2 were soon forthcoming, attempting to show either that the alleged failure is more apparent than real, or that Sachs had misconstrued the nature of the original challenge, or that Plato never particularly cared to vindicate the "vulgar morality" of the many. Recently Professor Vlastos has entered the debate 3 with his attempts at clarifying Plato's two "definitions" of justice and providing "an argumentative bridge" between them. In what follows I approach the problem from a somewhat different direction. While in this essay I reach the same conclusion as did Sachs, i.e., that Plato failed to meet the challenge of proving that the just man is happier than the unjust man, my argument neither deals explicitly with Sachs' allegations nor does its validity depend on what position one takes in the Sachs controversy. 4 Quite * I am much indebted to members of the University of Chicago Philosophy Department and to a reader for this Journal, whose valuable criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper led me to correct certain mistakes and to fill certain gaps in my argument. 1 "A Fallacy in Plato's Republic," Philosophical Review, LXXII (April 1963), 141-158. 2 See Demos, "A Fallacy in Plato's Republic?" Philosophical Review, LXXIII (1964), 395-398; Weingartner, "Vulgar Justice and Platonic Justice," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XXV (1964), 248-252; Schiller, "Just Men and Just Acts in Plato's Republic," Journal of the History o] Philosophy, VI (1968), 1-14; Alan Gewirth's paper "Comments on 'A Fallacy in Plato's Republic' " (unpublished). a "The Argument in the Republic that 'Justice Pays'," Journal of Philosophy, LXV (Nov. 7, 1968), 665-674, hereafter referred to as JP; "Justice and Psychic Harmony in the Republic," Journal of Philosophy, LXVI (Aug. 21, 1969), 505-521, hereafter referred to as PsH. 4 My own view, for which I do not argue here, is that Sachs is correct in his first charge that Socrates fails to successfully demonstrate that all Platonically just men are also vulgarly [383] 384 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY apart from whatever problems are posed by any fallacy, lacuna, or oversight existing in Plato's argument, the thesis of this paper is that the Republic is open to a more fundamental criticism. I argue that certain elements in Plato's theory, elements essential to his description of the ideal city, tend both to undermine Plato's own argument and in fact to strengthen Thrasymachus' position. Briefly, I want to argue what may at first sound paradoxical, namely that the philosopherruler is himself a counterexample to the thesis that maximal happiness is compatible with justice. I submit that in his portrayal of the philosopher-ruler Plato lets slip the startling admission that by committing an injustice the philosopher will be happier than if he did not commit one. I suggest that this dilemma of the philosopher in the ideally just city well illustrates the thrust of Thrasymachus' claim that one must choose between one's own happiness and that of one's fellow citizens. I begin by summarizing what Plato means by 'justice' in the Republic, and in what sense it can be said that there are two different "kinds" or "conceptions" of justice. I then examine the challenge which Thrasymachus, Glaucon, and Adimantus pose, and indicate what Socrates must show to meet this challenge. Finally I argue that in a crucial passage Socrates himself provides a counterexample which undercuts his own case, and which to an extent vindicates Thrasymachus ' original claim. I. JUSTICE For...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 383-398
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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