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Fr. 417

October 18, 2013

Therefore, there remains only the third interpretation, which is, in essence, the inverse of the second interpretation. That is, it subordinates the first account of justice (“the advantage of the stronger, i.e. ruler”) to the second account (“advantage of another”). This is, in fact, the crux of Kerferd’s (1947) argument3. Indeed, this inversion of the more standard formula is persuasive as it subordinates the particular case (“the advantage of the stronger, i.e. ruler”) to the more general case (“the advantage of another”). Additionally, one can now address the situation of the ruler in a more consistent manner. As Nicholson remarks, “since justice is the advantage of another, justice for the ruler must then be the subject’s advantage” (216). Indeed, “it is because this is so, that Thrasymachus always prefers injustice to justice, i.e. prefers the promotion of one’s own advantage” (216). In this way, Thrasymachus’ promotion of injustice can be rendered consistent in the case of the ruler, as well as in the case of the subject and private transactions between subjects.

Nicholson proceeds to strengthen the case presented by analyzing three further issues related to Thrasymachus’ position. First, if one is to understand Thrasymachus’ account as Nicholson presents it, then Thrasymachus is, in fact, making his case backwards. Second, the term “the stronger” appears ambiguous. While it has a clear correlate in “the ruler” in the political context, it remains unclear how Thrasymachus’ “stronger” relates to “another.” Third, there remains some concern over the extent to which the interpretation advocated by Nicholson accords with Socrates’ account of justice through the rest of the Republic4. Lacking sufficient space to pursue these inquiries, I leave it to the reader to investigate these claims in his or her own time.

Of the interpretations offered above by Maguire and Nicholson, which should we then favor? Maguire does present his case in a persuasive manner, for Plato does seem more concerned with the just life and interactions of individuals in a just society in Book II through Book IX. His claim is, however, too strong. Plato does not abandon the questions raised by Thrasymachus in his descriptive indictment of the relationship between ruler and subject; indeed, Plato crafts, in response, an ideal, just relationship between ruler and subject that is to the advantage of both. Although the presentation of the kallipolis is meant to double as the structure of an individual, just soul, one should not discount the importance with which Plato regards this practical aspect of the Republic. Socrates does, after all, take pains to describe how this ideal state could become actual.

Moreover, Nicholson’s interpretation accounts for the relationship of Thrasymachus’ definitions of justice in a more complete fashion. Nicholson does not appeal to the idea of Plato’s self-insertion into the dialogue. Instead, Nicholson details a way in which Thrasymachus’ position can be made consistent that is both reasonable and persuasive; the political relationship between ruler and subject could be an instantiation of the more general “advantage of another.” There remain, however, difficult questions surrounding Nicholson’s account. Even if Nicholson’s answers to the questions detailed above are deemed sufficient, additional difficulties arise5. If “the advantage of another” is primary, why does Thrasymachus not make greater efforts to make this evident? Why does Thrasymachus present his case backwards, thereby complicating our comprehension of it? Although these questions complicate Nicholson’s interpretation, they do not compromise its plausibility. In the end, Nicholson’s account proves the more complete, plausible, and, thus, satisfactory account of the two presented above.


3 As Nicholson emphasizes, we should understand Nicholson’s endorsement of Kerferd’s argument to extend only to those sections in which Kerferd discusses what Thrasymachus says, not to those in which Kerferd takes Thrasymachus’ position to be that of a proponent of Natural Right.

4 I will, however, briefly detail Nicholson’s responses. First, Nicholson attributes the backwards presentation to the dramatic setting of the Republic. Thrasymachus adheres initially to Socrates’ elenctic method before opting instead for the lengthy, complete account favored by a rhetorician. Second, Nicholson identifies “stronger” as a psychological or social type. Third, Nicholson points to the way in which Plato’s account mirrors that of Thrasymachus. Thrasymachus’ argument requires the introduction of key concepts (limit, function, etc.). Adeimantus and Glaucon reprise the argument in key ways. Finally, it determines which topics will be addressed in the rest of the Republic; after all, Plato’s Philosopher Ruler is the inverted image of the Tyrant.

5 These difficulties are those noted by Nicholson, as well, at the end of Nicholson (1974).

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